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What is the easiest-to-use tool for large Word documents with tables, figures and text boxes?
Thread poster: BNN Medical Tr.

BNN Medical Tr.
Brazil
Local time: 15:03
Member (Aug 2017)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Aug 15

Hello! My name is Eric and I'm one of the three translators of BNN Medical & Pharmaceutical Translations. My partners have been translating on Microsoft Word in the old-fashioned way for over 20 years, I myself for 5 years. We already use macros (e.g. pressing F9 to put a word between parenthesis) and autocorrect shortcuts (e.g. typing "pb" to yield "placebo"). However, I suddenly had an epiphany last week that there must be a third way to increase efficiency, where the software automatically translates common repeat occurrences between documents. I found out about CAT tools and I'm now in the process of figuring out which one we should use.

We often translate large documents with over 100 pages, and they often have very similar structure. For example, most Investigator's Brochures will have the exact same headings, such as:

1. Introduction
1.1. Rationale
1.2. Background
2. Physical, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Properties
2.1. Product Identification
2.2. Physical and Chemical Characteristics
2.3. Formulation Information
etc.

For every new document, we have been inserting these generic strings manually. We wanted a CAT program that would scan the Word document, identify these items and automatically translate them before we even begin the work. It would save us a huge amount of time in the long run. Ideally it would allow for easy sharing of the TM database between us, so that there is consistency in the translations.

I tried Wordfast Classic, but the manual states that it works poorly on large documents with text boxes and fancy formatting. Not very promising. I also didn't like how awful it looks, with the purple tags all over the document.

While I'm tech-savvy, my partners aren't really, so the software cannot be too hard to learn and use.

Thank you very much for your advice!


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:03
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Eric Aug 15

BNN Phamaceutical & Medical Translations wrote:
We wanted a ... program that would scan the Word document, identify these items and automatically translate them before we even begin the work.


I know of no tools that do that specifically.

If you use Wordfast Classic (WFC), then you're working inside the MS Word file and you can execute all kinds of MS Word macros and find/replace operations, and you can reformat/re-layout as you go along, but WFC doesn't translate all previously translated items beforehand (known as "pre-translating 100% matches" in the CAT world). Instead, WFC identifies and translates them as you go along.

[FWIW: You can press Shift+Ctrl+PageDown instead of Alt+Down, which would cause WFC to run through all 100% matches until it hits a non-100% match, but unfortunately it doesn't pre-translate all 100% matches before you start your translation. Or, you can use the special pre-translate function in WFC (which is actually quite primitive, IMO), which does what you are looking for, but unfortunately it pre-segments all of the other text as well.]

AFAIK Metatexis also works similar to Wordfast, and there are one or two other tools that also work inside MS Word, but they don't have 100s of users.

If you use any other mainstream CAT tool, the Word file gets converted into an intermediary format (and finally back to Word again). These tools do have the ability to pre-translate 100% segments before you start, but... these tools assume that the formatting of the Word file is perfect beforehand and that the layout and formatting of the final file would be very similar to the original file. Also, you can't use any of your Word macros or Word editing features while the file is in CAT tool's format. And it is not practical to convert back and forth, back and forth, between the Word format and the CAT tool's format.

Also, with the intermediary-format CAT tools, you and your non-computer savvy colleagues are going to have to learn how to deal with tags, tags, tags.

Ideally it would allow for easy sharing of the TM database between us, so that there is consistency in the translations.


Some tools offer "live" sharing of TMs, but in my opinion you'll find that it's perfectly all right to share or merge TMs only once a day, especially if you're all already used to how you translate, and you're all familiar with the field.

I tried Wordfast Classic, but the manual states that it works poorly on large documents with text boxes and fancy formatting.


It can't really handle text boxes, no.

Do you have large text boxes, or hundreds of tiny one-word text boxes? If the latter, then you can't use WFC to translate those text boxes (but you can still translate them manually). If you have larger text boxes, well, simply copy all text from the text box (Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C), paste it into a temporary Word file, translate it with WFC, "clean" it up, and paste it back into the text box. WFC has difficulty with complex tables as well.

I also didn't like how awful it looks, with the purple tags all over the document.


The purple "tags" are segment markers, and they are just temporary. You can preview how your file will look by pressing Ctrl+comma a few times (or by disabling "hidden text" in MS Word temporarily). The markers will disappear when you "clean up" the file (and really, you must not forget to do that before sending the final file to the client).

While I'm tech-savvy, my partners aren't really, so the software cannot be too hard to learn and use.


There are three categories of things they'll have to learn: the workflow of converting between Word and the CAT tool (if you don't use WFC), how to deal with TMs and glosasries, and the editing features of the tool itself (which may be more limited than Word's).


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 01:03
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Trados, memoQ and similar tools Aug 15

Try the trial version of memoQ and find out whether the way it segments and autopopulate matches is in line with what you're looking for. You could also try something like CafeTran Espresso or OmegaT, but for ease of use a mainstream commercial tool works better. What happens with these is that you'll translate these segments once, and then the translations are saved to the TM. For future documents you can then use memoQ's pre-translate function to fill segments with matches. You can consolidate and share TMs between machines.

In terms of saving time, I find memoQ's TM and pre-translate functions to be more robust and convenient than Trados'. OmegaT is actually quite convenient, but the interface might not be for people who are not used to fiddling with freeware, and it has its limitations.

For your purposes, Memsource is actually an interesting alternative. It also does quite well with TM matches, and was designed for teamwork and sharing TMs. It's also one of the simplest and easiest to use CAT tools on the user end, which is both a blessing and a curse, but for entry-level users the good outweigh the bad. Memsource also has a trial version, although for long-term use I'm not sure the subscription model doesn't get more expensive than buying individual memoQ licenses. Use the locally installed Memsource editor; don't touch the web editor.

Unfortunately, it's often a matter of coin flips and prayers regarding complex formatting. They SHOULD export properly into the target, but especially with font changes it's quite possible that the output is going to require some amount of fixing. Of course it's really no less the case even if you work directly in Word, so best that you use one of the trial versions and see if it works properly with your type of work. Tags are going to be a fact of life with any CAT tool you use if you want to preserve formatting; like Samuel says, it's for the CAT tool to use and won't appear in the actual document.

[Edited at 2017-08-16 00:02 GMT]


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CafeTran Training
Netherlands
Local time: 18:03
CafeTran is easy to use Aug 16

Thank you Lincoln, for mentioning CafeTran. I find that CafeTran is rather easy and intuitive to use for translating Word documents.

Especially, when a novice user hasn't expectations that have been formed by the use of SDL Studio. CafeTran works differently to a certain extent. But for this you'll get a wealth of handy text editing features that the so-called easy CAT tools don't offer.

It might also be relevant here that CafeTran works perfectly on Mac.


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Elif Baykara  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 20:03
Member (2015)
German to Turkish
+ ...
Trial versions +1 Aug 16

Dear Eric,

I am translating for more than 14 years now and only 4 years ago I decided to give the CAT tools a try.

I have used different versions of Studio (Trados), memoQ, Across, memsource and a few more. I have not yet tried CafeTran but its users really love it.

I am a medical translator too and my choice is memoQ although I occasionally have to use Studio as well. I didn't like Across very much and I avoid using it most of the time (I use it only for one very dear client with extra charging).

I suggest using trial versions for a while. With the modern user interfaces, most of the programs are very easy to use and adapt to.

Elif


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
Only half joking Aug 16

A bilingual secretary

I offer a comparatively low basic rate so that I can treat these and similar features as non-text extras that may incur a surcharge, or delays in delivery.


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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:03
Member
English to French
texbook case Aug 16

BNN Medical Translations wrote:
We often translate large documents with over 100 pages, and they often have very similar structure.

and
...It would save us a huge amount of time in the long run.

Well, CAT tools, whatever the name, are precisely designed for just that: recycle your previous translations and leverage them on updated texts and new texts of similar topic/structure. It's much less error-prone, more visual and quicker than manual cut/copy-paste.
Your work would likely benefit hugely from transitioning the whole team to CAT tools (with the associated training of course).

Word-based CAT Tools don't seem to handle handle complex formatting very well, but the newer generation (grid-like display) usually does, provided that the source author knew how to use a word processor (no hard return at the end of each line, limited use of drawing text boxes...).

I learned MemoQ easily, but others will state other names. I haven't tried Cafetran yet, but it looks promising in terms of getting-started.

Philippe


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inesec  Identity Verified
Latvia
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Hello Eric, Aug 16

I would recommend MemoQ as it can process very large Word files and preserve their formatting, tables and images.

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Octavio Armendariz  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:03
Member (2012)
French to English
+ ...
Have you tried WordFast Pro 5? Aug 16

WordFast Pro 5 (not WordFast Classic) is a product that I like and is easy to use for the very purposes that you state in your initial post. It has free trial download. So maybe you can test it on one of your documents. Like Trados, it converts your documents into an intermediary format which it then converts to the original format when you are finished translating. It is also easy to learn.

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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 12:03
Member (2008)
French to English
CAT tools and long documents Aug 16

I would second a vote for MemoQ for the purpose mentioned. I have some clients with documents that are hundreds of pages long, with dozens of embedded Excel files and text boxes. These are complex documents but MemoQ handles them quite well.

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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:03
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Go into it with open eyes Aug 16

BNN Medical Translations wrote:
We wanted a CAT program that would scan the Word document, identify these items and automatically translate them before we even begin the work.

Any decent tool should be able to carry out this kind of pre-translation. Exactly how successful that process is will depend on the format of the file in question and its layout, as Samuel has already commented.

I use SDL Trados Studio 2017 and pre-translation works very well on the whole. I have also used MemoQ, which I thought had a pleasant interface and most, possibly all the major functionality that Trados had at that time.

With regard to your comment about ease of use, I have been messing around with computers since the early 1980s and despite that long experience I did find that using CAT tools required me to get my head around a completely new paradigm. These are sophisticated and complicated pieces of software and they require an investment of time and effort. When they run smoothly they can provide huge efficiency gains, but when problems crop up they can also soak up time you want to spend on hitting deadlines.

Don't get me wrong; I really would not want to translate without my CAT tool. Even the simple function of segmentation is something that I find useful. Unlike some old-time freelancers, I do not regard CAT tools as a means of squeezing the translator for the benefit of the agency or end client. They really do make me more productive, and I don't mind passing on some of those productivity gains. Nevertheless, for people who have been using Word for 20 years and who are not particularly technical, you may find that something as complex as Studio 2017 is a step too far.

My advice would be to try Studio or MemoQ yourself and get thoroughly used to it (using the trial version). You will need to really commit yourself and initially it will be hard. You'll find yourself asking questions like "What do you mean, I can't edit the source?" and generally suffering from a certain amount of frustration. These are not word processors; they are more akin to databases with advanced grid editing functions.

Note that as your translation memory and your termbase/s grows, so do the benefits. If you don't commit yourself to really working with it, you will never see those benefits. In the short term, you'll be struggling with an unfamiliar user interface and workflow, without enjoying the positive impact of a mature translation memory or termbase. So don't underestimate the potential for an initial hit to your productivity. Choose a quiet time of year to begin, would be my advice.

If the tool you select turns out to be useful for you, then I would continue to it for at least a few months until you feel really confident and comfortable with it, and only then discuss adopting it for your less technically savvy partners. Whatever you do, don't all three of you go for it at the same time. Gently does it.

Regards,
Dan


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:03
German to English
Reusing old translations Aug 16

You will find that translators feel about their tools the way some people feel about their political affiliation, religion or favorite beverage. They feel that theirs is the best, and they're all correct!

CAT tools rely on a database of previous translations generally called a translation memory (or some variant). They become more useful the more you use them to translate. Many translators starting to use CAT tools create this translation memory from alignment of the sentences/segments of previously-translated source and target texts. There are tools for this, many of which are contained in the CAT tool package, but there are stand-alone programs for this as well, some of which are available at no cost. Alignment can be arduous, especially for the inexperienced, but can pay off handsomely, I've read. I started using CAT tools almost 20 years ago, so I haven't done much alignment recently.

MemoQ has a feature called "Live docs" which is an attempt to overcome the problem of a large body of translations that have not yet been integrated into a translation memory. I have not relied on this feature, but it sounds like a good selling point.

CAT tools are also very useful for terminology management. If you've compiled glossaries, in many cases they can be converted to CAT-compatible terminology databases.


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BNN Medical Tr.
Brazil
Local time: 15:03
Member (Aug 2017)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
THANK YOU! Aug 16

Folks, I am absolutely blown away by your replies! I really did not expect the level of detail and thoughtfulness you have provided in your answers. If this is the standard of quality when answering questions around here, I'll have some pretty big shoes to fill going forward. Thank you so much!

My advice would be to try Studio or MemoQ yourself and get thoroughly used to it (using the trial version). You will need to really commit yourself and initially it will be hard. You'll find yourself asking questions like "What do you mean, I can't edit the source?" and generally suffering from a certain amount of frustration. These are not word processors; they are more akin to databases with advanced grid editing functions.


What do you mean, I can't edit the source?!

Seriously now, with a CAT tool, if at any point I have technical troubles that are impeding my progress on a document with a tight schedule, I can just export the work so far to a .docx file and the result will be just like the source document, so that I can continue on Word itself as usual, right? It won't horribly break the formatting or anything if I need to go back to translating on Word in an emergency?

I suspect that the answer to the above is yes, it will break it, or you wouldn't be telling me to test it during quiet times. On the other hand, Maija said that MemoQ at least doesn't.

[Edited at 2017-08-16 16:40 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-08-16 16:40 GMT]


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:03
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Plan B Aug 16

BNN Medical Translations wrote:
I can just export the work so far to a .docx file and the result will be just like the source document, so that I can continue on Word itself as usual, right?

Right. So your downside should be very limited.

Dan


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:03
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Eric II Aug 16

BNN Medical Translations wrote:
With a CAT tool, if at any point I have technical troubles that are impeding my progress on a document with a tight schedule, I can just export the work so far to a .docx file and the result will be just like the source document, so that I can continue on Word itself as usual, right?


Nope. By the time you get to the technical difficulties, it's too late. By that time, you can't export to DOCX anymore. So if you're worried, you should export to DOCX every ten minutes or so, so that you always have a DOCX version in which you've lost less than 10 minutes of work.

The problem with some/many of these tools is that exporting to DOCX isn't a simple operation. Exporting to DOCX is meant to be the final step in the process, and not a method of creating backups.

It won't horribly break the formatting or anything if I need to go back to translating on Word in an emergency?


These CAT tools (unlike WFC) can either export the file or they can't. And if they can't, that's called a "technical difficulty". The tools can't export partially. I mean, they can export a partial translation, but they can't export a partial file.

On the other hand, Maija said that MemoQ at least doesn't.


You can run into trouble with all tools. The trick is learning how to avoid the trouble (not always possible), and you do that by becoming an expert at the tool by following forum posts about the tool closely.


[Edited at 2017-08-16 21:21 GMT]


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