Computer-Assisted Translation Tools: A Digest

I recently asked the community of translators on ATA’s Business Practices listserv to weigh in on the pros and cons of the Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools they use. The question sparked a well-attended discussion, and brought helpful insight on using CAT tools in translation. I have compiled the conversation’s highlights here for the benefit of all.

Functions

Translators first adopted CAT tools—previously known as Translation Memory tools—as a way to efficiently catalog and retrieve their translations of technical words and phrases. These tools helped maintain consistency within a single document or across documents on a specific subject matter. They also saved the translator time by storing translations and supplying them on demand.

Today, CAT tools retain this fundamental memory function, and can further boost translator productivity and quality with the following features:

  • Autosuggest supplies recurring words and phrases and obviates typing them out each time they appear. One translator commented that, in some cases, she translates faster with autosuggest-assisted typing than by dictation using Dragon® software.
  • Quality assurance functions check the translation for omissions and numeral inconsistencies, and proof it using target language standards.
  • Side-by-side alignment of segments from the source and target texts helps maintain workflow by keeping the translator from getting lost while working between two documents.

Use with Caution

Several listserv members warned against allowing the tool to manipulate the translation through imperfect matches and suggestions. CAT tools are not translators, but tools that assist translation. The user should therefore always control the tool, and is responsible for reviewing the tool’s output with an expert’s eye. Furthermore, a tool’s original settings may not be the best; the user must be familiar with the software and be able to manipulate it to benefit his or her unique projects.

Suitability

Most commentators agreed that CAT tools are most useful across technical documents in which subject-matter-specific terms must be consistent, and within documents with frequent repetitions. Creative works such as books or marketing copy benefit less from the tools’ memory function, since artistic expression is less repetitive and restricted than technical language. Nevertheless, a translator may leverage other functions, such as quality assurance checks and assisted typing, to efficiently process artistic translations. Again, the translator is ultimately responsible for the finished product. The skilled use of a CAT tool can help to create a better translation in a shorter amount of time, whereas an inept CAT tool user will waste time and produce substandard work.

Tool Choices

A few key considerations influence CAT tool choice. Several translators who responded to my question pointed out that, while direct clients may not care which CAT tool you use—and may not even be aware that you use a tool—translation agency clients often have tool preferences, and these preferences should guide your choice. You will attract more agency clients by having and being able to use a mainstream CAT tool, and can therefore reap dividends on the money and time you invest in buying and learning to use one. To a point, having and expertly using multiple tools will bring even more work, because you can target a wider segment of the agency market.

Cost may also influence your choice. Prices range from free to over $800; however, group buy discounts on ProZ.com can save you hundreds of dollars. You should also take advantage of free demo versions when they are available. Furthermore, keep in mind the frequency and price of updates and upgrades, which vary widely across tools.

Listserv respondents generally agreed that SDL Trados Studio is the CAT tool with the largest market share, followed closely by memoQ. Other tools that were mentioned (in no particular order) include Wordfast, Déjà Vu, OmegaT, and Across. Respondents recommended using the latest versions. Comments, some subjective, are given on each tool below.

  • SDL Trados Studio, widely used and demanded by many clients, is a feature-rich and powerful tool; nonetheless, it can be challenging to learn, has a congested interface, and is comparatively expensive, at $825 for the 2017 version. (The price, however, dropped to $575 on a recent ProZ.com group buy.)
  • memoQ, like Trados, is powerful and widely used and accepted, but it is nearly $200 cheaper. Some agencies lend a memoQ license, making purchase unnecessary in such cases. One user commented that the browser (online) version is not very useful.
  • Wordfast was described as not having as many features and options as Trados or memoQ, but, as a result, it is easier to master and still widely used. Like memoQ, Wordfast is cheaper than Trados, and was heavily discounted in a recent ProZ.com group buy.
  • Déjà Vu has strong segment assembly powers and is relatively inexpensive (listed at $450, and offered at 30% off on ProZ.com), but has weaker quality assurance features.
  • OmegaT is free and simple, and boasts a helpful support group online. One user complained that OmegaT does not segment Japanese very well.
  • Across: One respondent strongly discouraged using Across, as it apparently does not do much to assist translation. Corroborating this commentary, it has a rating of only two out of five stars on ProZ.com.

As these tools have progressed, so has compatibility among them. A translator may be able to open in his or her favorite tool a translation memory file made with a different tool; or, an agency’s project manager may be able to open a translation in Trados that was completed in memoQ. Some respondents, however, still reported problems with compatibility, even among the mainstream tools. The shrewd translator who is aware of this pitfall will use caution when working across multiple tools. Nevertheless, once one has learned to skillfully use one CAT tool, the next should be much easier to master.

As the listserv discussion died down, I downloaded and began to use OmegaT (it’s free, after all). I had missed the first SDL Trados Studio 2017 group buy of the year in January, so I got the free and fully functional 30-day trial instead. When Trados was offered on discount again in February, I made sure to sign up, and have since purchased a full user license. Now the real work begins!

Header image credit: StockSnap

Author bio

Paul Froese is a freelance Spanish to English translator specializing in scientific translation. A native of Walla Walla, Washington, he holds an undergraduate degree in plant science and biotechnology, and a graduate degree in crop science focused on plant breeding and genetics, both from Washington State University. Though a linguist since his late teens, he only began his translation career in 2016, and sees himself very much as a newcomer to the profession.

Visit Paul’s website at www.lotamtranslations.com and his blog about trends in Latin American agriculture at www.latinagtrends.com. E-mail him with ideas or suggestions at paul@lotamtranslations.com.

Technology Considerations for Beginning Translators

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By Tommy Tomolonis

Translators are expected to fulfill many roles in today’s market. In addition to being linguistic experts, translators are also expected to be experts in business, marketing, and, of course, technology, just to name a few. This can be a daunting task, but below are some technology tips and considerations for newcomers to the translation field.

The first consideration for a professional translator is the home setup. A translator needs to have a reliable computer with enough processing power and memory to efficiently handle some of today’s more memory-hungry translation tools.

A computer is only as good as its support system, however, and the first member of this support team is the anti-virus program. There are a lot of options out there, but the better options are the ones that constantly scan your computer for problems. These typically run in the background while you work and don’t slow down your computer as much as full system scans. Regardless of whether or not your anti-virus is constantly scanning for problems, you should also schedule your computer to run a system scan on a regular basis. If these scans significantly slow down your computer, schedule them for times when you aren’t working. Finally, don’t rely on your anti-virus to protect you from everything. Make sure you are also careful of your activities online. Using a work computer to visit potentially dangerous sites could compromise the security of your system and lead to a number of problems.

The next support member for your computer is the Internet connection. Make sure yours is high-speed and reliable. If you work on a laptop, also remember that wired connections are usually faster than wireless ones. One note of warning: free wireless connections in internet cafés, hotel lobbies, airports, etc. are typically not secure. Confidential information—yours or your client’s—can be hacked when you use these open access services.

The next two members of your computer’s support team are not so obvious, but they can save you a lot of stress when you need them: a backup drive and an uninterruptable power supply (UPS). It’s a great practice to back up your data on a regular basis, just in case something gets by that anti-virus. You can either back up your data to an external drive, or you can purchase space online. Just make sure that you’re not violating any non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements by uploading content to an online site, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive. Finally, a UPS is your best friend during storms. A UPS provides protection from power surges, just like a surge protector, but it does more than that: it also contains a battery that will allow you to continue working, even when you’ve lost power. A low-end UPS is only about $50 and can provide you with those precious 10-20 minutes you’ll need to successfully save your work, close your programs, and properly shut down your machine.

With a reliable computer setup, it’s time to talk software. Every translator will need the basics: an e-mail application, an office suite, and a translation tool. We’ve all been using e-mail for a while now, but when you plan to work professionally, make sure your e-mail address reflects it. An e-mail address is one of the first things clients see, and it can be a real deterrent when choosing which translator to select. In addition to a good e-mail user name, start using out-of-office replies, like the Vacation Responder in Gmail. These are useful for times when you aren’t working or when you’re on vacation. Clients and project managers use large pools of translators, so letting them know when you’re unavailable saves them time, and they’ll remember you for it.

An office suite is essential since most translatable file formats are word processing files, such as DOC and DOCX from Microsoft Office. Regardless of which office suite you buy, get used to working with formatting. You can display a document’s formatting in Word by clicking the ¶ button on the home tab on the ribbon. Knowing how a document is formatted will help you on projects where you have to mimic the source formatting and improve the overall look of your documents. Just understanding the difference between soft and hard returns, for example, will greatly help your translation tool segment a file. Learning to work with tables will also prevent spending unnecessary time fumbling with tabs and spaces. Viewing documents with the formatting turned on can take some time to get used to, but it soon becomes second nature.

In addition to an office suite, professional translators today need to know at least one translation tool. These tools, often called Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools or Translation Environment Tools (TEnTs), are an essential part of a translator’s arsenal. The most essential of these tools involve the use of Translation Memory (TM). There are a lot of options out there for TM tools, and your choice of tool should be based on your needs as no one tool is best for everyone. Some tools require larger up-front investments, while others can be purchased on a monthly basis. If you don’t have a lot of work yet, you may want to start with a less expensive option at first until your business grows. Some tools even have free webinars that you can watch to learn how to use them better. Regardless of your choice, don’t be afraid of it. Invest the time to learn your tool, and you’ll soon see the benefits. For more in-depth reviews and comparisons of tools, check out GALA’s LT Advisor and the Translator’s Toolbox, a guide that goes into much more detail than I can cover here. Finally, join the LT Division of the ATA and take advantage of the knowledge of other beginners and long-time veterans.

While some of this information may seem basic, you’d be surprised how often it is overlooked. No PM wants to hear the dreaded “computer problem” excuse to explain late deliveries, so make sure your setup is reliable and you know your tools well. Your technological reliability can be one of many reasons that clients come back to you project after project.

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About the author: Tommy has an MA in Translation (Spanish) from Kent University and is working on his MSc in Multilingual Computing and Localisation from the University of Limerick. He is certified in SDL Trados Studio and currently serves as the Assistant Administrator of the ATA’s Language Technology Division. Tommy is also an active participant in ASTM standards. He has worked as an interpreter, translator, and project manager, and he now works as the Quality and Technology Manager for CETRA Language Solutions in Philadelphia.

 

Computing for the Newbie

button-2076By Jost Zetzsche

First of all, technology does no good if there are no skills to use it with. No, I’m not talking about great programming or software development skills, but instead very fundamental skills that can’t be assumed to be present.

  • Typing: I’m an OK typist now, but I’m sure that I lost a few thousand dollars in my early career as a translator because I never had formal training and was very slow at first. Take the time to go through some kind of typing course to increase your productivity. Make sure that you learn to type in your target language on a target language keyboard (and learn how to install different language keyboards on your computer). Also make sure to learn how to use as many keyboard shortcuts as you can so that you have to use the mouse as little as possible.
  • Word processing: You’ll need to be confident with basic office software, especially word processing. This does not have to be MS Word, though I would recommend it. You should know how to use advanced search-and-replace features, be familiar with complex formatting and styles, have a good handle on tools like templates and format painting, and know what you should not do in MS Word (such as working in HTML files).
  • Browsing and querying: It’s important to know the basic syntax of more advanced search queries and have a good idea of locations where you can find answers (and those don’t have to be only dictionaries). I would recommend tools like IntelliWebSearch that enable you to find online content right from your desktop. You also will want to know how to quickly find information on your desktop or cloud-based personal storage.
  • Basic computer maintenance: You don’t have to have the skill level of a system administrator, but you should know the basic steps for how to keep your computer in good shape and running more or less seamlessly. You say you can also have your tech guy do this for you? Sure, but the last time I checked, that resulted in lost productivity and income.
  • Code pages: You need to know what Unicode is, how to make a basic code page conversion of text-based documents, and in general understand what code pages are and why they are relevant for translators.
  • Tags: You’ll never need to learn the actual function of tags in formats like HTML, XML, or the many other formats that are based on XML, including all the translation memory exchange formats (TMX, TBX, or XLIFF). But you do need to be able to distinguish a tag from other text and learn to respect and not touch it. (A lack of respect for tags is one of the quickest ways to turn your present client into a former client!)

So much for the general skills to adequately use technology. Now to what the technology should be:

  • Operating system: I don’t care! I personally use Windows and I’m happy with it because I never have to worry about that very question. (So far I’ve never encountered any client who wants me to use an application that is available only on a Mac.) The truth is, though, that it’s becoming more and more irrelevant. You can virtualize Windows on Mac or Linux computers, work in  programs that are supported by various operating systems (such as Java-based programs), and, most importantly, more and more translation jobs are moving into a browser-based system, anyway.
  • Office programs: Same answer as for the operating system: I don’t care. Yet, it’s just a lot easier to have a copy of MS Office so I don’t have to worry about conversion issues with files that clients send me.
  • Translation environment tool or TEnT (aka CAT tool): The first thing you’ll need to do is look at a) what kind of materials you’re translating and b) what kind of clients you are or will be working for. The kind of material might determine whether it’s important to have a translation memory (it might not be so important if you work with highly creative material), and the client might prescribe a certain tool or at least your ability to work in the format of a certain tool. (Many translation environment tools often support the interim formats of other TEnTs).

To come back to the first criterion — the kind of materials you’re translating — it doesn’t really matter what it is; you will still want to manage your terminology. If you’re looking at only doing that, you might want to use tools like Lingo or Xbench (and there are many other tools that manage terminology as well). While these tools don’t directly interact with your translation process, it’s very easy to access the terminology content that they maintain for you and it’s also easy to quickly add more.

If you are working in projects where it would be helpful to access previously translated material (which essentially is the case for any and every technical, legal, medical, or other functional translation) and/or you’re working with many different file formats and/or you’re working in teams with other translators, you will want to use a full-blown TEnT (which will not only provide the translation memory feature but also terminology maintenance, QA features, file conversion functions, and many other tools). You might eventually end up using (and buying) several tools, but you need to make a decision where to start and which tool brings you the furthest.

Don’t start with a “cheap” tool just because it’s a beginner’s tool. If you use a “cheap” or free tool, use it because that’s the tool you really want to use. And forget about the word “cheap” anyway, because what you’re really looking for is a tool that has a good return on investment. A $10 tool can be a waste of money, whereas a $1,000 tool can be a steal.

I would classify TEnTs into these categories:

  • There are large tools like Trados or memoQ (or others) that are powerful and might give you access to jobs that can only be done with these tools. (These are the kinds of jobs where the translation materials are located on a remote server that can’t be accessed with any other tool.) They might also help you market yourself to companies that look for translators for these jobs.
  • Then there are tools that have a slightly geeky approach like the Java-based OmegaT or CafeTran. These can be very powerful in the right hands, and they provide access to almost any kind of job (except the ones mentioned above).
  • Finally there are the browser/cloud-based tools like Wordfast Anywhere, XTM or MemSource that give you a great deal of independence regarding the kind of hardware (even tablets!) and operating systems you use. They also can work with a large number of formats (though you might have to get a little creative when it comes to working at the beach café without wifi).

Here’s the important thing to remember: you can’t really get it wrong. Make sure that the tool has an active and loyal following (most do), and invest in training (either by yourself or through a third party). And don’t think that your productivity will skyrocket immediately. In fact, it might never skyrocket, but it will surely increase if you do it right.

You’ll find all these points mentioned in much, much greater detail in my Translator’s Tool Box, a 400+ page ebook that is the ultimate technical resource for beginning and experienced translators.

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About the author: Jost Zetzsche is an English-to-German translator, a localization and translation consultant, and a widely published author on various aspects of translation. He writes regular columns in the ATA Chronicle and the ITI Bulletin; his computer guide for translators, A Translator’s Tool Box for the 21st Century, is now in its tenth edition; and his technical newsletter for translators goes out to more than 10,000 translators. In 2012, Penguin published his co-authored Found in Translation, a book about translation and interpretation for the general public. You can find his website at www.internationalwriters.com and his twitter handle is @Jeromobot.