Translator use of Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) tools

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Contents

Overview

During the last virtual event for members of the Certified PRO Network, attendees were invited to discuss practical and economic aspects of CAT tools. The discussion contained several points in favor of the use of CAT tools in translation.

But, why would be the use of CAT tools a requirement for professional translators? Or better, why should a professional translator learn how to use a CAT tool? Let's try to answer this question by addressing a set of points that have in turn their own questions and answers.

FAQ questions about the use of CAT tools

What percentage of projects require the use of CAT tools?

In the last 4 years, the use of CAT tools as a requirement or a preference grew 39.5%. In 2007, 10,881 jobs were posted at ProZ.com with at least one CAT tool as required or preferred by the job poster. This number grew slightly in 2008 and 2009 with 11,393 and 11,315 jobs respectively. However, in 2010, the number of jobs that required or preferred the use of a CAT tool raised substantially to 15,188.

It is worth noticing that these numbers correspond only to posted jobs. This means that direct offers sent via email --which are actually the main source of jobs at ProZ.com-- are not being accounted for.

We also find that the results of a recent quick poll support the idea that an important percentage of projects require the use of CAT tools. From 1,802 votes, 23.8% state that 91-100% of their projects require the use of CAT tools.

Members of the Certified PRO Network that participated in the discussion agreed that, while clients that require the use of CAT tools tend to be translation agencies (because they provide and request back specific TMs depending on the project, and may have several translators working on the same project with a single TM), it may also be very effective to use CAT tools when translating projects for end clients since these help to improve productivity and quality.

Do CAT tools improve productivity?

When asked if using a CAT tool improves productivity, a member of the Certified PRO Network replied: "if the tool is appropriate, and if it is used appropriately, it certainly does". But before learning how to use a CAT tool appropriately, we should first define what "being more productive" means, and how productive we are now to be able to measure any productivity increase with the use of a CAT tool. For this, translators are encouraged to know their own capacity. This means knowing the average of words per month, day, week and hour they can translate. Productivity in translation can be defined then as the ratio of what a translator produces to what s/he is required to produce.

How do CAT tools improve productivity then? As informed in the presentation "State of the industry: freelancers in 2010" offered during the 2010 Freelance Translator Virtual Conference, translators working with TMs report they work, on average, between 20-30% faster than without TMs, saving 20%-30% of their time, representing in turn 20%-30% more income per hour.

Just as we cannot deny that the jump from a typewriter to a word processor was a noticeable jump in productivity, we cannot deny the existence of CAT tools as productivity tools then.

Do CAT tools improve quality?

Another practical aspect discussed by members of the network was quality. While opinions seem to be diverse, no one denied a possible connection between the use of CAT tools and quality. Professional translators in the network agreed that the use of CAT tools improves consistency and some of them took this idea further to assure that if consistency improves, so does quality, an idea which does not seem too far-fetched.

On the other hand, 56.3% of the participants in a recent poll on the relationship between CAT tools and quality agreed that the use of CAT tools does not necessarily improve translation quality.

All in all, some professional translators say that the use of CAT tools goes hand in hand with specialization. The use of CAT tools to create and keep TMs in specific fields of expertise certainly improves productivity (translators do not need to search for the term online or in a dictionary for a second or third time, not even browse a glossary, since the TM will suggest the most appropriate term using the field of expertise as context). This type of productivity, in which the chances of using the right term in a given context are high, should have an immediate impact on quality.

How long does it take to learn how to use a CAT tool?

Most professional translators will agree in that the amount of time needed to learn how to use a CAT tool will vary depending on the level of computer knowledge the translator has. Nonetheless, a recent poll shows that learning to use a CAT tool takes less than a week. This time may be reduced if a course is taken.

Professional translators are encouraged to start by learning the basics of CAT tools and then move forward to learn about specific features offered by the different CAT tools available in the market. Mastering the use of CAT tools --and taking productivity and consistency to the next level-- is just a matter of time and practice.

How many CAT tools does a translator have to know how to use?

It has been suggested that every translator should know how to use at least one CAT tool, and in fact another recent poll suggests that about 75% of translators have mastered at least one CAT tool (22.4% can offer their services in 2 CAT tools, while 30.5% can work with 3 or more).

Starting with one CAT tool is recommended. Once the concepts of MT, matches, repetitions, etc. are clearly understood, translators will find it easier to acquire knowledge of other CAT tools in less amount of time.

Summary of benefits

Let's summarize now the benefits of using CAT tools and answer our initial question: "why should a professional translator learn how to use a CAT tool?":

  • because, since an important number of clients require or prefer the use of CAT tools for their projects, by using at least one CAT tool we make sure we are not missing out the chance to get new projects.
  • because the correct use of CAT tools increases productivity and with it, your income.
  • because CAT tools improve consistency and with it, quality.
  • because learning how to use a CAT tool takes less than a week (not to mention that it may take a day if learned by taking a specialized course).
  • because by learning to use just one CAT tool your business may improve substantially.

Conclusion

Now, are CAT tools worth the investment? This depends on the service being offered, the amount of time available to learn how to use them, as well as on personal choice. However, giving CAT tools a try before deciding the benefits they offer could be a good start.

References

Discussion related to this article

Please note that ProZ.com forum rules apply to this area.


Translator use of Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) tools
Dr Jérémy Anquetin Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:08
English to French
...Oct 20, 2011

Frankly who wrote this article? Do you have an interest in a CAT tool company or what? What about the cons of CAT tools?

Everything is not as white as you suggest. CAT tools are primarily an good investment for translation agencies, because they can then use TM across many projects and use as many translators as they want (and pressure them to lower their prices at the same occasion...).
I am not denying that CAT tools may be useful for freelance translator (for example, if you have either recurrent similar documents or a recurrent client for which you want to build a homogeneous and constant terminology). But you must calculate precisely your cost, in terms of money and in terms of working conditions for yourself. There are other cheaper and more user-friendly alternatives to TM than using CAT tools.

If you are a freelance translator, you should study the CAT tool question in terms of what good and what problem it brings to you only. It should be a personal choice. If you turn to CAT tool only to please some translation agency, you may be creating yourself the future cause of your deteriorating working conditions, and possibly of your decreasing income...

Be careful, everything is not black and white.


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Laurent KRAULAND Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:08
French to German
+ ...
Agreeing with you, Jérémy.Oct 20, 2011

Agreeing with you, Jérémy.
My most trusted and long-standing clients NEVER asked me to use a CAT tool (and NEVER asked me whether I had one or not).

And to explore further the "dark side" of CAT tools, given my experience with TMs from agencies for the same client, I must notice that CAT tools will also *consistently* repeat errors (especially terminological ones) and that agencies generally do not care about TM maintenance AT ALL.

[Edited at 2011-10-20 10:24 GMT]


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Mike Sadler Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:08
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
This article is wrongly titledOct 20, 2011

If the article were called, for example, "Why I think CAT tools are wonderful", then fair enough, but for such a one-sided piece of propaganda to masquerade as a "discussion" is a travesty.
I agree with Jeremy. Not everything is black and white. Not even CATs.


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Lucia Leszinsky
SITE STAFF
Thanks for the feedback, Jérémy!Oct 20, 2011

I do not have an interest in any specific CAT tool, but on what CAT tools represent to translators.

Like the overview explains, this article arises from a discussion on CAT tools that took place during the last virtual event for members of the ProZ.com Certified PRO Network.

You have a point in that CAT tools are a good investment for translation agencies. Perhaps you would like to jump in and edit the article to include, as you suggest, some cons of CAT tools. Remember, all translators are invited to add to this article by clicking on "Edit" above (just make sure you are logged in). If you don't know how wiki formatting works, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Cheatsheet

Thanks again!

Kind regards,

Lucia


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Philip Lees Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 03:08
Member (2008)
Greek to English
Totally one-sidedOct 20, 2011

I agree with the other posters that this article is disgracefully one-sided. What's more, the "arguments" do not stand up to examination. For example, consider these statements:

"We already have sufficient evidence to state that every professional translator must know how to use at least one CAT tool."

"Another recent poll shows that 32.0% of translators have mastered at least one CAT tool."

So what about the other 68% of translators? If more than two thirds of translators do not use CAT tools, how can we conclude that "every professional translator must know how to use at least one".

Or perhaps the implication is that those 68% are not real professionals.


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Samuel Murray Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 02:08
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
The danger of a wikiOct 20, 2011

Philip Lees wrote:
I agree with the other posters that this article is disgracefully one-sided.


The danger of having a wiki is that users who do not realise that each article is a work in progress will criticise it as if it is a completed, final version. Another danger is that people will complain about how one-sided the article is but will make no attempt to show the other side which they believe to be missing.


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Lucia Leszinsky
SITE STAFF
Thanks for the great feedback!Oct 20, 2011

And thanks Samuel for emphasizing the possibility to contribute to this article.

I have taken some of the ideas posted here and introduced some changes to the article.

Please, feel free to add a "Cons" section to it. I would be very interested in reading more about the drawbacks you found in the use of CAT tools.

Lucia


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Samuel Murray Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 02:08
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Statistics can also lieOct 20, 2011

ProZwiki says:
In 2007 = 10,881 jobs with at least one CAT tool as required or preferred
2008 = 11,393
2009 = 11,315
2010 = 15,188.


So the *number of jobs* that require CAT tools rose by 40% over 4 years, but what *percentage of jobs* require a CAT tool?

Thanks to ProZ.com's homepage on the Wayback Machine, we know this:

* Between 30 June 2008 and 15 January 2009, 17 844 jobs were posted (so that's approximately 35 000 jobs in total, in 2008). So the percentage of jobs requiring/preferring CAT is only 31% for 2008.

* Between 15 January 2009 and 5 January 2010, 33862 jobs were posted in total. So the percentage of jobs requiring/preferring CAT is only 33% for 2009 (roughly the same as 2008).

* Between 5 January 2010 and 28 January 2011, 49209 jobs were posted in total. So the percentage of jobs requiring/preferring CAT is only 30% for 2010 (roughly the same as in 2009).

So the number of jobs that require CAT tools has increased, but the percentage of jobs that require CAT tools remains unchanged at just under 1/3 of jobs.


[Edited at 2011-10-20 15:02 GMT]


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Philip Lees Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 03:08
Member (2008)
Greek to English
Statistics can also lieOct 20, 2011

Samuel Murray wrote:

So the number of jobs that require CAT tools has increased, but the percentage of jobs that require CAT tools remains unchanged at just under 1/3 of jobs


So are you going to edit the wiki, Samuel? I've edited the part I objected to.

Now I just checked that poll and see that it doesn't actually say what the original wiki entry said. In fact, the real data support Lucia's point of view. So I'll go back and edit it again.

[Edited at 2011-10-20 15:14 GMT]


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Helmaninquiel
Local time: 02:08
English to Spanish
+ ...
CAT tools are useful, but not perfectOct 20, 2011

I totally agree with all of you.
CAT tools are really helpful, but agencies use them mainly to lower costs.
Some translation agencies don't pay 100% matches, but what about this case:
TRANSLATION
AGENCY
In Spanish:
AGENCIA
DE TRADUCCIÓN
So when we have another segment containing only TRANSLATION we will get AGENCIA, instead of TRADUCCIÓN.
TM is useless.
As Laurent said translations memories are not mantained so translations are consistent yes, but in errors.
I like working with CAT tools: concordance search is fantastic and also having the possibility of viewing the glossary in the same environment.
But still it does requiere work.



[Edited at 2011-10-20 15:35 GMT]


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