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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.

I find that a lot of people only use CAT tools for repetitive texts. And that is of course what they were originally developed for. Modern CAT tools, however, have so many other useful features that it’s worth considering using them for non-repetitive texts as well.

Here are some of the reasons why I use my CAT tool for most of my texts, even creative texts:

  • Terminology
    It’s great when a client provides you with a terminology list, but I personally hate having to go back and forth between my translation and a terminology list, especially when you end up with more than one list (not unusual, in my experience). If you import your terminology list(s) in your CAT tool, you will automatically be notified if a term is available in the list and you can easily insert it in your translation. You can also easily edit your terminology list or add new terms to the list.
  • Consistency
    Even if texts are not repetitive, consistency is still important. The concordance feature in your CAT tool allows you to search for words or phrases so you can check how they were translated before. This is also very useful in case you haven’t got a terminology list (yet).
  • Quality control
    These days, CAT tools offer more and more quality control options. You can have your translation checked for, among other things, correct punctuation, conversion of numbers, tags and consistent terminology. If, like me, you tend to mix up numbers (typing 1956 instead of 1965 for example), it’s good to know you no longer have to worry about this, because your CAT tool will warn you when you’ve made a mistake.
  • Reference material
    Ever received a 200-word translation job which came with about ten different bilingual and monolingual reference files and going through all those reference files took almost as long as actually translating the text? I have… CAT tools offer alignment options and ways to import reference files which help you efficiently find the information you need in those reference files while you’re translating.
  • Formatting
    Clients love it when you are able to deliver their prettily formatted Word document or PowerPoint presentation in exactly the same format. When using a CAT tool, you don’t have to bother with the formatting: you can focus on the text while working in the CAT tool and when you are finished you can export your translation in exactly the same format. I’ve found this is especially useful for PowerPoint presentations containing lots of diagrams with text boxes: instead of having to edit every single text box separately to enter your translation, all you need to do after you have exported your translation is go through the slides to check whether the text fits in the boxes and adjust their size if needed.
  • Backup
    You always have a backup of your translations and because each segment is saved after you have translated it, you will never lose more than one sentence of your work if your computer crashes. I discovered the advantage of this very soon after I started working with a CAT tool years ago: just when I was about to save my 1.5-page translation to send it to the client, Word crashed and my Word file was corrupted. If I hadn’t used my CAT tool, I would have had to do the translation all over again, but now I was able to take the original source file and have it pre-translated using my TM.
  • Planning
    My CAT tool always knows exactly how much progress I’ve made: it indicates the percentage of translation/proofreading I’ve completed and for exact figures I can run an analysis at any time. I find this particularly useful for larger projects.
  • Updates
    Here’s one I forgot when I initially wrote this post: How many times do your clients send you an updated version of the source text, preferably when you’ve just finished translating the original version and without using Track Changes? No problem if you’ve translated the text in a CAT tool: you simply re-import the text, pre-translate everything that is the same and you will only have to go through the sentences/segments that were changed (and your CAT tool even marks the differences between the original and the updated text). If necessary, you can also have your CAT tool track all the changes.

These are the reasons I use my CAT tool for pretty much every translation I do. One downside, especially for more creative texts, is that, by default, a CAT tool splits up your text in segments based on sentences. Most CAT tools, however, allow you to define different ways of segmentation and I have found that paragraph segmentation, rather than sentence segmentation, works better for creative texts. Paragraph segmentation will lead to fewer match results, so it is not recommended for repetitive texts, but since creative texts are typically less repetitious anyway, matches aren’t really an issue.

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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