Free Online CAT Tools VS. Purchased CAT Tools: The Importance of Building Your TM

There are quite a few agencies that operate online CAT tools. These agencies import the source document into their systems for segmentation. The translator then needs to log into the agency’s system, translate using the online CAT tool there, and log off after translating. Agencies advertise this as a great opportunity for translators because translators do not need to spend money to purchase and install CAT tools on their own computers. All they need to do is log into the online system, do their work, log off, and leave the rest to the agency.


However, we must take something into consideration here. An important aspect of using the CAT tool is that as time passes, a translator’s TM grows. The development of a translator’s linguistic and subject knowledge is significant. But the growth of a translator’s TM that gets saved on his or her computer as more and more difficult and specific text, special terminology, and commonly used sentences are translated is crucial. This means that as time passes, a translator’s work will become easier, more accurate, and more efficient.


This does not happen when online CAT tools are used. The translator has no right to the produced TM. So even if the translator receives another project from a different agency that contains similar text, it must be translated all over again from scratch. This is a complete violation of a principle I hold very dear: the system must be structured so that a translator’s work becomes easier, faster, and of higher quality.


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If the TM, a crucial factor to this system, is not available for translators, the translator must start all over again every time a similar phrase or sentence appears. The case may be different if the translator only works with that one agency, but this is very unlikely and also very undesirable. Therefore, every time a translator works with an online tool, he or she loses something very important. 


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I don’t think agencies that operate online CAT tool systems try to keep TMs to themselves on purpose. For translators who do not own a CAT tool, working with such agencies can present an opportunity to work with a CAT tool for the first time. Agencies emphasize: “You do not need CAT tools—we provide everything. All you need to do is focus on translation.” This may sound good, and is true up to a certain point. However, coming out empty-handed without any TMs is like withdrawing money from a bank but having to give half of it to the banker.


A company I worked with for a long time operated an online system called XTM. I didn’t like XTM all that much, but it was an alright system to use as long as the agency’s connection is quite stable. But I eventually parted ways with this company after a few years. No matter how much I translated for them, I just received compensation for my work and I wasn’t able to keep any of the TMs. (Also, I couldn’t translate efficiently because I wasn’t able to use online resources (other than TM in XTM) while I worked.) Another company I work with uses the same XTM, but this company accepted my request and agreed to let me use my own CAT tool for their projects. So I receive the source document from the company and work on it using my own CAT tool. (I think that translators of other language pairs are still working from the XTM.) I send them a TMX file after translation if they request it. (The reason why agencies ask for TMX files is to find TM matches for future projects so that they can request discounts. This I am okay with.)


Which would you choose? Would you rather use an online system which may be easier in the short run (not that easy, though, because one has to get used to a new system), or would you use your own CAT tool though it may be difficult and expensive?


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