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What you should know before deciding on a CAT tool

Denisa Kytová Ciferník17.05.2019 For Translators Reading time: 4 min.
Cat sitting on a computer

Have you ever been looking for a term that you already translated, but you could not find it anywhere? Would you like to organize your translations database better and work more efficiently? Then it’s high time to consider a CAT tool, i.e. translation software.

Maybe it has already crossed your mind or you have been toying around with the idea of getting a CAT tool for quite some time. What should you know before making a final decision?

What is a CAT tool?

First we’ll explain what a CAT tool is. It’s computer-assisted translation software. We have to stress right at the start that this is not automated machine translation. The software will not translate for you (unless you use a machine translation plugin, e.g. from Google). A CAT tool is something that can make your work easier and save time.

How does translating with CAT tools look like in practice?

The text you translate is clearly divided, usually by sentences – so called segments – and you enter your translation directly in the column next to the original. You do not have to switch between different windows, as you would have to, if translating from PDF to Word or between two Word documents.

Many translators are concerned that such segmentation lowers the clarity and smoothness of the translation process. However, several CAT tool provide a preview of the source text in its original form, so you will not only dully translate meaningless sentences out of context.

Additionally, CAT tools contain a variety of functions that make translating even easier. For example, if a certain part of the text keeps repeating, the software will automatically translate the other instances based on your first translation. When using a CAT tool, you are also building your own memory, that will help you in your future projects. We will discuss the useful features of CAT tools in more detail in another article about CAT tools.

Which are the best-known and most-used CAT tools?

The most-used CAT tools include SDL Trados Studio, memoQ, Memsource, Across and Wordfast. We will publish a more detailed list of CAT tools in our next article in a few days.

However all CAT tools work on a similar basis. Those available online are slightly simpler to use, but on the other hand they offer fewer functions.

What should you consider before buying a CAT tool?

In most cases, you’ll have to purchase a license for your CAT tool in order to be able to fully utilize it. So after you have decided whether you actually want to work with a CAT tool, it’s a good idea to ask a few questions.

Will this particular CAT tool suit my needs?

The selection is truly wide and it is up to you, which CAT tool you choose. Before purchasing one, we recommend you try working in several and then decide, which one suits you the best. Maybe you could start with a simpler one, that is available online, for example matecat.

Most software developers provide a trial version of their more advanced CAT tools, which you can use for several days to translate and test all of its functions. For example makers of memoQ provide a free licence for 45 days. SDL Trados Studio developers offer their trial version for 30 days. Both these companies provide a detailed manual on how to work with their CAT tool.

Which CAT tools do my customers use?

Nowadays, almost every translation agency works with CAT tools. Even European institutions and some international companies with their own internal translation departments use them.

One good decision-making criterion is to consider which CAT tools your customers use. Ideally you can pick one that is used by most of them. For example, here at Lexika, we use predominantly memoQ and Trados, in some cases Memsource or crossWeb. To make the work a bit easier for our translators, we developed practical manuals, that will help them to get started. If they encounter some other problems, our trained project managers are readily available to help them, give a advice and show them how everything works.

What’s more, some translation companies offer a discount for selected CAT tools, if you purchase the tools through them. So do not hesitate, inquire with your agency clients and learn what your options are.

How much do I want to invest?

Sometimes translators are discouraged by how much CAT tools cost. To be honest, a high-quality CAT tool can be a bit pricey. With better-known software, you should keep in mind that after the initial purchase you have to pay annually for support. On the other hand, it is useful to have somebody to turn to in case of technical issues or doubts, especially when you have just started playing around with CAT tool functions.

But as we have already suggested, it’s possible to get a discount if you want to save money. You could try contacting translation agencies.

Other options include going to conferences or visiting the proz.com website. On this portal, translators often negotiate group purchase of translation licenses, which gives you a discount.

If you are still a student of translation, try checking student discounts, for example at your university.

Choosing a CAT tool is definitely not easy and it is crucial to carefully consider all choices. The initial investment might be higher, but it will pay off severalfold in the time you save and efficiency.

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