The CAT Tool – Medical Translator’s best friend

CAT tools – the best invention since the dictionary

Computer-Assisted Translation software, widely referred to as CAT Tool, is a computer program that is used to facilitate the translation process.
It is an indispensable aid to improve the quality – or quantity – of a translator’s productivity, besides allowing to collaborate on group projects or to perform translation checks and analysis. For keen translators or those looking to increase their workload within a given deadline, cloud-based tools herald a new dawn.

How do CAT tools work?

The magic happens through the TM (translation memory), which is nothing other than a database of often-used terms or sentences coupled with their translation. When a document is fed into the CAT tool, it will scan the text for these terms and provide an accurate translation instantly for the translator to use or edit.

Writers in the medical field

What is the best CAT tool for medical translations:

There are no dedicated medical CAT tools, but there are better-suited ones and less useful ones out there. Apart from accuracy, the essential requirements of a medical translation are consistency and adherence to a glossary. For that reason a CAT tool with optimal glossary functionality is advisable. Ideally, the glossary should be cloud-based. So when assessing the CAT tool options, chose a glossary-friendly option.

When working for agencies, you will definitely come across Trados file formats: SDLXLIFF (Studio’s native format for translation). This does not mean that you have to have SDL Trados Studio. Many other CAT tools are compatible with these formats such as MemoQ or Wordfast. Personally, I did not want to run into compatibility issues that might arise in the future. Or faff with conversion problems, having to wait for a CAT software update until I can work with such documents. For that very reason, I chose the “mother of all CAT tools” – SDL Trados.

If you deal with pdf files or other scanned document such as laboratory reports or clinic letters which is often the case for healthcare clients, it is vital that your CAT tool has a top-notch optical character recognition (OCR) software built-in. This feature will recognise the characters in your client’s pdf document and convert them into digital text. You could assess the quality of this feature by evaluating the rate of mistakes (yes, there will be mistakes) yourself. Simply compare the same pdf file with different CAT tools (trial versions) and decide for yourself which is best.
Also, make sure the inbuilt pdf converter retains the formatting of the source file to a high standard.

How does the CAT tool help to improve productivity:

Efficient use of time:

In terms of speed, CAT tools are the best. Even if you as a translator might not use the exact phrase as it pops up from the TM, it will nevertheless give you a clear indication of how the sentence was translated earlier in the text. Hence the software will guide you on terminology. In this fashion, the CAT tool will provide an instrumental basis to work with.

Error Detection:

A further advantage of CAT tools is that they are intrinsically thorough. Thus they will help to detect these human errors, that happen even to the keenest translator at the end of a long day.

Glossary management and Consistency:

One is my favourite features of a CAT tool is the fact that consistent translation is applied to a particular term or a sentence throughout the text. It further makes sure that you apply the exact terminology given by a client.


CAT tools have come a long way, and today they are a great way of sharing work between multiple translators by ensuring that every assignee will use the same glossary provided by a client. A simple way to ensure that the final product appears consistent. The common interface facilitates the input and cross-contribution throughout the assignment.

Analysis and Review:

The review stage of a translation is a breeze with a CAT tool. The visual advantage of having the source and target text next to each other is essential for a thorough inspection of the progress. Quality assessment tools or plugins have become highly sophisticated and help to detect those pesky mistakes of an overworked translator. These basic yet efficacious features make an essential difference to your workflow, especially when dealing with larger volumes.

Costing for clients:

Computer-assisted Translation Tools also are also a godsend when it comes to calculating the price and quoting the cost of a project. Their inbuilt scanner can analyse a text and help you determine a fair price tag for your services.

With all these advantages at hand, let’s have a quick look at the market and see what options are currently available. There is an excellent choice of CAT tools out there, and some are better than others – some are more expensive than others too.

CAT Tools on the current market

Freely available CAT Tools:

There is some CAT-software free of charge available online. These are the perfect choice for the burgeoning freelancer who is still finding his/her way around this kind of software.

  • OmegaT
  • SmartCAT
  • MateCat

CAT Tools requiring a licence:

By paying a nominal fee, you can use some of these tools and get access to additional features. This will help you improve your productivity significantly.

  • Fluency Now
  • Wordfast
  • Swordfish
  • Online Tools

A web-based tool gives you the significant advantage of working on your project from anywhere in the world. It seems that even the traditional brands are moving this way as this feature is prevalent among freelancers:

  • Wordbee
  • Transifex

Prime Choices:
As you are progressing in your translator career, you will have to deal with one of the big names at some stage. They come at a price but will be worth the investment.

I have started out with OmegaT and moved on to web-based options from Wordfast and MemoQ – via client licences. At the end of last year, I have bought SDL Trados Studio 2019, and I am delighted with it.