By Daniel Maciel, PLD Blog Co-Editor
One thing I realized early on in my career as a translator is that CAT Tools don’t have users, they have (in)voluntary evangelists. Not unlike other niche/specialized software used in very specific professional contexts, the weapons of choice for translators tend to get adopted early, ingrained quickly and defended often.
That is why when colleagues were discussing the benefits of CAT Tools in a professional Facebook group the other day and the ever-occurring topic of which one is ‘the best’ came up once again, I stayed away from the discussion. More often than not, these debates end up being more a reflection of the accumulated muscle memory long-time users of these tools have acquired over time than the actual shortages (or lack thereof) of the tools they swear by.
But then I saw a colleague mention something that I wholeheartedly agree with: why have a CAT Tool? Why not have CAT Tools?
By the way, I’m not talking about owning one CAT Tool and then learning the basics of a couple more as required by client assignments or a project here or there. I’m talking about actually purchasing several different CAT Tools and becoming (reasonably) proficient enough in each of those tools to the point you can effortlessly switch between them as you see fit.
I honestly don’t know whether or not this is a controversial opinion because I don’t see it brought up very often, or at all (which is precisely why I thought this could be an interesting post to write), but the fact is there are several advantages to not swearing eternal fealty to one of the gods of the translation software market. Here are a few of them:
1) All CAT Tools are definitely not created equal, nor for the (exact) same tasks.
No matter how good your favorite CAT Tool is, chances are it is going to fall short at some point where many others wouldn’t. The more tools you use, the more it becomes clear that some are much more adept at certain things than others. Some CAT Tools handle very large TMs, projects and glossaries (or “term bases,” if you ascribe to CAT Tool canon) better. Some are built for speed, others for completeness. Some are gorgeous but a bit bulky. Some make up for the somewhat garish looks with some pretty interesting design decisions. There’s much to be said (and gained) for knowing the right tool for the right job. Of course, having the right tool also helps =).
2) Have a buffet of strong suits to pick from.
If you’re like me, I bet this particular thought has occurred to you a few hundred thousand times: “Man, if only this CAT Tool had that amazing feature this other one has, and maybe another one from that other one, it would be damn perfect.”
Here’s the thing, though: that will never happen. Not only is development time a finite resource, but the target for what constitutes the perfect solution is also constantly moving. By the time all tools incorporate whatever X feature is the current rock star, feature X2+ will have already come by and become the new darling.
Having multiple CAT Tools doesn’t equate to having a perfect solution, of course, but it gives you the flexibility of switching to whatever suits you best at that point and for that project. So your next assignment is not as pleasurable to do in CAT Tool 1? Oh my, a quick TMX export makes it very easy to keep on going just where you left off in CAT Tool 2 (or 3).
3) It’s always better to expand your horizons if you get the chance.
This one will seem like the less tangible of the arguments, but it is one of the most important ones. Understanding how different tools tackle similar challenges has really helped me better understand how I should tackle those same challenges as well. For instance, there are tools that put a strong emphasis on keeping pace (going as far as to try to measure your hourly productivity); others place the division of the project into different tasks (preparing, translating, reviewing, doing LQA etc.) front and center, while others have it almost more as an afterthought than an actual feature. This influences how you do your work and how you think of your work. Getting these different “perspectives” from different vendors on what parts of our work are the most crucial for their software also helps me think about what part of my work should be the object of my prominent focus.
4) It pays to know what’s out there.
The translation market has expanded and changed remarkably in recent years, but one thing remains: the more proficient you are in different ways of getting the job done, the more likely you are to fit what your (present and future) clients are looking for. Proof of this is that translation agency recruiting forms will often present a whole cornucopia of checkboxes for you to select the CAT Tools you can use, not a dropdown for you to pick one. That said, I believe the term “can use” in those forms means something more specific than “I know what that tool is and the basics of how it works”. To me, hidden in that checkbox is something quite more specific, which I would phrase as something like this: “If I have a project right now that requires you to use this tool and the deadline is super tight, can I just send you the project files (or the infamous ‘package’) and expect you to get started immediately, or are you going to take a couple of hours installing everything, trying to find that old serial number you won in a raffle 14 years ago and hope still work, fighting your instincts at every step of the way because you’ve been using this other tool forever, struggling to import everything, and only then get started?”
In general, clients know that most professional translators are more than savvy enough to get by with tools they’ve never seen before if need be, but they also know there is always a learning curve with any new (or new-ish) software, and that is always a relevant factor. I say the more of those curves you can climb in advance, the better – and can personally vouch for the benefits of doing so.
So there you have it. This is why I decided many years ago that the best solution for me would be to (1) get my first CAT Tool by deciding what was most important to me at the time, and then (2) keep a watchful eye on professional conferences and similar events to try and grab those sweet, sweet discounts vendors usually announce to add new tools to my arsenal.
These days, I own three of the “big four” CAT Tools and a couple of the smaller ones, and have also registered for/installed/used some of the free ones as well. Now, when one of them goes full “Tag-a-palooza” and swarms my screen with formatting tags that won’t go away, there is always another one that will do a better job of it (before you ask, dear reader, because I know your fingers are tingling with helpful advice: Yes, I know how to clean up my files and remove Word cruft whenever it’s there, but that doesn’t always solve the problem). Or, sometimes, I may get a client that simply sends out those Trados packages without even asking if that’s what I use. I probably ticked the ‘Trados’ checkbox on their form, so that’s all they need to know. No problem! Here’s your return package, sir/madam! Or I may have in my hands a job with a lot of partial matches that the tool I’m presently using is resolving, er… suboptimally. Happens to the best of them, doesn’t it? Well, Dèjá Vu consistently mops the floor with everything else I have ever tried on that regard. Need a quick job done on the go and don’t have your laptop with you? There’s Matecat, Memsource, or a bunch of others.
In Tribbiani-speak, I grabbed a spoon CAT-Tool-wise, and never looked back. It has helped me tremendously in becoming a better, more balanced and more flexible professional, so I truly don’t know why more people don’t go for it. Or do a lot of people actually do it but just don’t talk about it very often?
Well, if that’s the case, let me know in the comments! And if not, here’s hoping this post helped you think about it a little. ‘Til the next one!
Daniel Maciel has been a freelance translator and interpreter for about ten years. He is a sworn translator and interpreter in Brazil, a technical translator and conference interpreter in a bunch of other places, and a consumer electronics geek in failed recovery in all places (which doesn’t help with saving a lot from whatever he makes with the first two but is totally probably maybe not really worth it). His areas of expertise are legal, financial, and IT, but life has had him dabble with a bunch more. You can find him on Facebook and LinkedIn. He also has issues with writing about himself on the third person, as he was asked to for this particular mini-bio, and would like all readers to please keep in mind that he is a totally normal first-person-using person when not writing mini-bios.