Challenge 3: How to invest wisely in CAT Tools
For anyone not already in the know, CAT tools stands for Computer Assisted Translation tools (without this key piece of information the rest of this post may not have made quite as much sense!) These are essentially the pieces of software that the translation industry now regularly relies upon. There is a wealth of training available to educate us about their functionality and use, whether this be as part of a degree or masters programme or a course dealing specifically with one piece of translation technology.
With constant new additions to the market place, every translation software provider would have you believe that their product is the best. However, this can leave new translators reeling from information overload and unsure as to what CAT tools any prospective clients are really going to be excepting them to use.
Here’s TransTeach’s low-down on what’s hot and what’s not in the CAT tool world and where best to invest your money for long-term benefit.
The Key Players
Like it or not, just as Microsoft and Apple have a monopoly in the personal computer market place, there are three or four CAT tool providers who hold the majority of the market share. Currently, these are SDL Trados Studio (www.sdl.com), MemoQ (www.memoq.com) WordFast (www.wordfast.com) and Atril’s Déjà Vu (www.atril.com). Rather unsurprisingly, these tools also rank amongst the most expensive there are (in decreasing order of market share). At the time of posting, the Freelance version of SDL Trados Studio alone costs £545 (£685 if you want the Freelance Plus version which allows you to use the software on two machines – e.g. your laptop and a desktop PC). That’s around $820 or €765. We’re certainly not talking small change!
It’s fair to say that all of these tools are widely used across the globe and are constantly in development. In addition to the functionality available for the translator him or herself, there are also corporate versions which incorporate project management components and facilitate the consistency of translations and terminology. Each piece of software has its own pros and cons. For a more in-depth comparison of just what these are, check out the tool provided by Proz.com for this purpose:
For new translators starting out, who have yet to acquire a client base, it can be very hard to determine which of these tools is the best option, which is why at TransTeach we’d suggest taking the following steps to keep both your new clients, and your pocket, happy…
Find out what any prospective agencies/clients use
When applying to agencies or making contact with direct clients (assuming they don’t offer up details of their preferred translation technology tool – which they often will) ask them which CAT tool(s) they use. Start keeping a tally, so that you get an idea of which one tends to be most popular. When the time comes, as least any choice will be based on some scientific fact rather than your own preference or the advice of other people who deal with a different set of agencies and clients.
Enquire about free licences and export file compatibility
Over the years at TransTeach, we’ve been asked to use lots of different CAT tools. We never have a problem with this but have often had to explain that we can’t possibly invest in, or be expert users of, every single one. When we first begin working with new clients, we’ve been amazed at how many times they’ve offered us a free licence, meaning we can work using a server-based version of their CAT tool. This usually only involves a quick installation of the user front-end interface on our own computer and away we go. PLEASE NOTE: this approach does require some level of IT proficiency and a little confidence, but we find that most new translators have both of these in today’s technology-centred world.
Alternatively, when starting to work with new clients, if we don’t possess the CAT tool they usually use, there have often been file export/import possibilities. This has meant that we can still use our own CAT tool, and simply import in and export out compatible files from or to the client’s own CAT tool. Some new translators may not be aware of just how much compatibility there is nowadays using exchange formats – particularly the TMX format when exchanging files between CAT tools and localisation tools (those used specifically to help with website translation). For an article that explains this topic in more detail, try reading this comprehensive overview: http://www.maxprograms.com/articles/tmx.html
Download a free trial version
Whilst making a decision about investing in a CAT tool it may, of course, be necessary to use something, simply so that you can take on work that is offered to you from clients. In this case, we would advise investigating the trial versions of software that are nearly always available (usually for 30 days). This allows you to meet your agencies’/client’s needs whilst also getting some practice using a particular tool. Obviously, this isn’t a long-term solution, but it can give you some breathing space and make you feel more confident when you do come to invest in the full version of the CAT tool(s) you eventually opt for.
TransTeach’s own experience
Whilst we simply can’t say what your future clients will or won’t want you to use, we are able to provide you with details of our own experience. This can contribute to other input gained from other industry professionals (and we would always recommend speaking to as many translators as possible before making any final decision).
Since starting out in the industry, in 2003, we’ve found that the CAT tool we’ve most often been asked to use has been SDL Trados Studio (a combination of what was previously two tools from separate companies – SDLX and Trados). Over the years, we have used this tool on a weekly basis both in our own work and for the purposes of professional and academic teaching and we continue to use it today. We hesitate to call it an industry ‘standard’, but we certainly don’t believe you can go far wrong with it.
In recent years, we have been asked to use MemoQ more frequently and WordFast every now and again. Fortunately, most of our clients using MemoQ assign us a free licence as and when required – working from an online server version. They also allow us to work in a bilingual file format for WordFast. No extra investment has therefore been necessary in either of these tools.
There is of course no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it comes to CAT tools. Every translator’s experience will be different and any decision must be made based on personal circumstance. We hope, however, that this post will go some way to appeasing any new translators who feel under pressure to make an immediate expensive investment. In reality, this is often not necessary. Take a bit of time, do your research, and of course, if any of your CAT tools queries haven’t been answered here, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.