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Three Reasons for Asking Your Translator to Use a Specific CAT Tool

Tools for translationRecently, the Russian translation portal Mozgorilla published an excellent translation of Jill Sommer’s article about what a translation agency should do to build relationships with its translators. One thing in the article caught my attention, because this is a never-ending issue in our work: Jill makes a good point, saying that an agency shouldn’t impose a specific translation memory program on a translator. But I believe that the choice of a CAT tool must be based on more than just this consideration.

Translator’s standpoint

From a translator’s perspective, I agree with Jill. It’s true that as a translator, I want to use my favorite tool for translation, because this is what I am most efficient with. I don’t want to lose time on a new tool due to the learning curve and the unavoidable inefficiencies of a newbie.

For example, we receive a lot of SDLXLIFF files from translation agencies. Because it sends a file in this format instead of something supported more universally, such as DOCX, an agency basically locks us into using Trados. Although Trados is undeniably a good program, I’m not as efficient with it as I am with OmegaT, the program that we use on a daily basis. By using Trados, my efficiency decreases. And, perhaps even more importantly, when any technical problems arise, I just don’t know how to solve them.

This is why I choose to translate the SDLXLIFF files with OmegaT. Even though it takes time to prepare them for translation with OmegaT, I know that the time spent on preparation will be less than the time I’d otherwise lose due to my inefficiency with Trados. This is not the only reason we use OmegaT to translate the SDLXLIFF files, but it’s an important one.

From the other side of the barricade

While I agree with Jill’s recommendation from a translator’s point of view, I want to contest it from a translation agency’s standpoint:

  1. If an agency uses a specific program for all of its projects, it’s next to impossible to allow translators to deliver in whatever format they want. The staff at an agency is trained to use this program only. The procedures and best practices are written for this specific program. Agencies don’t want to invest time and energy into anything else, because it just doesn’t pay off.

Here is a simple example: Our PM sends a DOCX file for translation and wants to receive a TMX file. A translator asks her to provide a TTX file for translation instead. The PM doesn’t have a clue about what a TTX file is. She takes time to figure out how to produce a TTX file, but fails. She then asks me how to do it. Even though I can help her to resolve the issue quickly, the combined time spent on exchanges with the translator and finding the solution is one hour—one hour of completely unproductive work.

As a result, agencies think that dealing with other programs is a complete waste of time. By sticking to just one program, they eliminate this problem entirely.

  1. An agency may need to split a project among several freelance translators. In this case, they’re supposed to connect to a shared TM over the Internet. There’s simply no other way but to insist on using a specific program, regardless of how badly translators want to use their favorite tools.
  2. An added benefit of requesting translators to use a specific tool is encouraging them to learn this tool and become more productive in the process. The truth is that many translators still don’t use any CAT programs and are quite inefficient in their work. And some of those who do employ a CAT tool use just 20 or 30% of its functionality. When an agency puts pressure on translators to use a program, they have the motivation to learn it. However difficult it might be for translators to step out of their comfort zone initially, the long-term benefit is worth it. An individual who didn’t use any program at all begins to use one, realizing that it’s better than translating in MS Word. And those who already use a CAT tool get better with this type of software in general. Because they work closely with an agency, they learn how to make most out of a tool. The result is that the quality and productivity of translation work improves.


Indeed, a translator should ideally be able to use a CAT tool of his/her choice. It’s not always possible or practical, though. Sometimes, asking a translator to work in a specific tool results in a positive outcome for everyone involved. This enables a translation agency to be most efficient while translators get more proficient with a CAT tool and are able to take on projects from this agency or others that they otherwise couldn’t.


  • Interesting discussion.

    The issues about using a different CAT tool are more to do with the initial cost than familiarity and comfort zones. Is it worth a freelancer’s while to spend hundreds of euros (and several hours of familiarisation) on a new tool that they may use only occasionally? Possibly not.

    The solution is probably tools to convert files between formats. My CAT tool can already convert a DOCX into a TMX easily, so that particular problem shouldn’t arise. Apsic Xbench can convert between a number of formats, but I don’t know if its range is exhaustive.

    Jill’s basic thesis, if memory serves, is that translation agencies may be depriving themselves of the best translators by insisting on the use of specific tools. Translations are not commodities, and some translators are (much) better than others…

    • Hello Oliver,
      Thank you for your comment. It is very insightful as usual.
      I agree that asking a translator to buy a CAT tool is not an option. Just as asking a translator to pay a fee for registration in an agency’s database of suppliers. As to investing the time into learning a new tool, this might be frustrating indeed. Personally, I trained myself to look at things like this in a positive way—I see them as investment in myself, my skills, and overall intelligence.

      My CAT tool can already convert a DOCX into a TMX easily, so that particular problem shouldn’t arise.

      Exactly! We are normally sending to translators a TXT or DOC file that can be translated with any CAT tool and ask to deliver a TMX file. XLIFF is also a great step forward towards compatibility across difference CAT tools.
      Best regards,

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Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.