CAT tool evaluation: WFA and Trados – David and Goliath?

Current professional standards dictate that computer-aided translation (CAT) tools play a significant role in the work of any translator looking to market themselves profitably in this technological age. Or, as Frank Austermühl puts it in Electronic tools for translators: ‘translation, as a by-product of the information age and globalisation, has become a computer-based activity’.

Familiarity with certain software packages is very often a prerequisite when being considered for a translation project and a mastery of these tools is preferred by many potential clients. This takes a significant investment of time (and sometimes money) on the part of the translator and it is important to consider the impact of certain tools on your working routine before making an investment.

Despite the increased demand for technology within many areas of the field, the prevailing attitude towards CAT tools – and machine translation (MT) in particular – is one of scepticism; the void between translation theory and practice mentioned in my previous post on translation theory somewhat mirrors the link between translation practice and MT as working translators often disassociate themselves from advances in technology, incorrectly fearing that their livelihood risks obsoletion due to advancements in MT. Austermühl allays this fear by making the point that ‘since MT systems neglect the communicative, cultural and encyclopedic dimensions of translation, it is questionable whether they really provide ‘translation’ at all’ and, in fact, it is precisely the input of working translators that is needed for CAT tools to be able to augment their usefulness to the working translator, as attested by Shreve’s belief that ‘CAT systems should be designed on the basis of empirical studies of the translators task’.

Over the course of the last few months I have worked with Wordfast Anywhere (WFA), a free, browser-based translation memory (TM) package which was chosen over other available alternatives (including SDL Trados Studio 2009 which was also used extensively so that informed comparisons could be drawn) for reasons explained below. Generally speaking, the major advantage of working with a CAT tool is the increase in productivity and morale achieved by reducing time spent completing repetitive tasks or other activities unrelated to translation such as formatting, while simultaneously helping to increase intra-textual uniformity by using the capabilities of the TM to ensure that terms are translated in a consistent manner. Indeed, studies have suggested that translation tasks can take up to 40% less time when using a CAT tool.

However, the fact that mistranslations can easily be reproduced is one notable drawback and the time taken to familiarise oneself with the software enough to be able to quickly carry out ‘simple’ tasks dictates that initial working speed is extremely low, although the benefits are quick to follow. In one translation project in particular, the production of tables was a particularly satisfying result of the use of the CAT tool, as no formatting time was required to produce exact replicas of complex tables.

WFA in particular provides several substantial advantages over other available tools, the most obvious – and perhaps most important of which – being that it is totally free while still performing to a perhaps unexpectedly high standard. Second to this is the fact that, due to it’s browser-based nature and dedicated server which can store up to ten files per user at any given time, translation projects can be accessed anywhere with an internet connection, offering a convenience and portability which cannot be matched by tools requiring installation. Other features such as an integrated optical character recogniser and a relatively straightforward layout, which allows projects to be set up quickly and easily, all serve to develop a well-rounded and extremely practical package.

Several limitations in relation to other available products became very apparent to me when using Trados, however, as features such as an integrated multi-lingual spellchecker, increased file compatibility and the ease with which multiple files, projects and deadlines can be managed provide very tangible aids to the translator’s work and make the entire package more self-contained.

Ultimately, however, despite the undoubted additional power that Trados wields, issues of convenience (and of course cost, with a single-user Trados studio licence costing from roughly £600-2000) make WFA a preferable choice for all but the more well-established or well-paid freelance translators.

Finally, some limitations that were common to all CAT tools used included problems with connectivity and crashes: WFA would occasionally fail to connect to the server or declare the TM server unavailable and log the user out, leaving the translator to panic about the status of their work, while Trados often became unresponsive, a particularly undesirable problem when negotiating tight deadlines. Furthermore, the inability to edit images was occasionally an issue and, while easily remedied in certain instances with the aid of a basic image editing package, this shows a clear deficiency of current translation technology.

Hopefully I’ll be able to dedicate some time to OmegaT in the coming months and share my thoughts on that as I have read some very promising reviews, but if anybody has experience using it – or any other tools for that matter – please get in touch here or via twitter to give me your views! Hasta pronto.

5 thoughts on “CAT tool evaluation: WFA and Trados – David and Goliath?

  1. M.Cevoli / Qabiria (@qabiria) says:

    OmegaT has really advanced a lot with the recent release of version 3.0. We’ve been using OmegaT for a few years and are very happy with our choice. Everytime I am forced to use SDL Trados Studio by some customer I really struggle with its slowness and its cumbersome interface.

    • jaltranslation says:

      That’s really interesting, it’s rare that you hear anyone speak badly of OmegaT. I wasn’t aware of the new version either, I’m looking forward to giving it a go.
      Ideally, I want to try to work with as many tools as possible before getting overly familiar with just one. Have you had any experience with memoQ at all?

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