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How Can CAT Tools Help You as a Freelance Translator?

When you were younger and learning how to write a paper, your teachers undoubtedly taught you about plagiarism and other bad writing practices. Your teachers instilled in you the idea that all of your work should be original, new. While these practices may have kept you out of trouble in school, they will only hurt you if you are a freelance translator. As a freelance translator you should not need to reinvent the wheel each time you accept a project. Especially if the bulk of your work involves the same language pair and it’s within the same field, you will see a repetition of phrases, terms, and even entire sentences. Here is where CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools can help. Instead of translating these segments over and over, a CAT tool reuses your old work to speed up the process. Interested? Let’s look at the benefits of using CAT tools and then discuss two of the most popular brands.

Why do I need a CAT Tool?

To answer the question short and sweet, CAT tools will help increase the speed at which you complete translations meaning you can take on a higher volume of work and make more money.  Aside from making translating faster and easier, CAT tools help ensure you are consistent in your translation of terms and phrases. They can also assist you in checking for spelling and grammatical errors, collaborating with other freelancers, and quoting rates for clients. A typical CAT tool is comprised of a few basic components. The main component of every CAT tool is translation memory (TM) . Translation memory is an ever expanding database which records your translations as you go. It records segments of text in the source language as well as your corresponding translation. When the same sentence appears later in the document, the CAT tool will tell you how you translated it previously Using consistent terminology is especially important in very technical fields such as the legal, scientific, or medical fields. Often you can transfer TMs so these databases full of translations can be shared. Another component of every CAT tool is a term base. A term base serves as a massive bilingual glossary. As you translate and learn more about your field, you can add, delete, and edit terms and the corresponding translation. While TM records phrases and whole sentences you translated in a certain way, term bases store translations for single words. You can link the definition and other helpful information to each source word. The end result will be a bilingual glossary of terms in your field of specialization. A third component of most CAT tools is a QA (quality assurance) feature. Many CAT tools offer this. You can run quality assurance tests on your completed document to check for consistency of terms, spelling and grammatical errors. Finally, most CAT tools will calculate the amount of words, segments, and units in the document. The CAT tool will analyze the amount of repetitions and matches in the document, giving you a better idea of how to negotiate rates with clients and agencies. Now that you understand some of the basic functions of a CAT tool, let’s look at the specific features two of the biggest translation software brands have to offer.

SDL Trados Studio

Trados is undisputedly the top dog of translation software. Boasting that they have been in the translation business for 30 years, aiding the translations of a quarter million translators, it’s not hard to see why. The latest version of the software is SDL Trados Freelance 2019 and it contains the main features we discussed above. Trados contains a powerful TM that was designed to learn your unique translation style so that all of its assistance is personalized and can be integrated seamlessly into your work. With new upLIFT technology you will never again be left high and dry with “fuzzy match” and “no match” results. The software suggests translations for these types of matches. SDL MultiTerm allows you to easily search for terms and their translation in the database. Trados has an AutoSuggest 2.0 feature similar to that of cellphones. As you type, the software provides suggestions based on previous translations, cutting down on keystrokes. Another great feature is Trados’ “Tell me technology” which helps translators find commonly used features quickly and introduces you to helpful features you may not have known about. As CAT tools contain numerous features, this will save you time fumbling around to find the tools you need to do your job. Recently, Trados introduced the SDL Appstore which allows you to customize your CAT tool with the specific features you need. If you think SDL Studio Freelance 2019 is right for you, you can purchase the license for EUR 449. For EUR 555 you can purchase SDL Trados Studio Freelance Plus, which gives you an additional activation license. This option is best for translators who work from two computers simultaneously. If you are unsure if SDL Trados Studio is what you need, you can download the 30-day trial for free.


MemoQ is the other big name in translation software. Although its name does not carry the weight Trados does, you will find a number of similar features. MemoQ operates on Microsoft Windows, but if you have a Mac, no worries. MemoQ is compatible with Macs using VMware Fusion, Bootcamp, and Parallels. MemoQ also has a powerful TM which not only remembers source language and the accompanying translation but records context information and information such as when you first made the translation and from which document the translation came. You have a lot of control over the term base as well. Terms you no longer need can be marked as forbidden and you are able to import glossaries from your TM.  MemoQ automatically scans your work and alerts you if you use terminology that’s inconsistent with your term base. MemoQ also has a great feature called LiveDocs which aligns each source sentence with its translation. MemoQ has an awesome teamwork feature which will allow you to easily share databases and collaborate with other translators and agencies. You can purchase MemoQ translator pro for EUR 620. This cost covers one license which you are able to use on two computers. Again, if you are unsure which software is right for you, you can download MemoQ’s free 30-day trial. If you want to continue with MemoQ after your free trial is up, you can purchase it and retain all of your past work.

How do you choose the right brand?

There are dozens of CAT tool brands out there so you need to keep in mind a few things as you shop around. What is your budget? What features are important to you and your line of work? How technologically savvy are you? These are good questions to ask yourself in the beginning, but ultimately it will come down to testing out brands to see with which you feel most comfortable. Take advantage of brands’ 30-day free trials to see what you like and don’t like. Remember, many of the CAT tools have very similar functions so it’s hard to go wrong.

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