I remember the very first time I was invited to a CAT tool training. The offer came from a local translation agency I was working with at the time. And while first I struggled with taming the software, when it all became second nature, I was almost exuberant when I realized that I no longer had to format the layout of a translation, and struggle with alignments and invisible rules that made no sense to me at the time.

For years, I had been translating as many others without using a CAT tool, and still being very efficient, with a high level of quality for my work. At the time, I was working in an IT publishing house and articles were flowing through my fingers seamlessly.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome was growing more and more, and so was the stiffness in my neck, from too many hours in front of the two screens I was working with.

I slowly began to specialize in medical translations, and then technical, all using a CAT software. And one day, I just didn’t work without it.

Recently, I read a few blog posts with pros and cons about the subject, and I thought I might have a say in it as well. After all, sharing is caring.

Firstly, Computer-Assisted Tools are not to be confused with Machine Translation Tools. The former refer to software designed to help translators and agencies streamline their work, while Machine Translation Tools are the automated ones that have been the fruit of discord for the past few years now on the translation market.

There are lots of opinions out there, and without going into the nitty-gritty of things, here are a few aspects I am grateful for when it comes to using a CAT tool:

  1. No more formatting! Hoooray! 
    I would say that is a great advantage, unless you are a desktop publishing passionate, and just can’t hold your InDesign! A CAT tool blocks the formatting of a text and protects it from being accidentally modified (to a great extent, except for editable tags) by the translator. Less time spent on a job for the same money? Yes, please!
  2. Up to 50% more volume in the same amount of time thanks to fuzzy and 100% matches? And thus more time for new projects, hence more money? CAT Lord praise Translation Memories!
    Basically, all the unnecessary typing of repetitions disappears like that! And yes, one might argue that translation agencies don’t pay for these ones, but some do. And the reason is that they will also require you to review them and make sure there are no mistakes, terminology inconsistencies, etc.
  3. Terminology consistency unlocked!
    Let’s say, I am working on a 50,000 word medical project, with specific instructions regarding terminology from the client. We all know there are general words that can be translated in several ways, based on context and preference. If after a long weekend, I come back to my desk and resume my project, I will surely struggle to remember the best version for such a term. Instead of scrolling through pages of target text, leafing through hard copies (I cannot even remember when I last used one, to be honest), all I need to do is press the magic Function button that will bring up all the hits for the respective term. I can also chose my context, see when I translated it, or if a previous translator was more inspired than me.
  4. Check your work!
    Based on a UI layout whether side by side or vertically (thanks to some great widgets available out there), translators can now easily follow and compare a source text to the target, thus being able to review a project much more efficiently, stay focused longer and eliminate the risk of skipping paragraphs, deleting sentences, words, images, etc. All other functions, such as searching for a term, checking for consistencies, etc. remain available at all times. A review thus becomes a stroll in the park.
  5. Be your own quality check master!
    Most CAT Tools have a quality check function which further improves the quality of our work. We all make mistakes. That is probably one of the ultimate truths about translators. And with a tool that pinpoints an omitted full stop, erroneous figures, capital letters versus lower case, terminology usage, and sentence consistency, or even missed translations, the chance of offering a really high quality output will only bring about loyal clients, and increase our career branding, after all. In our field, details are the ones that make a difference.


What about cons?

I know there are translators out there who still believe CAT tools are the work of agencies and clients, to their benefit only. And I respect that opinion. At the same time, there are types of texts that just don’t match up with the CAT tool system.

And one of them is literary translation. Here, a CAT tool might even be in the way, considering the very high level of creativity that is involved in the process. Although even in this case, one might debate that things such as formatting, avoiding skipped paragraphs, words, etc., easier reviewing interface can still be convincing enough even in this type of translation.

As I have minimal experience in literary translation, I could not say. However, it would be interesting to find out what works best for those specializing in the field.

Your turn: do you use a CAT tool? If so, can you see your life as a translator without it? If not, what other tricks do you use to boost efficiency and keep clients happy?

And a few outsourced opinions you might find an interesting read:




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