The usefulness of CAT tools

This post originally appeared on Translating is an Art blog and it is republished with permission.

I find that a lot of people only use CAT tools for repetitive texts. And that is of course what they were originally developed for. Modern CAT tools, however, have so many other useful features that it’s worth considering using them for non-repetitive texts as well.

Here are some of the reasons why I use my CAT tool for most of my texts, even creative texts:

Terminology
It’s great when a client provides you with a terminology list, but I personally hate having to go back and forth between my translation and a terminology list, especially when you end up with more than one list (not unusual, in my experience). If you import your terminology list(s) in your CAT tool, you will automatically be notified if a term is available in the list and you can easily insert it in your translation. You can also easily edit your terminology list or add new terms to the list.

Consistency
Even if texts are not repetitive, consistency is still important. The concordance feature in your CAT tool allows you to search for words or phrases so you can check how they were translated before. This is also very useful in case you haven’t got a terminology list (yet).

Quality control
These days, CAT tools offer more and more quality control options. You can have your translation checked for, among other things, correct punctuation, conversion of numbers, tags and consistent terminology. If, like me, you tend to mix up numbers (typing 1956 instead of 1965 for example), it’s good to know you no longer have to worry about this, because your CAT tool will warn you when you’ve made a mistake.

Reference material
Ever received a 200-word translation job which came with about ten different bilingual and monolingual reference files and going through all those reference files took almost as long as actually translating the text? I have… CAT tools offer alignment options and ways to import reference files which help you efficiently find the information you need in those reference files while you’re translating.

Formatting
Clients love it when you are able to deliver their prettily formatted Word document or PowerPoint presentation in exactly the same format. When using a CAT tool, you don’t have to bother with the formatting: you can focus on the text while working in the CAT tool and when you are finished you can export your translation in exactly the same format. I’ve found this is especially useful for PowerPoint presentations containing lots of diagrams with text boxes: instead of having to edit every single text box separately to enter your translation, all you need to do after you have exported your translation is go through the slides to check whether the text fits in the boxes and adjust their size if needed.

Backup
You always have a backup of your translations and because each segment is saved after you have translated it, you will never lose more than one sentence of your work if your computer crashes. I discovered the advantage of this very soon after I started working with a CAT tool years ago: just when I was about to save my 1.5-page translation to send it to the client, Word crashed and my Word file was corrupted. If I hadn’t used my CAT tool, I would have had to do the translation all over again, but now I was able to take the original source file and have it pre-translated using my TM.

Planning
My CAT tool always knows exactly how much progress I’ve made: it indicates the percentage of translation/proofreading I’ve completed and for exact figures I can run an analysis at any time. I find this particularly useful for larger projects.

Updates
Here’s one I forgot when I initially wrote this post: How many times do your clients send you an updated version of the source text, preferably when you’ve just finished translating the original version and without using Track Changes? No problem if you’ve translated the text in a CAT tool: you simply re-import the text, pre-translate everything that is the same and you will only have to go through the sentences/segments that were changed (and your CAT tool even marks the differences between the original and the updated text). If necessary, you can also have your CAT tool track all the changes.

These are the reasons I use my CAT tool for pretty much every translation I do. One downside, especially for more creative texts, is that, by default, a CAT tool splits up your text in segments based on sentences. Most CAT tools, however, allow you to define different ways of segmentation and I have found that paragraph segmentation, rather than sentence segmentation, works better for creative texts. Paragraph segmentation will lead to fewer match results, so it is not recommended for repetitive texts, but since creative texts are typically less repetitious anyway, matches aren’t really an issue.

Author bio

Percy Balemans graduated from the School of Translation and Interpreting in Maastricht, the Netherlands, in 1989. After working with a translation agency as an in-house translator for a few years, she served as a technical writer and copywriter, information designer, web editor, and trainer for an information technology business.

In 2007 she set up her own business as a full-time freelance translator, translating from English and German into Dutch, specializing in advertising (transcreation), fashion and beauty, art, and travel and tourism. She is a Chartered Linguist and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), and a member of the American Translators Association (ATA).
Visit her website for more information: www.pb-translations.com.

2 thoughts on “The usefulness of CAT tools

  1. It is true that CAT tools can be wonderful aids in translation and they are especially helpful when technological issues occur like the ones you mentioned. When applied, they do in fact act as a live saver to one’s workflow when we take into account the hectic nature involved with translation. You have provides some good tips and techniques for use with these types of tools. It’s always good food for thought. Glad to have come across this article.

    Thank you very much for this

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