Everything you need to know about CAT Tools

Translators face many challenges in their daily work. They are forced to deliver projects within short deadlines and are often asked to translate more words per day than reasonably possible. And all of this must be done without compromising quality. It obviously means that stress and pressure are a staple of a freelance translator’s life. Here’s where CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools become critical for any translator. There is no perfect CAT tool, but they help professionals to a great extent.

There are several CAT Tools in the market: they have their differences regarding features, pricing and usability. At the end of this post we will list some of them. All CAT tools share a common aspect: translation memories (TM). Translation memories are like a database that store linguistic units that have previously been translated. They are key for easing the job of any translator. If you are not really sure about whether to use CAT tools or not, take into account the following statements and you may change your mind after reading this.

CAT tools improve quality

A good translator and a good translation agency always base their work on previous projects. Why? It is simple, because of similarities. Not all texts are equal, but some share some common points that can be applied to different projects. When translating segments you can get some translation suggestions, check the concordance level between your memory translation and the new segment, and even search previous translation results, which eases and helps a great deal. In those cases, CAT tools can reuse information by applying it to new translation projects. So you can keep accuracy which greatly improves quality.

CAT tools share information

You can use just your own information or even benefit from other’s translators previous work. Translation services UK is a company that has been applying the idea of shared memory translations, so that different freelance or in-house translators may take advantage of different projects. When having a big TM the results can be awesome. By choosing among several alternatives or relying on common options, any translator can deliver a better job.

We work with SDL Groupshare where we can maintain our TMs easily. Since this tool is from the developers of SDL Trados, which is the leading CAT tool in the market, most translators can connect to our TMs and work with the same TM easily. Projects can be made available with an online editor so that any translator can work on the text simultaneously. Alternatively, our PMs can also split text into numerous segments so that several translators can work on the same text at the same time, depending on the volume and timelines.

CAT tools reduce time

When you are reusing data, you can save time. And by applying previous information, you can translate quicker. It helps a lot for delivering all deadlines on time and / or enjoying some free time by finishing work earlier. So why are you wasting your time translating similar texts instead of reducing many hours of work? Thanks to CAT tools, you can save time. And time is money, right?

CAT tools make money

As mentioned, time is of the essence. So CAT tools pay for themselves and make money through increased translation throughput. If you can translate quicker, you can finish your work earlier or even afford more daily words without compromising quality. Meaning that you can complete more work in an allotted time. Or you can work less time, but obtain the same monetary income, which eventually means an increase in your hourly rate.

But you must also take into account that CAT tools are not perfect, so you should not completely rely on them, as technology is just an aid; but when doing your translation work you can benefit from some of their features for easing your job.

To sum up, if you are aiming for quality, if you want to reduce your working time, and if you are striving to increase your income as a translator, you should be using a CAT tool.

Common Ground in CAT Tools

Translation Memory eXchange (TMX) file format is used by most all of the CAT tools. This allows translation companies to switch between various CAT tools while not having to worry about file compatibility issues. This also means that translation companies freelance translators with any CAT tool and be able to integrate the TM into their aligned corpora.

Creation of a TM out of existing translations

Even if your company does not have an existing TM, you can easily create one by aligning the legacy source and translated text to create a TMX file. The TMX can then be imported into your CAT tool. There are a number of alignment tools that can be used for this task. Some of these include ABBYY Aligner, SDL Trados and MemoQ.

Which CAT Tool should you choose?

The leading CAT tool is SDL Trados. This company has been in existence for over 20 years and they have products for every kind of user, starting from freelance translators up to enterprise versions for large-scale LSPs and corporate clients. The basic license works on your PC (and not in a cloud). The entry level for freelance translators is quite high, around 500 Euro. This deters many freelance translators from purchasing it.

Another very popular CAT tools is Wordfast. The reason it is so popular: there is a free version that can be used quickly and easily (Wordfast Anywhere). The free solution is cloud-based. But is lacks many features that translators have come to rely on. But you can start with the free version and graduate to premium versions with time.

Across is a cloud-based solution which has become very popular in recent years. They offer a certification program for translators and LSPs.

MemoQ is one of the more cost competitive solutions in the market and can be integrated with Trados Studio (SDLXLIFF) files, which is one of its key benefits.

SmartCAT is a computer-assisted translation web app that enables collaborative translation.

Rocio Gonzalez is in charge of communication and is a linguist for Okodia, a language service provider. You can find her on LinkedIn here.

Using a synthetic voice as a translation editing tool

Translation editing tool

I have a colleague called Ryan. He’s been with me since 2014. He’s reliable, consistent and a valued member of the team. I’m from Northern Ireland and he’s from the USA, so we’re both English speakers working in the west of France. What separates us is that I am a physical being and he is a virtual voice. In fact, I can only really refer to him as a ‘he’ rather than an ‘it’ because his/its name is Ryan and his/its masculine voice derives from a real person.

I ’employ’ Ryan to read aloud the text that I have prepared for clients: he comes in at the final stage of the translation or the editing process. In previous times I used to read this text out loud myself, but my concentration was inclined to wander after spending days poring over the same words, and although I felt that reading aloud was a sensible thing to do, I hadn’t taken the time to consider its empirical validity.

So I began to search for answers. I had to go all the way back to 1969 to find Nida and Taber’s reflections on reading aloud as an editing tool for translators:

“As the text is read, the translator should note carefully those places at which the reader stumbles, hesitates, makes some substitution of another grammatical form, puts in another word, or in any way has difficulty in reading the text fluently. Of course, some of the problems in reading may be due to inexperience in public reading, but if two or more persons have difficulty at the same point in the reading of a translation, this is a warning signal that something is likely to be wrong. Perhaps it is an awkward grammatical form, perhaps a difficult semotactic [syntax that alters the meaning] arrangement, perhaps a problem of word order. But whatever the problem may be, it should be carefully analyzed.”

It would be good to be able to quote from numerous pieces of research, but I can’t. Translation scholars have been decidedly quiet on the subject of phonological equivalence and the importance of reading aloud as an editing tool, which is a pity when reading aloud can now be undertaken by a synthetic voice. This voice may not stumble or hesitate like a human voice, but the human listener, me, is quite capable of recognising the above obstacles as the text is read out loud. Moreover, the synthetic voice can carry the listener beyond the bounds of grammatical equivalence into the textual and pragmatic equivalence of cohesion and coherence. If I lose track of the people and themes while Ryan is reading, or if I lose track of the overall meaning, then I know that something in the text isn’t right and will have to be reviewed.

As a translator who now spends more time editing than translating, I no longer need my human colleague to highlight (in yellow, which I love!) potential conflict between the source text in French and the target text in English. My remit has become one of improving an English text until it is sufficiently ‘readable’. Readable is a loaded term, defined by Anagnostou and Weir as “what makes one text more difficult or easier to understand than another” (2006), but at the very least, I would hope that the eventual reader can read my improved text with ease, which means that I have optimised the use of such devices as repetition, punctuation, sentence length, pronouns, parallel structures, polysyllabic words and syntax.

I could of course resort to one of the 200 known readability formulae to measure and adjust some of these devices – it would be quick, but these formulae focus on writing style to the detriment of content, structure and design.

And this brings me back to Ryan and the value of using a synthetic voice. Ryan does the reading; I listen; I alter; Ryan rereads; I listen; I alter, etc. I stop when the words, the grammar, the cohesion and the coherence blend into harmony. Like all translators, I have performance criteria: much of my text is read by editors from international journals and publishing houses. They are thorough, so my English has to be thorough too.

Nevertheless, Ryan has had to step in occasionally to save me from glaring errors, typographical or other, which have floated to the surface of the text after being submerged for a number of days. I had simply stopped seeing them (especially if they were missing words). What can I say? I rely on Ryan’s efficiency. Did you know that he can read about 10,000 words per hour? I could accelerate his voice within my text to speech (TTS) software, but I’m happy with his normal speed. At the moment, most TTS programs automatically highlight each word as it is read, but wouldn’t be wonderful if they could use different colours to highlight different problems, like the overabundance of passive constructions, and wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if I could set the program to highlight what I want it to highlight from a number of options?

If only…

Until then, whether you edit what you translate or you edit what others have written in your target language and you want to maximise the quality of your work, Ryan and a host of other synthetic voices may be worth considering. I have certainly benefitted from his/its input.

About the author:

Rowland Hill is a professional translator who lives and work in France. He mostly translates and edits economics/sociology articles/books and children’s books.  What does Rowland say about machine translation? “I’m not much of a machine translator. My only machine is my brain and whatever complementary software I can find, like TTS.”

How to make BIG bucks as a freelance translator

Let’s start with a few basic facts: the translation industry is huge and generated over US$45 Billion in 2018. The world has several hundred thousand translators who are making a living in this industry.  It is clear that there is a lot of money out there and freelance translators can do very well in today’s market. There are translators who make over $100,000 a year. And most of the freelancers can work out of their home and at their own hours. Sounds good right?

The downside is that there is a lot of competition out there and the barrier of entry is low. Anyone with a PC and Internet connection can open her/his own freelance translation business. So how can you fare better than the competition? This post provides a few pointers that can help you on the road to success.

Love your work. This point is banal and can be said about any profession. If you don’t get excited about your work then you won’t be successful. Words matter! While you are working, consider that the words that you are writing may be seen by millions of people. MILLIONS! With this is mind, your translation work should be crafted carefully and joyfully. And when you love your work, you will do your best to constantly hone your skills which will drive you to improve in your chosen profession.

Be Professional: the most important thing you can do is have a professional attitude about your business. A freelance translator will need to invest money in setting up her/his business. This includes buying a decent PC and purchasing software licenses. Buying a CAT tool is a must. It would behoove a professional translator to have licenses for all software products and not steal copyrighted products. Don’t skimp on other expenses which will make you look better to potential clients. Invoices, letterheads, mailers, web pages and your CV should be designed so to appear as professional as possible.

Be Quick. Another no brainer but needs to be said. You can make more money delivering 5,000 words a day then if you only deliver 3,000 words. Speed can be achieved without compromising quality. CAT tools can help speed up the process. Translators have been known to use other software aids in their work, like speech-to-text software, all in the interest of increasing throughput. The best paid translators are the ones who can work fastest.

Prepare a kick-ass CV. Your resume should be ready to go. The CV should be written in the language that your customers understand (in our case this would be primarily English). A good quality photo on your resume is recommended. Avoid listing previous jobs which are not relevant to your objectives. A resume that includes jobs as a phone receptionist, waiter or lifeguard at a summer camp are not going to make you more attractive as a freelance translator so leave them out. Likewise, avoid listing hobbies that have no relevance to your objectives. Finally, distribute your CV in PDF file format and not in Word. CVs in Word format can get messed up when viewed by your customers.

Maintain an Online Presence. There are several ways you can do this and it is highly recommended. A website will show your potential customers that you mean business. There are good low cost options for publishing a 1-2 page website in which you can tout your skills (wix.com and wordpress.com are examples). Register on freelance translator directories like proz.com and translatorscafe.  Once you have profiles in these websites, send them to clients in your proposals. Sign up on online translation company websites that are looking for translators. Click here to sign up as a freelance translator on GTS Translation website.

Be Social. Be available to answer questions raised by your peers on the various forums and social networks. This will raise your profile online and get you more exposure. If will also show customers that you are an expert in your field.

Price yourself industriously. When you are out of work, bid low. When you are busy, bid high. The main thing is to keep busy and stay in business. Did you ever pass by a restaurant with people waiting on line to get in? The food is probably good there. Did you ever pass by an empty restaurant? The food is probably bad. The same with translators. The good ones are busy and often unavailable. The poor ones have plenty of time on their hands.

Follow the money. The translation business can be highly sporadic. Feast to famine. So take work when you can because it may dry up tomorrow. Try not to tell your customers that you are too busy because then they may find a replacement and cut you out of the loop in future jobs. Work 16 hours days when you can and rest during the slack times. When you are rich enough, then you can turn down jobs.

Be timely, polite and flexible. Answer all emails quickly. If you don’t have a smartphone with an email account then get one, that way you can be on top of your emails. Be polite to your customers and try to use the word YES more than the word NO. At the end of the day, your customers want to order from someone who is not only competent but is also a nice person to deal with. Be grateful to the people that provide you with work, as it will ingratiate you to your clients.

Try to solve problems on your own. Translation PMs don’t like to be besieged by pesky questions. It wastes time and delays delivery. If you have a pressing issue which you can’t solve on your own then fire away. But if it is something you can solve on your own then do so (and consider adding a translator note to the finished text).

Be a stickler for quality. This is key. Proofread your material carefully, run a spell check as much as needed. Try not to assume that someone else will catch your mistakes and avoid making any.

Deliver on time and never make excuses. If you can’t deliver on time (which is in itself a cardinal sin), then at least notify the customer of the delay in advance. NEVER make excuses and provide reasons for the delay (my mother-in-law is in the hospital, the work is in my office PC and I am now at home, etc.). These excuses just make you appear to be a liar and better just to apologize for a delay and offer a price discount if you can afford to.