If you’re a translator, a translation agency owner, or an LSP, you’re likely to be using some form of translation software to improve your translation workflow. If you’re not, you could be spending far longer on your translations (or a lot more money!) than necessary.
Translation software and tools
- What is translation software?
- Cloud-based translation software
- Desktop (offline) translation software
- Overview of paid, free, cloud-based, and desktop translation tools
- What’s best for you?
- What do you currently use?
What is translation software?
Translation software programs are designed to make the translation process quicker and more efficient. With them, you can store and edit translations, translate projects section by section (while preserving the formatting), and ultimately add an extra layer of quality control (consistency, spelling, equivalence, etc.). They also make terminology management a lot simpler: you can create, access, and use terms and translation memories as you work on your projects. When we talk about translation software we usually mean CAT (computer-aided translation) tools, which should not be confused with machine translation. Although the terms might sound similar, CAT tools help translators streamline their translation processes, but do not do any of the translations for them. Machine translation, on the other hand, uses artificial intelligence to directly translate texts.
Translation software tools all serve the same purpose: to assist in and speed up the translation process. But there are different types of software out there to suit different circumstances and needs. For example, translation software tools can be downloadable desktop programs you install on your computer or cloud-based solutions you work on online. They can be paid or free. Some even go the extra mile and connect to a marketplace of freelancers so you can easily collaborate with others within the translation tool. This is particularly useful if you need to translate multiple files in different language pairs with different translators, editors, and proofreaders.
So, let’s dig into each type and review some of the best translation software tools in 2020.
Cloud-based translation software
Cloud-based (or web-based) translation tools are programs that are accessed and used online via a web browser. These platforms are becoming increasingly common in all industries, and key players in the world of translation are following suit.
Let’s see why it’s such a popular channel along with the possible drawbacks.
- No need to free up any space or install any software on your computer.
- You can work from any operating system, whether it’s Windows, MacOS, or even a variation of Linux.
- Translations are saved in real time so you won’t lose any data. At worst, this can be one sentence, whereas you can lose everything on a desktop computer.
- You can access it on any device with an Internet connection.
- It’s easier to collaborate with others online.
- Updates and bug fixes are frequent and immediate.
- There is always a risk of data being hacked online. However, there is no consensus in the IT world whether the risk is higher on web-based platforms than on desktop programs, where data can be erased, stolen, or lost.
- Highly reliant on an Internet connection. To remedy this, some software tools allow you to continue using most features if you lose your connection.
Paid cloud-based translation software tools
Memsource has both a web-based and a desktop translation editor. The online editor is simple and intuitive, however, some translators find it lacks some functionalities and is slow when working on large projects. Prices start at $27 per month but there is also a free personal edition version with a two-file simultaneous translation limit, which might work for you if have a light workload.
Wordbee is a translation management platform with a basic CAT tool. It focuses on collaboration and works well at the project management level but lacks some of the more advanced functionalities with speed reportedly an issue. It has a 15-day free trial, and prices start at $330 per year.
XTM Cloud is an intuitive web-based translation tool with all the necessary functions and a solid support team. Annual subscriptions start at $61 per month, but you can only translate up to 20,000 words per month. For unlimited use, prices start at $359 per month. As with most other paid translation tools, there’s a 30-day free trial.
Free cloud-based translation software tools
Smartcat is one of the fastest-growing cloud-based software translation solutions for LSPs, translation agencies, and independent translators.
Among the benefits are that it’s free, comprehensive, and user-friendly (making it easy to transition from other CAT tools or start using one with no previous experience). It also has its own marketplace to collaborate with other professionals within the CAT tool. You can even use it to pay freelancers for work done outside the platform.
If you’re looking for a connected, one-stop solution (CAT tool, collaborative space, and freelance marketplace), it’s one of the best platforms for this. Smartcat also offers additional paid services, like 24-hour support and personal training (starting at $89 per month).
MateCat is a web-based translation tool which is free for freelance translators and businesses. As with Smartcat, there’s no limit on the number of users or projects. Part of its appeal is that it allows you to access a public database of translation memories which you can use on your projects.
Although completely free, MateCat does offer paid plans for companies and translation agencies wanting software customization and 24-hour support among other extras. These plans start at €1,500 (≈ $1,685) per month.
As for the downsides to MateCat, it has limited functionality, and your translation memories are stored for public use by default. This means that if you’re working with confidential documents you need to make sure you make your translation memories private before starting your translation.
This is the online version of the offline CAT tools Wordfast Classic and Pro. It is completely free and allows for collaboration with other users. It’s user-friendly and convenient but its main weakness is that it can be slow and prone to bugs.
Desktop (offline) translation software
Desktop translation software tools are traditional software programs you have to download and install on your computer. Many have been around for longer than their cloud-based counterparts so much of their customer base are translators, LSPs, and agencies who have been using them for years and are perhaps reluctant to explore web-based alternatives.
Let’s delve into the advantages and disadvantages of offline translation tools.
- You can work without an Internet connection.
- No server issues like crashing or slowing down. As long as your computer works you can work.
- You need to install the software and use up space on your computer.
- You can only use it on your computer, unless you have multiple licences and install it on other devices.
- Most (but not all) only work on Windows PCs.
- The safety of your translation projects depends on the safety of your computer. You can lose everything if your computer is stolen, damaged, or breaks down.
- Fewer updates: it takes longer to release and implement bug fixes and updates than with online software.
Paid desktop translation software tools
SDL Trados Studio
Trados is undoubtedly the most widely-used desktop translation tool, especially among companies, LSPs, and translation agencies. It’s comprehensive, feature-rich, and, most notably, everywhere — so whether you are a customer or a vendor you can be reasonably confident that the other party will support it one way or another. Prices start at €695 (≈ $780), but there’s a 30-day trial for you to try it out first.
The biggest downside to Trados is that many users find it far too complex for what most translators need, which means there’s a very steep learning curve when you first start using it. Besides, it only runs on Windows, is costly, and does not support native collaborative work. The best you can get is a client-and-server solution, which boils down to the usual “seat-counting” problems.
memoQ is probably Trados’ biggest competitor as it is similar in functionality and performance. Prices start at $770 with a 30-day trial for the Pro version.
Like Trados, the main issue is the steep learning curve you have to go through before reaping the benefits.
Wordfast (Classic & Pro)
If you’re a fan of MS Word then perhaps Wordfast Classic is the tool for you as it works directly in Word. However, you’ll need the standalone Wordfast Pro if you want to translate other file formats. Advantages include that it’s easy to use can be installed on Windows, Linux, or Mac. There’s a 30-day free trial and costs €400 (≈ $450) for either Classic or Pro, or €500 (≈ $560) for both.
The downsides are that Wordfast Classic only supports Word documents while Wordfast Pro has limited options compared to similarly priced translation software tools.
Although primarily a cloud-based tool, Memsource also has a desktop editor version that can be installed on Windows, Mac, or Linux. It is more robust than the web-based version but still has limitations, especially in its terminology management, when compared to more comprehensive tools like memoQ or even cloud-based Smartcat.
Déjà Vu is a complete and reliable translation tool, which is especially strong as a terminology management solution. The downside is that you’ll have to fork out at least €420 (≈ $475) to buy a license but there’s a 30-day free trial for you to try before you buy.
Across is a comprehensive and very reasonably priced desktop CAT tool. They even have a free online version with basic features and an online marketplace. On the downside, speed seems to be an issue. Prices start at €19.50 (≈ $22) per month for an annual subscription.
Free desktop translation software tools
OmegaT is a free, open-source translation tool that you can use on Mac, Linux, and Windows. It is easy to set up and fairly easy to use. The layout of the source and target segments is slightly different from other tools, but users quickly adapt to it. A drawback, as is usual for open-source software, is that it only provides community support, so using it for enterprise-scale implementations can be risky.
CafeTran Espresso is particularly attractive to Mac and Linux users as, along with OmegaT, is one of the few free translation CAT tools compatible with these operating systems. However, the program is only free to use with translation memories or glossaries up to a certain size. The unlimited paid plans cost €80 (≈ $90) per year or €200 (≈ $225) for a lifetime purchase.
Overview of paid, free, cloud-based, and desktop software translation tools
|DESKTOP||SDL Trados Studio|
Wordfast (Classic & Pro)
What’s best for you?
Which translation software tool you go for will ultimately depend on your preferences and, perhaps, your freedom to choose. If you do have a choice, we highly recommend you try a few different translation tools to see who can offer the best all-round solution for you (the fewer tools you use, the better). If cost is an issue, remember that some are completely free, and that most paid tools offer free trials. At the end of the day, what matters is how comfortable you feel with it and how that converts in terms of productivity and the quality of your professional translations.
In the spirit of full disclosure, we want to remind our readers that this article was originally written for the Smartcat blog. However, we did our best to compare the translation tools objectively and not just promote this platform. For more CAT tool guides/reviews, we recommend checking out the following links:
- Top CAT tools to increase your productivity
- The full list of CAT tools on the market
- Smart devices and the future of CAT tools
What do you currently use?
We’d love to hear from you: do you use a translation software tool? If so, which one(s)? What made you choose it? What features are missing that you’d really like to see? If you’re not in love with your translation tool, why not try another? We get it... the thought of switching tools can be daunting — you’ll have to get used to a whole new translation tool all over again! But what if the change makes you more productive in the long run?
Share your thoughts in the comments!