[EN] CATs got your tongue

…or the tools of the trade.

Now, listen: Interpreters and translators kinda have super powers. I swear. Forget wizards and superheroes. The closest thing I have ever seen to real life magic is simultaneous interpreting between four languages.

Conveying meaning faithfully, particularly when it comes to humour,  managing to make the person listening laugh, is the source of the greatest professional satisfaction you can have.

Still, interpreters and translators are not all-powerful, and sometimes need help. If you are lucky and have a good team you can consult with on any issue, that is by far the best option… If not, you ARE going to need the CAT tools.


CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) Tool is a specialised software which is meant to aid translation with Translation Memories (TMs), dictionaries and glossaries. Translation Memory is the most useful thing invented for translation. It saves you time, money and the trouble of having to do everything from scratch every time a new project comes in; it will also take care of continuity and consistence of your translation.


By the time you get to your tenth year of translating, you are bound to have completed at least one project in most of them. Sometimes it is a matter of choice, and sometimes it is a prerequisite, particularly if you work as a part of a team.

I am no exception, and not counting DejaVu, I had a chance to work with some great CATs, and some which are not so great. Here, I will try to list some of them – bear in mind that this is not an official review, just an opinion based on my experience. Some CATs are more in line with my needs and practices than others.

Let’s begin with the “best”.

SDL Trados Of course Trados is up first: It’s ubiquitous, most requested, and quite possibly, the most expensive one. It’s pretty much a standard other CATs try, but very few manage to emulate.

Pros: No matter which format your projects are in, this format is supported by Trados. The TMs are expansive and the program searches and prompts suggestions really quickly. The software is quite intuitive and after a while it starts recognising the particularities of the language, like the causality between context and the use of cases, or the differences between variants, such as Serbian and Croatian or British and American English. It can be trained to recognise a double entendre and even slang. It has the best options if you are working as a part of a team.

Cons: It costs an arm and a leg. If you do not have an arm or a leg, you might want to consider selling a kidney. If you are among those lucky enough to afford this “nominal fee”, you may be disappointed to find out that training the program requires a lot of effort. Basically, if you translate less than 30000 words per month, buying Trados is just not a viable option. But, if you are willing to put in time and effort, Trados may be the best CAT for you – if you are not keen on personalisation, that is. My problem with Trados is the same problem I have with the Apple products. The program is what it is and will accept only upgrades and expansions sanctioned by the manufacturer. Should you want to change, remove or expand a feature, you will not be able to do so unless SDL has officially approved it.

MemoQ Similar to Trados but doesn’t support as many formats. If you fiddle with it enough, you may be able to talk it into accepting additional ones, but it is generally not worth the time. Its biggest advantage is that it supports some of the SDLs formats, and that it is somewhat cheaper. That is it. It is slower, less flexible its interface is not the prettiest. Truth be told the QA is decent, but the machine translation plug in is useless for EX YU languages.

WordFast This is a software which has two versions: Classic and Pro. Classic used to be great for the translators at the beginning of their career. It provided a great environment and exercise in glossary compilation, it was small, light and free.  That one good feature of the original software is buried under the heap of “choice” features, so I choose to avoid it when possible.

OmegaT OmegaT is the Ugly Betty of the CATs. There are those that think this is not a good CAT (They are wrong), but it is the tool that I work best with. First and foremost: it is completely free. GNU license means you can do whatever you like with this software since it is Open Source. Arguably, you can make it into a better CAT than Trados if you know Java or know someone who knows Java. You can change the interface, expand options, install addons and integrate other programs, for example I have a very useful plug in I use for subtitling. If you don’t have the skills or the patience to fiddle with it, what you get is a pretty ugly program; as ugly as any other Open Source program ( Open Office, Thunderbird or GIMP). Downsides: It is really  ugly and you may not like it. That is ok.

CafeTran I confess I hadn’t heard of this one before last year. It is small, light and flexible, it has a bunch of useful features and it supports all of the most popular formats. It is free up to a point where your TMs become of a certain size. At that point you have to either shell out the price of the license or trim down your TMs. It reminds me of WordFast in its infancy and if I were to recommend a software for beginners, this would be the one.

This is not a complete list of the software I worked in, nor is it by any means an exhaustive list of the software available on the market, but it covers the basics. For example, I heard Across has a very good MySQL Server CAT but s of this moment, I have not worked in it, nor do I have the desire to buy the license, also it is safe to assume that the installation takes forever…


13 buone ragioni, folks!