There is a French proverb that says, you can tell a good workman by his tools. In this computer age, you can tell a good translator by the tools he masters and uses daily to ensure the quality of his work: translation software that ensures accuracy, speed, consistency, and quality control. At Laurent Chevrette Translations, our entire team is dedicated to the use of these computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools. This allows us to work on your projects as a team, using our translation memories (TM, we will come back to this in a later article) and our terminology databases (TBs) to ensure that your documents are translated correctly, be it from English to or from French, or Japanese, Spanish, Mandarin and several other languages. Gone are the days when translators only had the Rosetta Stone to help them decipher ancient foreign texts. What better way to start a translation blog than by describing the tools the translator uses in his work? Like the blacksmith’s hammer and the mason’s trowel, CAT tools are at the heart of translation work, and our team masters them like none other. We use the best CAT tools on the market, equipped with the latest technology, to guarantee our customers that their documents are consistently and faithfully translated.
Offline software and online platforms; two very different solutions
We are effective, regardless of the solution used, but it is clear that a boundary separates these two types of CAT tools. So let’s start with solutions that are fully accessible online. Online solutions are very popular with translators and translation agencies around the world. They are useful for maintaining control over translation memories and also for monitoring the work of translators. They are also ideal for translators who have computers that do not run Windows. Indeed, most offline professional CAT software is mainly compatible with this operating system. Therefore, the use of online tools, which are compatible with most popular browsers, represents a competitive advantage over offline CAT software. However, their interface as well as their technology are very different and change from one platform to another, which can pose some problems for the translators who use them, and their adapting to the environment.
Here is a first example of my experiences with online CAT tools: WordFastAnywhere. This platform, from the suite of the same name, was founded in 1999. It is the oldest of the three online CAT solutions that will be briefly presented in this article. This free online tool, has a complete and easily readable interface, but whose pastel tones are a bit difficult on the eyes. Fortunately, there are browser extensions that allow you to change the interface colors. Like its online and offline counterparts, this platform supports translation memories and terminology databases. However, one can only hope that they have improved the coding, because the requirements of the fully online mode make it a real sloth when compared to the offline CAT tools that we will present below. This slowness is a recurrent problem with online solutions, and is their main disadvantage.
Other online CATsolutions include XTM Cloud, which builds on 16 years of industry experience. Its appearance is more standard and professional. Project management is also simplified and more transparent. But the interface is still difficult to read without making any adjustments: the number of segments displayed is limited (the text to be translated is segmented to facilitate translation), which does not allow an overview of the text. The status of the segments (amended, confirmed, revised, etc.) should be made clearer. I used this tool à the end of the last year, and it left me with a better impression than WordFastAnywhere, but I haven’t touched it for quite some time.
The last and most popular online CAT solution, Memsource, offers a free version with paid options. It offers a more modern interface and more ergonomic resources. Similar to the above products, this Czech solution, which is celebrating its seventh anniversary this year, still offers filter fields above the segments which reflects the excellent offline software program memoQ, which will be featured at the very end of this article. These filter fields are very useful to ensure consistency in vocabulary, as they allow you to organize segments alphabetically, repetitions, when to changes were made, and so on.
These tools are all very practical, but their limitations are obvious:
How to work when we are on the move; on holiday at the chalet in the mountains, where the network is non-existent; or on a plane? It then becomes impossible to save your work on your computer while waiting for the Internet connection to return, since all the tools supposed to speed up the work and guarantee the consistency of the projects, particularly the translation memories and terminology databases, are connected to the server. It’s true that you need only connect your computer to your cell phone’s Internet network to stay online, but the high cost and low speed make the job difficult. While offline CAT software only has to worry about the hardware capabilities of the computer, an online tool is limited by the characteristics of the Internet network. How can you work when the service is down for maintenance? When there are slowdowns?
Offline solutions are more robust and depend solely on the capabilities of the translator’s computer. And let’s face it, offline solutions aren’t that demanding. You don’t need an ultra powerful computer to use them. Moreover, the few minutes that is sometimes be required to import a major TM, which is necessary for terminological consistency, can be used to reread the project instructions.
What about offline software? We are obviously used to working with the industry champion SDL Trados, on which we debuted, as did the majority of our colleagues and competitors. It has also greatly progressed since its arrival on the market, despite its eternal unergonomic Swiss Army knife look. Its multitude of tools makes it indispensable, and at the same time, very criticized by the translation industry. We prefer a program that takes the second place on the podium, memoQ, which offers multiple advantages, through its excellent ergonomics, that facilitates translation and proofreading.
Our team’s choices
We have been using SDL Trados for half a dozen years. Its file formats are widely used in the industry. Indeed, its competitors must be able to handle its files, while the opposite is not true. Being on the first step of the podium is a good thing. But first let’s talk about the limitations of these offline CAT tools. As with all software solutions, there is the problem of fragmentation that is well known in the smartphone world. Not everyone upgrades their software, and manufacturers add new features that may not be compatible with previous versions, creating significant problems when not all team members have the same version of the software or some customers prefer to use a different version. At Laurent Chevrette Translations, we are very used to dealing with these difficulties and have the main versions of each program to be able to respond to the particularities of each project at any time.
The other difficulty of these professional CAT programs; their price. If some may be free, their quality is sometimes questionable. The most widely used software at the top of the industry are solutions that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, making them difficult to access for translators or junior agencies. These include software that occupies the top steps of the podium, and is designed and supported by experienced and recognized companies. We have been working with this software for years, so this concern is far from being a major concern for us.
Let’s start with SDL Trados, the industry heavyweight and which is also the first that we used.
We had already started presenting this program, and it remains a must in the translation world. SDL Trados has had a certain monopoly among CAT tools ever since it entered the market 12 years ago. The full name of the latest version is SDL Trados Studio 2017. It is often offered with other software in the SDL suite, including MultiTerm, which is very useful for managing TDBs, and Language Cloud, the cloud system for managing machine translation and accelerating post-editing, which we will discuss in a later article. At the leading edge of the industry, it opens a stable path toward this hybrid universe of offline but connected solutions.
You may be asking yourself: “But then, if SDL Trados is in first place, why do you work mainly with its direct competitor, memoQ? “
The reason is quite simple: because it is nonetheless the software that ranks second in the translation world, and competition is good. Almost the same age as the market leader SDL Trados, memoQ offers similar features, but does so in a more ergonomic way. And let’s be frank, this is very useful for us translators. It was its filter system, located just above the window displaying the text segments, that first attracted us when we started using it over six years ago. All its functions are just a click away, ensuring fast, efficient and consistent work. In addition, it is compatible with SDL Trados files as well as a multitude of file formats. It also offers advanced online features since the arrival of the latest versions. For most of the projects entrusted to us, we work with memoQ, unless a client makes a specific request.
This is a quick overview of the tools we use, a list which could grow even longer, particularly because of the ever-increasing influence of artificial intelligence and neural network functionalities on speeding up the translation process. Because we are always on the lookout for the latest advances in translation technology, the list of tools we prefer is constantly evolving. There is no doubt that these new concepts will become more and more present in the design of the software we use and, as we mentioned in the introduction, they will be the subject of a future article. In fact, the question arises, what is the translator’s place in the translation ecosystem, when we consider the growing efficacy of automatic translation and artificial intelligence?