Reader question: how do I choose a translation memory tool?

A reader asks: “How do I choose a translation memory tool? I feel like I need one, but I have no idea how to pick. They all seem confusing and expensive, and I don’t know where to start.

Short answer: If the TM tool is just for your own use, test-drive a few or ask colleagues about their experiences, then pick the one you like best. If you’re buying the TM tool because your clients require it, or because you think it will be a marketing advantage, then buy the one that your clients (or desired potential clients) want.”

Longer answer: It’s a complicated question. Here’s my story. For years and years, I used Wordfast Classic, which is light, easy to learn to use, and has good documentation and support. I really liked it, and I had sort of vowed to never upgrade to one of the “big guys” because I perceived them as expensive and difficult to learn to use. Then, about five years ago, along came a client who offered me a very large, ongoing project that required Trados Studio. At that point, I realized that I had been resisting buying one of the market leaders simply for the sake of resisting (…they won’t get my money, I’ll patch it together on my own, etc. etc.). So I bought Trados, hired an individual trainer to help me learn to use it, and was up and running in less than a week. And all in all, I like Trados Studio. It’s a bit complicated to learn, it can generate some inscrutable error messages, and it’s a bit bloated for projects like a one-page Word document, but I’m not looking to switch tools.

It’s important to look at a TM tool as a business investment, not an emotional decision. Translators get very emotional about their attachment to, or hatred of, certain TM tools and the companies that make them. As a recovering TM resister, I’m here to tell you that that’s misguided. It’s a business investment: will this tool help you land new clients, work more efficiently or produce better translations? Then buy it. If not, don’t. It’s that simple.

Lots of students in my classes wonder if they should pre-emptively buy a TM tool, as a selling point to potential clients. Maybe. In general, we freelance translators are frugal…sometimes we’re cheap. Frugal is good; frugal means that you’re wise with your money. Cheap is not good; cheap means that you’re unwilling to spend money on a tool that is required in order for your business to thrive. If you’re cheap, and using Windows XP and Office 2003 on an ancient laptop, that’s a false economy. At the same time, it’s not wise to spend $1,000 each on three different TM tools you might never use. But if you’ve heard from other translators that the clients you want to work for require a certain tool, it’s probably a good investment to buy it proactively. The caveat is that, depending on the kind of translation work you do, a TM tool can be either useless (if you translate novels) or indispensable (if you translate software). So, you don’t want to invest in one of the market leaders if you’re not sure you need it.

Some translators wonder if free TM tools are any good. That’s easy: yes. I love OmegaT. I actually find its matching algorithm better than Trados Studio’s, and it’s much more stable (no “object not set to an instance of an object” errors). And the market leaders sure aren’t going to say, “Go ahead and localize our tool into Slovenian! We’re excited to see the results!” The sticking point is that, especially if your client is not particularly tech-savvy, exchanging files through .tmx may entail some hiccups. In theory, the .tmx files are compatible between tools. In practice, each tool is going to do things (like segmentation) slightly differently. So, the client is more likely to say, “To work with us, you have to have X tool.” But yes, free TM tools can definitely get the job done.

An additional factor is that the TM tool market is fragmented; agencies may require memoQ, or Trados, or Wordfast Pro, or Memsource, or Across, or Fluency, or something else that they maintain in-house. Of the market leaders, I would say that Trados is the most widely-used, memoQ has the best reputation for support, and Wordfast Pro is the only one that is truly cross-platform. So, they all have their pluses and minuses. Additionally, you’ll need to either hire a trainer, or put in some unpaid time to learn to use the tool. Just as you don’t learn to use Photoshop in an hour, you don’t master a full-featured TM tool in that amount of time.

To close, two specific tips:
-Whatever your level of interest in translation technology, subscribe to Jost Zetzsche’s newsletter The Tool Box (not an affiliate deal, I just love it!). Jost will follow the trends for you, so that you don’t have to.
When you buy a tool, don’t pay list price. Purchase the tool at a conference, where discounts are often offered, or use a group buying opportunity on a site like ProZ (again, not an affiliate deal).

Readers, any thoughts on choosing a TM tool?

19 Responses to “Reader question: how do I choose a translation memory tool?”
  1. Christian Nielsen August 29, 2016
  2. Ruth Hollard August 29, 2016
    • Corinne McKay August 29, 2016
      • Juan Villaseca August 30, 2016
        • Corinne McKay August 30, 2016
    • Alison Penfold August 30, 2016
      • Corinne McKay August 30, 2016
  3. palomnik August 30, 2016
    • Corinne McKay August 30, 2016
  4. Jean-Christophe Helary August 30, 2016
  5. rosemarykneipp August 30, 2016
  6. Rachael Koev September 2, 2016
    • Corinne McKay September 2, 2016
  7. Riccardo Schiaffino September 15, 2016
  8. Tapani Ronni September 20, 2016

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