Better Translating – Part IV: Using Translation Software




In parts I, II, and III of our Guide to becoming a more efficient Translator, so far we have looked at the design of our offices, the setup of our PCs and monitors, and the perfect web browser to use while translating. Once we have have all that in place, it’s time to think about the actual translation process… and the right software to use. We will talk about receiving project orders, billing, and organizing your file system at a later point in this series, but chances are that, while you’re busy honing your organizational skills, you’ve got some translations coming in. Let’s take a look at how we can get this done more efficiently (and take some of the pain away from translating)…

For all those new to translating, it is important to know that there is amazing software out there which helps you abbreviate the translation process by about 50 %, if you are using it correctly. If you are a young translator, and have only just started work as a freelancer, or for an agency, chances are you still translate in Microsoft Word. I never translate in MS Word; even for the shortest translation, I use a CAT tool, and I recommend that you do the same. “CAT” means “computer-assisted translation”. CAT software works with translation memories, i.e. anything you’ve ever translated is saved in a central database and re-used whenever similar sentences come along. Over the days, years, and months, this allows you to build up a huge knowledge database far bigger than the amount of information you would be able to store in your brain; unless you’re an exceptional talent, of course. It can also become a great lookup tool and as such, really makes translating more enjoyable. Never translate in MS Word again; get the right software as soon as you can.

Translation software is ridiculously expensive, but it’s a worthy investment. The main competitors are DejaVu, Wordfast, MemoQ, and SDL Trados Studio. It’s worth noting that the first two, while they deserve their place in history, almost certainly belong to the past, as they have not been able to keep up with technology developments in terms of compatibility, ease of use, and user interface. It essentially boils down two two alternatives: MemoQ and SDL Trados Studio. MemoQ is to SDL Trados Studio like LibreOffice is to MS Office: much cheaper, in some aspects better, but not as widely used and feature-complete as its rival. If you want to remain at the forefront of translation technology, and make sure the files you produce during the translation process are compatibly with the formats demanded, and delivered by, large clients or agencies, you will almost certainly want to go with SDL Trados Studio. The bad news is: The software is infamous for being overly complicated, buggy, and difficult to work out. The good news: If you know how to work with it, it’s also terribly efficient. And the 2011 version is actually usable in a way the series has never been before.

We’ll look at details of the software and how to use it to speed up the translation process next time.

Do you agree that only novices translate in MS Word? Do you use CAT tools for even the smallest translation, like me? And do you agree with my choice of SDL Trados Studio as number 1 CAT tool? Let us know in the comments.

  1. Sabine said:

    Great resources for translators. I´ve been sharing your tips with our readers! This one is part III or Part IV?
    Looking forward to the next one!

    • Thanks Sabine. This is indeed Part IV. Thanks for letting me know. I had two third parts and hadn’t noticed. New chapter to come later today!

  2. Martin said:


    Thanks for all this very useful insight about all aspects of our “industry”
    (Man! I still cannot cope with the idea of being a factory worker and not a plain and simple good oldfashioned craftsman… even if using modern tools…).

    But since this post about CAT tools is almost 1 year old, I think it would be more than fair to update it today and, since you might have had some more time to compare tools and talk with colleagues about it, and surrender to the facts and admit publicly that MemoQ is far superior to any other CAT tool

    Thank you

    • Hi Martin, thanks for your comment. I have indeed been playing with MemoQ quite a bit over the last year, but I always come back to Studio simply because of the myriad of its features, even if it is still anything but user-friendly, as we all know, and still prone to bugs. To be fair, it carries the legacy of all these file formats and programs from Windows NT onwards so it’s no wonder there is a lot of rotten code in there. Whereas MemoQ has had the advantage of a fresh start and has been able to ignore quite a few formats which could prove conflictive. I’d be happy if you could elaborate here, or maybe you wish to write a guest post, on the advantages MemoQ has over SDL Studio and its best features.

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