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CAT Tools: Pros and Cons?

Translation tools are dedicated software applications, which are becoming a must for translation agencies and freelancers not only for expanding their client base, but also in order to be able to hold on to their present customers.

It is hardly surprising that this should be so, since the advantages for using a translation memory, especially for regularly updated projects, are becoming more and more apparent even for the direct clients who are not familiar with the technical aspects of such tools. What are these advantages then, which forces majority of translation vendors to pay the not exactly low prices to go transmemoritic?

The following list summarises some of the major benefits of using these tools in translation.


1- Economy

2- Consistency

3- Shorter turnaround time

4- Very flexible memory database facilities (attributes, filters)

5- Large jobs (more than one translator); translating simultaneously using the same TM

6- Most file formats supported; no need to have source application

7- Easy to learn and user friendly

The most obvious advantage is of an economical nature. As translation memory applications automatically insert the translation of segments, sentences, terminology that are already previously translated into the document, the clients do not have to pay anything or pay only a fraction of the unit rate for these pieces of text. This, in turn, makes the whole translation process more efficient and shorter deadlines can be achieved. Savings can be considerable with technical documents or user manuals for example, which are regularly updated and majority of the text comes from the previous edition or version. Also, documents, websites or software containing large volumes of repeated text is another example.  

Another important benefit, especially for large volume project, is the terminological and linguistic consistency achieved by using these tools, hence the extra saving on the QA tasks. In addition to the actual translation memory facility, CAT tools offer several other features, which not only aid the translation process, but also help produce more accurate and reliable translations. Terminology memory is one of the most useful of these tools.

Here we must understand the distinction between the translation memory and the terminology memory. While translation memory stores bi-lingual units of text (mostly sentences or strings for software), the terminology memory acts like a glossary storing subject specific terms.

CAT tools like Trados also have flexible project specific storage and global search and replace facilities like attribute fields and filters. Using the attribute fields one can incorporate the TMs of many projects into one database, yet have the options of applying these memories individually to specific projects. This could be quite useful especially when differing terminologies and styles are used for different products.

By sharing the translation memories online, it is easy to allocate several translators to large projects and maintain consistency. This way, any modification made to the text by one translator can be seen and utilized by the others.

Furthermore, the translators do not need to acquire any of the large numbers of word processing or DTP applications, as many of these translation tools have modules which can translate nearly all file formats or can convert these into translatable formats. For example Tag Editor & application filters of Trados.

Finally, to the contrary to widespread belief, most of these computer assisted translation tools are quite easy to learn. With a few hours of training you can actually start using many of the basic functions of these software. In other words, you can actually use it to begin translating many file formats including MS Word, HTML, Power Point, xml etc.


1- Not cheap

2- Know how

3- Slightly slower operations

4- Breaking the habit

5- Diminishes the work-scope, hence turnover.

6- Experience needed for some languages: i.e. RTL languages; May have bi-di issues.

Around £600+ for a Trados freelance edition, it is not cheap. In addition, it is limited to 5 languages (including the source language). There may be some promotional offers, but they are packaged so you actually end up paying more. The professional version incorporates all available languages, but cost just above £2K.

As mentioned before, learning to use Trados for run of the mill translation work is quite easy. But one has to make the effort and spend a little time on this nevertheless.

The actual translation is slightly slower than working without the tool, as the full text around the segment being translated is not in clear view like it is with conventional way of translating.  On the other hand some may see this as an advantage, as you actually work with a bi-lingual display format. (i.e. both the source and target text is always visible)

No one gives up the habit of a life time overnight, so the process may be a little unsettling at first. However, as you start to reap the benefits you would quite readily forget the initial inconvenience.  

No denying that Trados reduces the work load and hence the revenue from each project is also reduced. If you are able to get extra work to fill the time thus created, you may just about manage to keep pace with your accustomed income. But, let us not deceive ourselves and remember the fact that why these CAT tools are becoming so popular in the first place, is because the clients are becoming more and more aware of the savings thus achieved. I am afraid, we need to adapt to the changing circumstances or change our profession.

If you are a provider of one of those languages which are not 100% compatible with the algorithms of the CAT process, you would need to gain a little extra know how to work round the issues. But, fortunately such issues are gradually becoming less significant and eventually should be resolved to the full.   

Overall, advantages quite easily outscore the disadvantages. Especially, as you start becoming an expert with the functions, you can device more effective ways of milking this semi-automated system to your own benefit.