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Michal Kessel Shitrit
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January 3, 2022

Quick bites: A Beginner's Guide to CAT Tools

This series of posts will take a look at some basic localization terms and concepts. These are the things you really want to know before you start localizing - key methods, top tools, and more. Not only will you know the process better, but you'll be able to make an impression on your next meeting with your localization agency. Let's dive in! In this first post of the series, we will be focusing on CAT Tools.

Are you a CAT person?

Ah, CAT tools. Such a cute name for such a multifunctional robust piece of software. sigh

CAT stands for Computer-Aided Translation. As their name indicates, these are offline and online software tools that aid translators in their day-to-day work. They've been around for a while, and the 90s aesthetic of some of the older tools can give you serious retro nostalgia.

90s aesthetic in Trados. Source

Originally, these tools were used to make translation faster by displaying the source and target strings side by side. This way, translators didn't have to go back and fourth between two files or keep looking down at the printed version.

Over the years, these tools got more sophisticated. As technology developed, companies started adding in complex features like translation memories, glossaries, quality alerts, comments, and more.

The massive improvements these tools introduced - in terms of time and cost management - led translation agencies to start demanding their linguists work with a CAT tool of their choice. Some tools required linguists to invest in a paid version themselves, while others allowed the agency to provide a linguist with a temporary license. Either way, the skill and added investment required when working with a CAT tool further helped agencies separate those gig-type linguists from professionals who were in it for the long run.

This has been going on for a while, but over the past 5 years or so, the CAT tool market has taken a massive leap. A series of intra-industry mergers led to localization giants putting a lot of weight behind their tools. At the same time, several smaller startups launched their own CAT tool versions built for agility and productivity. This created an interesting "David and Goliath" dynamic - which I personally love to see pan out.

Should you use a CAT tool?

As someone who's been in the industry for a while, the short answer is YES, absolutely. If you currently have localization needs, use a CAT tool. These come in different shapes and levels of commitment, so finding the right one to fit the maturity level of your localization process is probably the biggest challenge (more on that later on).

A CAT tool is a great way to navigate your project and not get lost in the details. It helps keep track of which strings are already translated and which are still pending. And the time and money saved from not having to translate or load in repetitive tasks is truly invaluable. In the long run, you'll find it'll save hours of work (and countless hairs pulled in frustration).

But that's not all. CAT tools can be used to ensure your translated copy is always consistent with your terminology and with previous versions. And the built-in QA features are ideal for finding those pesky little issues the human eye skips over. Millions of mistranslations and punctuation were saved by these little CAT tool flags or alert marks.

And that's before we even get into machine translation - as many of these tools can easily integrate with MT engine and let you translate thousands of words at the click of a button. Quick warning, though - don't jump into the machine translation rabbit hole unless you know exactly what you're doing. It could have dire consequences.

That's how CAT looks at Weglot

Not all CAT tools were born equal

While it's tempting to Google 'CAT tools' and just go with the first choice on the list, that would be a mistake. Before you start browsing, sit down and think about your requirements. By knowing what you need for your localization workflow, you can match a tool to your specific needs and find the best fit for your budget, too.

Some CAT tools shine where others fail, and vice versa - so it's crucial to sit and write down what's your top priorities. Is fluency the most important thing for you? Is consistency your #1 goal? Or is integration with your repository/web builder first and foremost on your list?

Once you have those priorities listed, you can start running through the available options to find the ideal ones for you. For a quick overview of useful CAT tool features, you can read this post. It also compares some of the CAT tools currently available to help you find the ones offering your top preferred features.

Online vs. offline CAT tools

Some CAT tools - mostly the older ones - are actual desktop software you install on your computer. Others are cloud-based, which means you only need an internet connection to use them  anywhere. These are advantages to each of these methods, so you'll need to consider what your workflow looks like.

On the one hand, translating on the cloud is generally more convenient than installing a CAT tool on your computer. You can access the software from anywhere in the world, and you never have to worry about synchronizing data or having the most recent file saved. In addition, most of the online translators offer collaborative work tools, which allow you to work with your translators in real-time. You can leave comments and discuss translation choices with your linguist as they work, thus preventing rolling mistakes that may cost time and money.

When using an online CAT tool, you can work with any linguist you choose - and they don't have to buy or set up any additional software on their machine (as long as they have a computer). This also mean you're not limited to a specific OS or have to worry about your translators having a strong enough computer. Some CAT tools even have an app or a mobile interface, letting your translators do their work or implement fixed on-the-go. This way, you'll have to wait far less time for changes or small projects to be handled.

On the other hand, an online CAT tool requires a powerful internet connection - especially with added features like in-context editors. When working with remote or third-country languages, you may not be able to count on your linguists having a stable connection - and forcing them to work with cloud-based software may lead to delays.

The cost model for most cloud-based CAT tools is often SaaS - forcing companies to pay a monthly fee to keep using the tools. Many of the offline tools, on the other hand, are still sold with a traditional license-based model. You pay per software license, and only have to pay again to upgrade to the latest version.

Plus, as with all cloud-based SaaS tools, online CAT tools present a certain security risk. If your tool provider isn't fully on-top of security, this could present a vulnerability that may lead to data leaks or other crucial breaches. The same applies or if you don't have the right infrastructure in place to protect cloud-based integrations.

How much does it cost to use a CAT tool?

As mentioned, offline CAT tools are often priced per license. This means you only pay once, and only have to pay again to upgrade your license. Usually, upgrade costs are significantly lower than the original license cost.

To give you an idea of the costs for using offline tools: The latest edition of Trados Studio starts at $2800. Note that to use Trados, your linguists will have to buy their own license for the software, which may limit your linguist pool.

Other offline tools, like MemoQ, will charge you $175 per month - but you'll get the added advantage of 'assigning' each linguist a license when they need to use the software.

The cost for cloud-based tools, on the other hand, varies significantly. Weglot will charge you from $9.90 to $199 for their product, and Localazy offers similar pricing - from $9 to $199.  Phrase starts at $23 and goes higher for the advanced and enterprise editions. Transifex will charge you starting at $70 a month, and CrowdIn starts at $49 and goes up to $1,500.

Note that some of these tools limit the amount of strings or words you can translate with them on certain tiers - so it's a good idea to consider the workload you're looking at before making a decision.

That’s it for the first post in this new series. I look forward to bringing you more basic localization concepts in the coming weeks and months. Feel free to leave a comment about your experiences with localization tools! I'd love to hear more and help with any questions.

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