The difference between CAT and machine translation

Nowadays there is a lot of technology surrounding translation. For someone that does not deal with translation on a daily basis that might get confusing. To avoid some of the confusion we will talk about CAT and machine translation in this article.

CAT is short for computer-assisted translation. That does sound similar to machine translation, doesn’t it? However, these two are fundamentally different.

Machine translation does not involve human translators

Machine translation is a translation that was made by a computer only. No human is involved in the process. CAT is a translation that was made by a human translator that used a certain software called CAT tool to assist their translation process. You could call it a collaboration between human and computer.

A CAT tool can help speed up the translation process by using translation memories, spellcheck and term databases. Nevertheless, the translation process itself is still performed by a human.

What does a CAT tool do?

CAT tools have several functions. They use translation memories to store previously translated material to reuse it. This comes in handy when there is a lot of repetition in a text.

CAT tools also use term databases to ensure that certain terms are translated the same way throughout a document. Furthermore, they offer a spell check and a check for completeness of the translation.

Comparison of CAT and Machine Translation – Speed

Machine translation is definitely the faster option. Often it happens immediately or only takes a few minutes for longer texts. CAT can be faster than human translation without any software assistance, but it will never be as fast as a machine translation. A human translator will still translate the whole text and that takes a certain amount of time depending on the length of the text.

Comparison of CAT and Machine Translation – Accuracy

Machine translation is famous for not being accurate and producing nonsensical texts. The programs that produce machine translation improved in the recent few years and can produce better results but still cannot be used for much more than a short check of what a text is about. If you need an accurate translation to confirm the contents in detail or you need a translation for publishing a human translation is required. CAT tools help human translators to be more accurate by making sure that specific terms are translated consistently and checking for mistakes and left out words.

Comparison of CAT and Machine Translation – Cost

Most machine translation services, e.g. Google translate, are available for free. Some are paid or have paid options, like DeepL. But never forget that if something on the internet is free, you will pay with your data. The text you enter in a free machine translation might be stored and used for some other purpose.

Some CAT tools are free of cost as well, but the tools that are mostly used in the translation industry, e.g. MemoQ, Trados, are paid tools. CAT is not free, as the translator and the fees for the CAT tool need to be paid.

We hope this article helped to clarify the difference between and CAT and machine translation. At transeuro we use CAT tools to speed up the translation process and ensure quality. We never use machine translation. All our translations are prepared by human translators.