CAT tools – are they really helpful???

Last spring I bought one CAT tool (memoQ) and although I it tried many times already on different files, so far it has proven “helpful” in just ONE case. Everything else has been trouble!
Most probably this is because I am just too stupid, but I suspect some more “basic” reasons too.

For example:
I get a Word file for partial translation = meaning the file contains German, English and Japanese text, of which only the Japanese portions scattered throughout the document need to be translated.
1) I have to import the file.
2) Select all German/English text portions and copy them into the target segement.
3) Translate a few segments, want to take a break or continue working somewhere else.
4) Attempt BACKUP the “project”.
=> Get error messages that tell me, I cannot do that. The reasons elude me.
*  In fall of last year someone took remote control of my computer to resolve similar problems with an Excel file, and commented: “Oh, that is a “known issue” = bug. I will try to make the developers fix this.”
5) Attempt to “export” the active document, which still contains a few hundred untranslated segments, fails too. Error message:
“At least one of the documents you are trying to export contains errors than prevent memoQ from exporting the document.
Do you wish to resolve these errors now?” Yes ->
6) Results, naturally, a very long list of items/segments, where the “error” is:
“Too few memoQ {tags} in target segment”
This is a matter of course too, since I have yet done anything with those segments!

The customer support tells me:
“It is not possible to simply ignore all the tag errors in memoQ, and export a monolingual document in it’s original format, as the missing tags would make that impossible.”
7) “Export bilingual” sort of “works” = it gives me a 2-column, intricately interlaced and completely garbled rtf file in which I would have to search and than manually copy each and every already translated segment to the orginal Word file. (Since memoQ cannot handle ODF files, I am also stuck with Word.)

Well, THAT does not make ANY sense. In that case I would be a lot better off using the original file from the beginning and forget about memoQ altogether.
Actually, that was the idea when I tried to “export” the document.

So, with the mentioned ONE SINGLE exception I ALWAYS get the some (or all) of the following problems
* Software cannot import original file
* Software cannot export imported file
* Software cannot “backup” the project
* In order to work on the designated text, I have to work on ALL OTHER text too.

* The work put into a file only half finished apparently cannot be recovered in any sensible/practical way.
* I always MANUALLY have to tell memoQ, that it should ignore various things I would NEVER have to care about working with an ordinary (Word/text) file. There I would for example just a date/number and that’s it. In memoQ I am confronted with the need to check “number format”, verify numbers, insert tags etc. etc.
What in a word processor is for example TWO keystrokes (for example “10”) may well need to required 10 or more “clicks” to get the same thing done!
That is FIVE TIMES MORE work!

This kind of software is supposed to “increase productivity” and make the process of translation easier and more efficient. THAT is not my experience. It makes the translation work more difficult, time-consuming and labor intensive and thus DEFINITELY REDUCES productivity.

Maybe you need very special documents to begin with?
For example during translation of a Japanese patent (in particular the claims) the order in which the individual portions of the sentence are arranged in Japanese differs significantly from for example English or German. So, the “alignment” of segments like “A-A”, “B-B”, “C-C” etc. does not work. It needs to be “A-C”, “B-B”, “A-C” or something like that.
I could not yet find out, if the (any) CAT tool would be able to handle that in any labor-easing form …

But, as I already said, I am probably must too stupid.

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About nyuwa

German acupuncturist living in Japan for 32 years. My ideas about "common sense" may not necessarily be common sense to others.
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16 Responses to CAT tools – are they really helpful???

  1. Vadim says:

    You’re exaggerating a bit. Technical issues are occasional, and we learn to live with them. There is always a “smart” or at least “fast” turnaround, however finding it takes time one usually doesn’t have.
    I however have my own grudge with CATs: segmentation ruins the continuity of advertising/marketing copy. Even if a translator is good, and every single sentence is smooth, they don’t form a whole, because they are working with discrete segments, instead of continuous text. Proofing those is a pain…


    • nyuwa says:

      Thank you for your comment.
      As I mentioned, the real problem is probably me being too stupid to handle that softward (as I already mentioned).
      BUT, with the 1-2 exceptions I also mentioned, I for example also get constantly file errors, telling me that files cannot be imported, or once they have been imported, they cannot be exported, backup of projects usually gives me errors and when I then decide, that I am MUCH BETTER off without the CAT tool, stop working with the CAT tool and retrieve the work I already put into it … the software again responds with errors and tells me that I cannot have it (the work) back. The only option then left to “retrieve” the done work: copy the translated segments and paste them one by one into the original file.
      About the file errors the technical support told me “oh, that is a “known issue” = meaning bug. The person with whom I was chatting at the time told me, he will “urge the developers to fix the problem”, but so far I have not seen any change.

      This leaves me – and I don’t really think I am exaggerating here – a marked increase in required time and effort to finish the job -> if I decide to keep using the tools …
      Currently I am waiting for an answer to a question pertaining to one of the above mentioned problems, but the technical support does not seem to be interested in responding.

  2. Vadim says:

    I see. Some considerations:
    – Tech support it useless. Sad but true.
    – For Office files good old Trados 2007 macro for Word is better. Or you could go with Wordfast. Since you will work in a native environment, there will be no Import/Export issues.
    – Sorry, don’t know much about ODF, but it’s supposed to be interoperable with Word. Besides, I am quite sure that there are tools that convert ODF to XLIFF and back.

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  4. David Hardisty says:

    I would strongly advise getting a tool where you can get some face-to-face training.
    Unfortunately CAT tools are not always as user-friendly as they should be. A few hours with a good trainer can save many hours of trial and error.
    If that is impossible, then online help. Search for help in Youtube – there is a lot of help there nowadays.
    I personally find Wordfast Classic very easy to use, but many others would say the same about their tool(s).
    I know the tools should be easier to use, but the solution is training!
    It is worth it by the way!

  5. nyuwa says:

    Good evening Mr. Hardity
    Thank you for your comment.
    Yes – I too believe that “face-to-face training” would be optimal.
    What I don’t know is, where to find such a teacher in this corner of the world. But I will check out Youtube (that is something I usually don’t look at …)

    Actually: the Japanese have a very nice expression for this:
    Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.
    – Japanese proverb

    PS: I know, this really does not belong here, but … I am trying to get away from Microsoft products. So, I would prefer NOT to use Wordfast etc.
    Because: I do not like their apparent and declared goal of world domination (with emphasis on domination). That was one of the reasons, why I chose memoQ in the first place: the marketing material said, they are trying to offer a free, independent product. Well, that did not work as I expected …

  6. Carl Carter says:

    Hi Thomas,

    Sorry to hear you’ve been having so many problems with memoQ. Another user who is a member of the memoQ group at LinkedIn has just shared your post there and people are commenting on it and sharing their own experiences, so you might like to check that out.

    Some of the problems you’ve encountered seem to be due to the type of documents you’ve tried to process, while others seem to be due to your source and target languages being so different. I work from German to English and have found memoQ to be very easy to use in comparison with other CAT tools (e.g. Déjà Vu X and Trados Studio 2009). The program still has bugs in its latest version, 5.0.59, but they are things most of us can live with, I think; the major bugs get sorted out quickly by Kilgray’s developers and are generally gone once you have installed the next build. I have practically no trouble exporting any of my documents and importing them is easy and smooth as well.

    The tag issue is one that exists for all the CAT tools I’ve tried out so far. You can’t export a translation if the source file contains tags and these are not included in the target text since the tags represent paragraph or sentence formatting; leaving out the tags would mean you’d be leaving out information that’s contained in the original text. The only way to avoid tags is to import a source text that doesn’t contain any, i.e.a TXT file without any tabs or other formatting at all. (I guess that would only work for a continuous block of text without any paragraphs, titles or footnotes, with everything written in the same font and being the same size.)

    Regarding the documents you work with, you can’t directly import a multilingual document properly without having prepared it for import beforehand. One LinkedIn member has just explained it is possible if you hide the languages you don’t need to work on first of all (e.g. by using the “hide” format command in Word) as memoQ won’t display these parts in the translation grid. Translate the segments in the language that’s displayed, include all the tags that exist in the source text and then export the file back to its original format. Open it in a suitable application (e.g. Word) and then unhide the columns or sections you hid earlier on, and then you’re finished. (Things are much more straightforward if you import monolingual texts as there probably won’t be any information in the text that you want to hide.)

    As for the misalignment issue you’ve mentioned, memoQ – and all the other CAT tools I’m familiar with – can only reproduce the sentence structure (i.e. segmentation) used in the source text; what’s on the left-hand side of the translation grid will be expected to appear on the right-hand side as well. This lack of flexibility is intentional, but it can make CAT tools too “rigid” when it comes to marketing or PR texts where the author’s (or translator’s) linguistic creativity is called for, for example (like Vadim says, “segmentation ruins the continuity of advertising/marketing copy”. You have more flexibility when it comes to using memoQ’s alignment feature, though, since you can override its automatic alignment and link sentences together manually. This ought to make it possible for you to align Japanese and German (or English) texts with one another even though the two texts have a different internal structure.

    I personally have found Kilgray’s Support team to be very helpful so far (I have been contacting them on and off for about a year now), so I have to disagree with any negative views about them. Apart from contacting them about any technical problems or workflow issues that may occur, you can also turn to the members of the Yahoo! user group for help and see what ideas they have. I know of one user there who works from Japanese to Italian and contributes from time to time, which ought to be helpful to you. Apart from that, why not try out some of the tips my colleague Kevin Lossner has just mentioned on his blog? Go to

    Hope these comments are of some comfort and help you understand how memoQ and other CAT tools work.

    Kind regards


    Amper Translation Service



  7. nyuwa says:

    Good evening Mr. Carter
    Thank you for your enlightening comments! That shows again just how stupid I am.
    I never knew about that “hide function”. But then again, there are probably MUCH more things about MS Word (I don’t like that software) that I don’t know than what I know / can handle.
    I WILL take your comments to heart and start learning something knew – as soon as the leaves me a few moments to do so …

    About those funny, multilingual files.
    Well, THAT is how things are here. That is what I constantly get from the translation agencies and thus have to work with. And hiding 80% of running text, text boxes, captions etc. in a large file just to “select” the text I am supposed to be working on – at least with regard of using CAT tools – is a very labor intensive waste of time. And that goes also OFTEN for Excel files, that contain lets say 6-8 languages and I am supposed to work only ONE. Reading those Excel files (apart from the mentioned errors) produces are real nightmare.

    Unless …. of course ….
    there is a way (for example) to specify a certain language and the program then “automatically” selects ONLY text in that particular language.

    Although I have no idea how this will actually work, this could IN THEORY be very easy, since Japanese uses “double bite fonts” as opposed to the single bite fonts used for languages rendered in alphabet. Yet, I have not yet figured out a way that would allow me to select ALL sections of a particular language. By accident I found, that you can search for select for example “highlighted text” = often the text to be translated is highlighted by the agency, this function will not pick up all the text boxes captions etc …

    But now it is dinner time.
    I write again later.

    • Carl Carter says:

      Hi again Thomas (I’m afraid I don’t know your surname yet – perhaps you’d like to add it to your blog at some point),

      Sorry to hear you keep on getting multilingual files to translate. I’m no expert, but as far as I know, no CAT tool can cope with them by itself. It would be great if a tool could identify the source text in the language you need to translate, but as far as I’m aware, the only way it can do that is if you prepare the source file beforehand by hiding the languages you don’t want to see in the translation grid of your software. In Deja Vu X (and X2, which is the new version of it), you mark the text you don’t want to import in red if it’s in an Excel file (you “paint” it), and DV then ignores it on importing. Easy! As for Word files, you can hide unwanted text by marking it and then selecting “hidden” (or “hide”) as a formatting command in the Fonts dialogue (under Format in the main menu bar). Import the file, translate and export it and then “unhide” the hidden text to make it appear again (go to Format > Fonts and then uncheck the “hidden” box).

      Many translators spend time preparing the source files they receive from their customers before they work on them in a CAT tool – in fact, it’s a topic that is often discussed in mailing lists (e.g. the Yahoo! groups for CAT-tool users). You can do this laborious task yourself, of course, but it costs you time that may be valuable and better spent doing other things. So why not ask your customers to deal with this themselves before they send you your work? Conscientious project managers working at translation agencies will probably realise this makes sense because it saves you time and hassle (and it may mean the file is in a better condition when you return it to them as well). I’m sure they’ve all heard about CAT tools, so they’ll be able to follow your reasoning. They should at least share the workload rather than expect you to deal with it all yourself (probably at no extra cost).

      Best regards


      Amper Translation Service

      • nyuwa says:

        Good evening from Japan.

        “have the agencies do the work of selecting the text …” THAT is a great idea. I will pass that on to the agencies, since I hate to do all that unpaid work

        There is actually a little something about precisely that Unfortunately I wrote that in Japanese …

        My apologies, if I have not introduced myself properly. I somehow start these blog things etc. but then forget about them or don’t really know hwo to “handle” (an interesting term!) them. Here is a link to my web page (most of which is written in Japanese):

        Here I write what comes to mind (sometimes) regarding translation:

        My full name is Thomas Blasejewicz. I am a native German living for 33 years in Japan. /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
        Unsere Wuensche sind wie kleine Kinder:
        Je mehr man ihnen nachgibt, umso anspruchsvoller werden sie.

        (2012/02/15 21:02),

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  13. There is certainly a great deal to learn about this issue.
    I love all of the points you have made.

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