10 Basics for Help Choosing a CAT Tool

Last updated Jan 22, 2024
By Gwenydd Jones

Need help choosing a CAT (computer-aided translation) tool? Here are 10 basics to think about, to help you make the right investment.

1. Is a CAT tool optional?

No. Or, almost no. Some established translators still aren’t using them. But for the vast majority of freelance commercial translators at least one CAT tool is essential. If you don’t have a proper one, potential agency clients may consider you an amateur.

2. Should I invest in a more expensive CAT tool?

Yes. If you’re serious about being a full-time professional freelance translator you should invest in the best tools you can afford. But don’t resent the investment. A top-of-the-range CAT tool will pay for itself by allowing you to work faster. The decision to invest is a no-brainer for a professional translator. It’s a basic tool of our trade.

Starting out as a freelance #translator? This article will help you with the basics about CAT tools. Share on X

3. How do I choose between all the different CAT tools available?

My personal approach to choosing software for my work has always been to use what most of the people I want to work with are using. Boring? Definitely, but smart if you want to make life easier. Ask around among your existing clients, or translators working in your language combination, to see which one they prefer.

I wouldn’t recommend buying a CAT tool to please just one customer, though. Over my career, I’ve come across agencies that will work only with translators with a certain make of CAT tool. Some have told me that they give preference to freelancers with a certain CAT tool. Some agencies will offer you a discount if you buy a certain make of CAT tool through them. I can even think of one that makes you subscribe to their CAT tool. I personally wouldn’t buy under duress or for just one client.

For help with this, check out our article on the best CAT tools of the year.

Do a proper test run so you can make an informed decision.

4. Is it worth testing different CAT tools?

Absolutely. I wouldn’t waste time on free ones though. I’d go straight to the market leaders and take whatever free trial they’re offering for the full-featured version of their software. That will let you do a proper test run so you can make an informed decision.

5. Are CAT tools inter-compatible?

These days they should be. Double check with sales before you buy if you have any doubt. In my experience, it isn’t ideal to have to swop between tools. But nowadays it works fine between, say, Trados and Memo Q.

6. Is it easy to learn to use a CAT tool?

It doesn’t take much to get up and running to do a straight translation. But CAT tools have lots of complex features that can help you in different areas of your work, like terminology look-up, for instance. To take full advantage of them, you’ll have to take time to learn about them. The big companies run courses and have online knowledge bases for troubleshooting. Professional associations like the ITI and CIoL will sometimes also run webinars that offer training on CAT tools as part of their CPD offering.

7. Is it worth paying for ongoing support and updates?

It’s fair to expect a few bumps along the way as you start to use your CAT tool. If a paid support service is on offer, it’s worth looking into it. I personally pay for ongoing support and updates and have done for 10 years now. Having someone there when I need them and always having the latest software is worth the investment. The support helps me make sure I deliver what I said I would, while the updates mean I always have the latest programs. Both make a good impression on my client.

The decision to invest is a no-brainer for a professional translator.

8. Is integrated machine translation important?

Machine translation (MT) is continually improving and set to become a mainstream translation solution. Love it or hate it, you may find that somewhere down the line you want or need to integrate machine translation into your translation process. See what machine-translation options the CAT tool offers. Customisation is important with MT, so I’d look to see if the option is there to subscribe to a cloud-based engine that you can teach and/or that will learn from you.

For more about MT, check out this guest post I wrote for ProZ.com: “10 Things Translators Need to Know about Machine Translation”.

9. How old is the software version you’re buying?

Once you’ve chosen your CAT tool, look at the date when the last version came out. If it was more than two years ago, ask the company when the next version is due for release. Sometimes you can buy a current version with updates to the next version included. But the vendor may put time limits on it. So, perhaps anyone who has made a purchase in the preceding six months gets the update.

Thinking about buying your first CAT tool? Read this before you buy. #t9n Share on X

10. Can I get discounts on a CAT tool?

There’s always a discount to be had somewhere. If you’re a student, then asking about student discounts is a good place to start (this may be possible through your university). There are group buys available on ProZ.com. If the software is issued with two licences, then you could consider going halves with a trusted friend. Agency discounts are available on certain brands. You can often find discounts through in-person and online conferences. You could just put your negotiation skills into action and get them to give you a discount over the phone or by email. Worth a try, right?

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Written by Gwenydd Jones

Gwenydd Jones is a Spanish- and French-to-English translator, an SEO blogger and a course creator. She is the founder of The Translator's Studio and the lead teacher on its courses. Connect with Gwenydd on LinkedIn or contact her through this website.

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