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I often hear people say: “I only work with creative texts, so CAT tools don’t work for me”. I can see where this is coming from: creative texts don’t tend to have a lot of repetition. But CAT tools are so much more these days than just databases that help with repetitive texts. Also, “creative” doesn’t always mean “no repetition”.

Another reason I sometimes hear is: “I can’t work in segments, it limits my creativity”. A perfectly valid reason, but one that doesn’t always apply, as I will explain below.

I translate a lot of creative advertising material, but I have always used my CAT tool if at all possible. Here’s why.

Not all creative texts are the same. Some will contain no repetition at all. But advertising material does tend to be repetitive: often, you have to translate texts for different media (website, social media, etc.) which may not be 100% the same, but usually contain close enough matches to warrant using a CAT tool. Also, advertising campaigns tend to be used for a while, sometimes months, sometimes even years. This means there will be updates, which can contain repetitions. And even if there are no exact repetitions, they need to be translated in the same style and with the same terminology, so having a translation memory and a terminology base for reference is really useful.

File formats
The texts I have to translate are often delivered in Excel, because it’s easier for the project manager to have all the different languages in one file. And because it’s easier for the DTP person who has to copy and paste all these texts in strange languages into the website or poster or whatever the final format is. But it’s not exactly easy for the translator, who has to find their target language among all these different languages (and columns with instructions). And then has to translate them in an environment (Excel) which wasn’t made for word processing. That’s where a CAT tool comes in handy: you can simply import just the columns/cells you need to translate, use the spell check, character count and quality assurance features of your CAT tool and export your translation back into the Excel file.

The same applies to PowerPoint presentations: no need to click on each separate text box, just import the whole file into your CAT tool (including slide notes, if these have to be translated as well), finish your translation and export it. The only thing you will have to do in PowerPoint is check whether the texts fit into their respective text boxes. Although there is even a trick to make that easier: if you keep an eye on the character count while working in your CAT tool and, where possible, make sure it doesn’t exceed that of the source text, you probably won’t need to fix a lot of text boxes.

A CAT tool forces you to translate in segments, which not everyone likes. But because of the way advertising source texts are often delivered (in cells and columns in an Excel file), you are basically already working in segments, just like in a CAT tool. It’s not ideal, but that’s the way it works, so you might as well do it in a CAT tool and use the advantages of the tool as a bonus.

Changes in the source text
Even if there are no other advantages such as repetition or impractical file formats, I still tend to use my CAT tool. For a very simple reason: ever-changing source texts. This tends to happen quite regularly with advertising texts: you either receive the source text before it is final, so you “can already start working on it”, or the client decides to make some changes after you have started or even after you have already delivered the translation. Instead of having to go through the updated text (fingers crossed they used Track Changes!), you simply import the new version in your CAT tool and you can easily see what has changed and update your previously translated segments to incorporate the changes.

Finally, I use my CAT tool because it offers me a backup of my translations. It doesn’t happen that often that files get corrupted, but if you believe in Murphy’s Law (I do!), you’ll know that it will happen if you haven’t got a backup and you’ve almost reached the deadline: suddenly, for inexplicable reasons, your file no longer opens. If you used a CAT tool, you can simply reimport the original file and populate it with the translations stored in your translation memory. By the way, this is the reason why I always make sure I keep the original file from the client (either as a copy on my hard drive or in my mailbox), so I can always start from scratch if Mr Murphy decides to interfere.

Online CAT tools
Even if these reasons don’t convince you to explore the use of technology for (some) creative texts, you still might want to start getting used to it. Because clients are discovering it and are more and more requiring translators to work in their own (usually online) tools. And these are a lot easier to work with if you are already familiar with how a CAT tool works.

Of course, everyone is free to choose their tools, or no tools, for that matter. I just wanted to show that creative texts and CAT tools are not mutually exclusive. It may not always be a perfect combination, but in my experience the advantages of technology far outweigh the disadvantages.

About this weblog

Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture
-Anthony Burgess

To know another’s language and not his culture is a very good way to make a fluent fool of yourself
-Winston Brembeck


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