Why do we, translators, actually hate CAT tools?

Published by: jankapoun, dated: February 16, 2021

So, I suppose, the original idea of a CAT tool was something like this: Let’s create a simple text editor combined with a database and let this program constantly search for segments already stored in memory from previous translations to offer them to the translator so that he/she can re-use them in the text he/she is currently translating. And of course, this is a wonderful indea which can save you a ton of time and effort! Long gone are those days when we used just a MS word and manually typed every single word from our PDF source… speaking nothing of those ancient translators who actually used mechanical typewriters… that must have been pure hell.

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The financial aspect of a CAT tool

Well, and there’s yet another aspect to it: the money! Of course. Imagine you have 1000 words to translate but with 50% of them already stored in your translation memory. This means you actually only translate 500 words…. but you charge the whole 1000!

Well…. unfortunately not anymore. I suppose, in those early days when Trados was really new and only few people knew about it, this must have been great. Easy money, right?

But of course, very soon, translation agencies got wind of this new technology and decided to use it for themselves, thereby effectively removing the financial benefits from the translator, as they introduced their CAT payment grids.

CAT grids

For those who don’t know what a CAT grid is: it’s an analysis and financial calculation of the document to be translated, where all text segments are weighed according to their level of „fuzziness“.

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Well, this does not sound very clear, so let me try once again: If you translate a sentence that is NOT yet stored in the translation memory, then this is called a “no match” or “new“, which means that you have to put in all your effort and translate it form scratch.

On the other hand, if a sentence (or as we say: “segment“) is already stored in your translation memory from previous translations, this is called the “100% match“, because such segment will be simply pulled out from the translation memory (i.e. a database) so that you don’t have to translate it at all, meaning you have almost no work with it.

And then we have everything in between, so those are the 1-99% matches, or “fuzzies” as we call them. And you can imagine that a 99% fuzzy will require almost no work, because such segment is almost identical to the one already stored in memory. It can just differ in a comma in the middle of the sentence.

On the other hand, a 75% fuzzy is already pretty much different and chances are that it’s actually quicker to translate it from scratch than to look for and fix any differences from the segment stored in memory.

And all this is also reflected in your financial remuneration: you will get your full price per word for any “no matches” and some 10% or even nothing at all for 100% matches. You will get a dime or two for 99% matches, a bit more for 85% matches and chances are they pay you your full price for 75% or less matches because they require quite a lot of work.

And this brings me back to the CAT grid: It’s a neat table with all those percentual maches arranged in colums …. that get summed up and weighed to get the final price for the translation job.

The red-pilled translator

Well, this sounds perhaps fair…. but didn’t they tell you when you were buying your CAT software that you will get those 400-500 euros very soon back because this CAT tool will save you lots of work? They did, didn’t they!?

So, soon you will get pretty much red-pilled. A CAT tool is not a wonderful tool that will make you lots of money. It’s become a necessity if you want to get a translation job at all. Because they will ask you: Do you have Trados? No? Then get it, we cannot work with you otherwise.

Squeeze them even more!

It has also become a tool for the agencies and possibly end customers to squeeze as much money from their translators as they possibly can. Sure, I only have limited experience with direct clients, but as far as I can say, they know nothing about CAT tools at all. So I wouldn’t be too much surprised if big agencies actually squeezed all the possibly money from their translators on all those fuzzies and 100% matches… but charged full price to the end clients!

Still useful

I should perhaps say that even if you remove the financial benefit, a CAT tool can still be fairly useful: Its’ certainly more comfortable to work with: you have the source and target segment right next to each other so that you don’t have to look for it with your eys. You can also very easily search in your translation memories (you can for instance look up terms that you don’t really know how to translate and check them in your translation memory to see how such terms have already been translated by other translators). It will also automatically preserve the text formating so your target document in your target language will look more or less the same as the source… and you don’t need to worry too much about formatting it yourself.

So, why do we hate CAT tools?

Because:

a) they are obviously made just for the financial benefit of the agencies / end customers without paying any regard to the comfort of work of the translator. That’s for instance the infamous German tool, so beloved in Germany…. which makes me feel like hanging myself every time I am forced to work with it. On the other hand, it makes me hone my negotiating skills: Sure, I can do that. But I will kindly ask you for a 50% surcharge, because just about everything in this Software Aus Pakistan takes 2x more time and work to achieve …. (and no, it’s not SAP, the software for enterprises).

b) there are so many of them now. So, I just paid some 500 bucks for the Trados studio…. and then Kilgray manage to convince agencies that memoQ would be a good idea, meaning in turn for me to pay yet another 500 bucks for this software too. Yes, sure, you can get a licence from the agency for free, but they only have so many of them and they are allocated dynamically every time you launch this software. This means you might manage to get a licence today, but tommorrow perhaps not… which will cause delays in delivery. So they urge you to get your own paid copy of memoQ… so you just buy it, naively thinking this will bring you more jobs from that agency. And it won’t, they just used you to their own advantage. So you are left with a piece of software you only use occassionaly and you are 500 bucks in minus.

And this might slightly spoil your mood.

c) they are different, which becomes tedious. The keyboard shortcuts are mostly different. The colors are different – especially that yet another German tool so beloved in Germany seems to be specifically made to induce psychedelic attacks and possibly burn out your retina. Sure, you can redefine your keyboard shortcuts and colors…. but do I wanna be bothered by that?

You get suspicious

So next time you see yet another CAT tool, you get suspicious. Do I have to pay again? Do I have to learn yet another system designed by maniacs to annoy translators as much as possible?

Get those benefits back!

And this brings me to my own tool. As I realized this morning, people think it’s yet another CAT tool… and so they get annoyed, probably because of the reasons mentioned above. I totally get it. Believe me. Because I am one of you, a translator. But this tool is NOT a CAT, it’s actually designed for you, the translator, to bring you back those financial benefits and the comfort of work you have been robbed of.

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