Certified Spanish translators often discuss translation tools. Should we work with machine translation, CAT tools, or something in between? We use our professional judgment to make these decisions.

Machine translation

The most commonly known machine translation tool is Google Translate, which in fact powers some web pages. I have seen “click here for x language” and “powered by Google Translate” on several sites. It produces a quick draft of the text in the other language, but we will lose nuance.

Computer Assisted Translation

CAT tools are Computer Assisted Translation tools such as Trados, MemoQ, and OmegaT. These tools use what I would call a “divide and conquer” approach. They break the text into segments and the translator deals with a segment at a time. When the same segment comes up again, or one very much like it does, the translation memory reminds the translator of the previous translation of that text. At that point, the translator can use the previous translation or make necessary adjustments.

CAT tools also include terminology databases. We can research terms and save them in the glossary the program keeps. When we do this, the program will remind us that we previously translated the word “book” (a book I read) as “libro.” That is fine, until we have to “book an airplane reservation”. In those cases, I translate awan and the system flags my new translation as an error. I can either ignore the error or update the terminology database.

Trados , WordfastWordfast, and MemoQ are some of the options. Translators are given the option to draft or check with machine translation. When working as a team, it is possible to sync with the server of the project manager.

OmegaT is free. It also allows the translator to interface with Google Translate, but it does not translate for us. It works with over 30 file formats and is intended for professional translators.


Linguee is not a CAT tool. It is a bilingual phrase dictionary. For example, if I write “how to roast a pig” in the text box, it shows me a page of results with at least two of the words from my English phrase, and the Spanish translation for that phrase from a bilingual source, usually the same website. It is not a translation tool per se, but it often helps us jump start our creative thinking to solve problems.

When do I use CAT tools?

Other times, the work I am doing is more creative.  When translating a book, I prefer to work without the tool reminding me of how I said something before. It often gives me what it calls a 95 % match, in which 95% of the source text is the same: everything except for the word “not”, for example.

When I work with a large project that will have repeated sections or a need for consistency, I typically use MemoQ. Translation tools are useful, but they are tools. As professionals, we decide when to use them and how to implement their use.