CAT tool use by translators: who is using?

cat-toolEvery now and then, the subject of the use of Translation Memories (TMs) and Computer-aided Translation (CAT) tools comes up in the forums and elsewhere. Should you use a CAT tool? Why? Which one? Why (again)? Are there kinds of work where a CAT tool will not be useful?

In a previous State of the industry report for freelance translators, the word on TMs and CAT tools was to take them as "a given." A high percentage of translators use at least one CAT tool, and reports on the increased productivity and efficiency that can accompany their use are solid enough to indicate that, unless the kind of translation work you do by its very nature excludes the use of a CAT tool, you should be using one.

Surveys have been run periodically to gather more information and details on the matter. How many translators are really using a CAT tool? Why? Which CAT tools are preferred most, and why? How many translators do not use a CAT tool, and why? If you have been in the translation business a few years and you use a CAT tool, most of what follows will not surprise. If you are an established translator who has decided CAT tool use is not for you, what follows is not designed to try to change your mind. Rather, this information is meant to give a wider panorama on TM and CAT tool use that you can use to compare to your own experience. If you are just getting started in translation and are wondering whether a CAT tool might be worth the investment, the following may be a good starting point for researching the matter.


Who provided information on CAT tool use?

The surveys on CAT tool use were aimed primarily at full-time professional translators. A majority of survey respondents have been in the translation business for at least five years, and just over thirty percent of them have been in the business for more than ten years. The largest age group of survey respondents was between 25 and 35 years old (35%). Over three thousand full-time professional translators from around the world responded to the surveys, which were broken into a survey for CAT tool users and one for those who do not use any CAT tool at all.


Who is using CAT tools?

  • 88% of respondents use at least one CAT tool for at least some of their translation tasks.
  • Of those using CAT tools, 76% use more than one CAT tool.
  • Of those using CAT tools, 83% use a CAT tool for most or all of their translation work.
  • Of those using CAT tools, 64% have been using one for upwards of three years now, and 23% have been using one for more than seven years.
  • Among those using CAT tools, the main areas of expertise were ranked as follows:
  1. Tech/Engineering 34%
  2. Business/Financial 15%
  3. Marketing 12%
  4. Medical 12%
  5. Law/Patents 11%
  6. Art/Literary 5%
  7. Social Sciences 4%
  8. Science 4%
  9. Other 3%
  • Of the 12% who do not use a CAT tool, 68% had used or tried to use a CAT tool before, and 32% had never used one at all.
  • Among those not using CAT tools, the breakdown of main areas of expertise were:
  1. Law/Patents 22%
  2. Tech/Engineering 17%
  3. Art/Literary 14%
  4. Business/Financial 12%
  5. Medical 11%
  6. Marketing 9%
  7. Social Sciences 7%
  8. Science 4%
  9. Other 4%

Only 3.4% of respondents who do not use a CAT tool did not know what a CAT tool is.


Files types, subject areas, computer usage skills

The file types translators work with do not seem to have much impact on whether or not they will use a CAT tool, as common file types indicated by both groups did not differ. The PDF file was the most mentioned by CAT tool users as tending to be problematic, along with scanned or image files.

When it comes to subject matter, many CAT tool users noted they may get less out of their CAT tool when working on texts of a literary, commercial or journalistic nature, for transcreation, and in texts heavy with tables, formulas, numbers, etc. It should be noted that others comment that at least for these first three they find a CAT tool helpful, and some mention that even for texts where there are few or no repetitions, for example, CAT tool segmentation still helps when it comes to focusing on translation and in quality control.

Some difference was noted in computer usage skills between the two groups. The majority of CAT tool users would rate their computer usage skills as good to excellent. This was also a majority among non-users of CAT tools, though a greater percentage of them rated their skills from fair to poor.


Reasons given for not using a CAT tool

Of translators who do not use a CAT tool, 58% pointed to cost as being a factor in their not using a tool. In second place, close to 47% stated that a CAT tool would not be useful for the kind of work they do.

Other reasons which ranked highly were the difficulty involved in learning to use a CAT tool, lack of time to get properly trained in CAT tool use, and lack of time to research whether a CAT tool would work for the translator, and which CAT tool to use.


Reasons given for using a CAT tool

Almost all CAT tool users agree that, in general, the use of a CAT tool helps them translate more efficiently. A small percentage, almost 8%, are unsure of how much more efficiently. The majority estimate that it is an efficiency boost of at least 30%, and fifty percent put the increased efficiency at 50% and above.

Not surprisingly, it is not the CAT tool on its own that is necessarily responsible for this. The size, quality and organization of the translation memory (TM) is a factor most point to as being important. Just as there may be a monetary investment in a new tool or resource, there is also a time investment. Most translators who use a CAT tool will tell you that becoming proficient in that tool's use is also key; in some cases this consists of reading manuals, articles, support forums and the like, but 55% of CAT tool users have taken training to learn or to improve their use of the tool. How much training time are we talking about here? 47% estimate they have spent fewer than ten hours in training (self-training as well as receiving training), and 31% would put their training in the 10 to 30 hour range.


Are your clients asking for it?

When CAT tool users were asked to estimate how many of their clients were requiring the use of a CAT tool, responses were fairly evenly spread. Six percent stated that none of their clients require CAT tool use, forty percent say under 50% of their clients require one, around half would estimate that over 50% of their clients require a CAT tool, and four percent were unsure. A large number of CAT tool users use their CAT tools regardless of whether the client has asked for it, because of the added efficiency and quality control mentioned above.


Next post:

Translators were also asked to indicate which CAT tools they are using, how they decided on using those particular tools, what their favorite and least favorite CAT tools were, and which tools they would recommend to someone on the market for a CAT tool. In my next post, we'll take a look at this information, along with other CAT tool user feedback on the tools they are using. We'll also look at what non-users of CAT tools said might make them reconsider using one. Stay tuned!


You can view ratings, translator reviews, compare features and download free trials for most CAT tools and other translator software using’s translation software comparison tool.


This is part one of a two-part article. You can read part two here.


Originally published on the Translation T.O. blog.


Topics: translator tools, translation, language services industry

Jared Tabor

Written by Jared Tabor

Jared oversees Member services at An ex-language teacher, he has lived and worked in Argentina since 1996. He has been with through the La Plata office since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter, @taboredinc .

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