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What CAT tool should I invest in?

This a very popular question in translator forums, and it comes with many answers.

Here I'll show you which brands of translator software - CAT tools - are the most popular and widely used amongst the German translation community, and give you a little information about what's on offer.

Whilst looking at the list (not in any order of preference), you should think about:

  • How much you are willing to spend for a CAT tool? (Prices range from free to 1000+ euros)
  • Does the price/performance ratio make sense for my business?
  • Does it need to be compatible with the translator software used by my agencies/clients/other translators I work with?

If you're not sure how CAT tools actually work, here is a brief overview.

So here’s my list:

1. SDL Trados Studio

Trados is produced by SDL  and is practically the industry standard in Europe.

You may find the range of products offered on the SDL website a little confusing, but the translation memory software we are considering is SDL Trados Studio 2019, which they claim is “one integrated environment for all your translation, review, terminology and project management needs” and is sold as means of “increasing productivity”.

But it doesn’t come cheap: The bottom-of-the-range version for freelancers is priced from around 600 euros.

Once you've bought the software, you can buy future upgrades for a couple of hundred euros or so.

SDL sells itself as a major content and language management service provider, offering translation, localisation, globalisation and consulting services.

Not surprisingly, if you want to work with them as a freelance translator, you have to own their product. They also run courses (you pay) to teach you to use their TM and even a “certification” option, so you can prove your abilities on their TMs.

They claim to have invested US$ 100 million in their global information management systems so they are certainly here to stay.

2.  memoQ

As it says on its website, memoQ translator pro is a computer-assisted translation environment tool which runs on Microsoft Windows operating system. It was designed by translators for translators, and it increases productivity and quality for all those who perform, edit and review translations.

A memoQ translator pro license currently costs 620 euros / 770 dollars. It is definitely popular here in Europe where it seems to be the main alternative to Trados.

3. Across

Across is a German-based company offering 2 major products.

The Across Language Server is intended for large companies with multiple users while the Across Translator Edition is designed for freelance translators.

The basic version is free, (as is the Premium Edition for registered students) but I think very much designed for you to upgrade to the paid version, e.g. can only connect with one Across Language Server client at a time.

It’s a translation memory and terminology management system which functions either as a standalone application, or as a remote client which can access a client’s Across Language Servers using a temporary softkey.

4. Déjà Vu X3 Professional

Atril's translation memory software designed for freelancers is called the  Déjà Vu X3 Professional and costs around 420 euros. They do offer a free 30 day trial version to give you a chance to assess its capabilities before deciding whether to buy.

It seems popular according the customer comments on its website. Atril also hosts Transref, a directory of translators, which all freelancers can sign up to, and which announces training sessions and industry events.

5. TransitNXT

The STAR group offer several corporate communication products, and TransitNXT is their TM tool. It is more widely used in the US/Canada than Europe, and is regarded as a good tool for technical translations (e.g. construction drawings etc.).

It's a scalable solution, with a 12 month licence for the cheapest option, Transit NXT Freelance, currently costing around 250 dollars.

6. Wordfast

Wordfast solutions are designed to help translators save time, money and effort by storing your translations in a translation memory database and retrieving that translated content automatically for future projects. 

Since 1999, Wordfast has been committed to providing the most user-friendly and affordable TM tools on the market.

Options for the freelance translator include Wordfast Classic, a Microsoft plug-in, Wordfast Pro, a standalone solution, and Wordfast Anywhere, a free cloud-based service. I have the 3-year licence for Wordfast and got a good deal through a Group Buy on ProZ.

TIP!: Online translator communities such as ProZ often host Group Buys for CAT tools – sign up and save anything up to around 40% on the costs of purchase.

7. OmegaT.org

OmegaT  is open source translator software and therefore available free of charge. One reviewer (in German) on the OmegaT website likens it to the 2CV of CAT programs – quick, simple and you can make alterations yourself!

Popular for fans of OpenSource, Mac and Linux, but be prepared to convert all documents into OpenOffice first as it can only work on text-based data. Probably for those of you who enjoy playing with computers, rather than someone (like me!) who regards them as a tool.

8. openTMS

Forum Open Language Tools (FOLT) is a German project in which a group of partners have worked together to create an open source translation memory software system, openTMS. In its latest manifestation, it provides a full-featured, enterprise-level translation workbench environment for professional translators.

So if you're computer savvy and have a technical mindset, this might be the solution for you!

My 2 cents?

If you’re new to the game, start off by playing with a free TM such as Wordfast Anywhere or taking a 30-day free trial of a paid solution to get the feel for how translator software works.

My impression from the online forums I read is that the most popular TMs among professional freelancers are Trados, memoQ, and Wordfast. I use Wordfast and it does everything I need. I also use the free Wordfast Anywhere aligner for converting existing translations to feed my TM.

If you’re working in an environment where your client demands you have access to top-of-the-line translation memory software such as Trados, then you probably already know it!

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