You could be a translator starting in the profession, so still in the process of learning and discovering. You could be a translator with years of experience, but still learning and discovering (aren’t we all?). You heard about CAT tools and decided to see what it is about and why so many translators use them. You don’t know whether or not they are for you, or maybe they are completely useless for someone who is not a technical translator working on translations containing many repetitions.
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Let’s be honest: CAT tools aren’t for everyone. Not because of the nature of their translation fields, but because some translators’ work habits and preferences mean that using software would hinder their work flow, instead of improving it. They tried and it didn’t “click” with them.
But how do you check whether or not a CAT tool could improve your productivity?
CATs are more than TM (translation memory) and glossary databases. My favourite feature is the layout. No more writing the translation under paragraphs and deleting the original content, dreading whether I skipped a word or missed a sentence. Depending on segmentation, for which rules usually can be set in the program, you have your source text neatly divided into sentences, paragraphs or even bigger chunks of text. Depending on the chosen tool, your translation is entered into another box to the left, or below, or another assigned space. You can review it, return to it and it’s always just next to the original to be compared, verified, and edited if necessary.
If your translation can benefit from using of a translation memory or a glossary, the CAT would improve the speed and help with keeping the terminology consistent throughout the whole file or a set of files. If there are no confidentiality commitments forbidding sharing the memory and glossary, they can be used again for other projects.
Manuals and user guides are usually filled with repetitive phrases and sentences. Thanks to a CAT tool, you wouldn’t need to retype them again and again. The CAT would do it for you, saving your time.
All this sounds great but how can you be sure it would work for you? There is only one way to know: test it!
There are many different tools on the market. Their layout, format and prices vary. They work on different platforms: Windows, MAC, or Linux. The first step would be choosing the one that is compatible with our computer. Some CATs are available for two or three platforms. Having technical requirements out of the way, we need to download the tools and start using them: do a small test translation.
We can start from a freeware (free of charge) tools, but we can also download trial versions of commercial tools, which lets us test them before the purchase. It’s worth checking many before making a final decision. Some tools are very popular and their names can be seen in many articles, forum posts, translation blogs, etc. Others are less known but it doesn’t mean they are not good and not worth our attention. My favourite tool is one of those less known, but I prefer it to the popular one I also occasionally use. Yes, you can use more than one!
Before making the final decision, it’s also advisable to attend trainings, or watch webinars that instruct how to fully benefit from the tools. The number of options could be overwhelming at first, so such a visual user guide is a great presentation of its potential and possibilities.
It certainly will take some time to learn to fully benefit from the tool and use all or most of its functions, but it also certainly will pay back with time.
And if you decide that CATs don’t fit your working style and are a drawback rather than help, you return to your productive work without them.