Wordfast vs. SDL Trados

What is a CAT-Tool

CAT Tools contain no program based on machine translation and no ready-made bilingual dictionary. The “dictionary” is created by the translator with each translation and revision. Looking for a term with a CAT tool means searching through the previously created translation memory. The result of the search is not the equivalent term in the other language, but the text string in which the term occurs. The process is certainly slower and more complicated compared to machine translation, but the result is more interesting in the long run.

First we will dedicate our attention to the most popular tool, Trados. Then we will come to Wordfast, which is number two despite being easier to use and cheaper.


The first thing to do when translating a text with Trados, is to open the Translator´s Workbench even before opening the source text. This “workbench” will remain open during the entire translation process. As the next step, the text to be translated is segmented. This is done automatically and is based on the punctuation marks present, the comma usually being an exception. However, the translator can make the segments longer or shorter, depending on the type of text and the translator’s personal preferences. The advantage of working with shorter segments is that shorter segments are more likely to occur in the text being translated or in future texts.

The blue window on the top contains the first segment of the source text; the translation is to be inserted into the second, yellow bottom window. The segments are delimited by tags, i.e., unchangeable codes, which show the beginning and the end of the unit to be translated and are part of Trados’s language.

It should be pointed out, in this context, that the first advantage of using Trados is that the translator immediately sees which parts of the text are to be translated, which makes it easy to concentrate on the essential. Whoever has attempted to translate a text in electronic format knows how difficult it is, since each time the already translated source text must be deleted. As an alternative, one must work with two texts side-by-side, or open the original text on the screen again and then return to the already translated text. This process is not only annoying, but also often results in careless mistakes and increases the risk of skipping a sentence or a word. The situation becomes even worse if the translation is received as hard copy. If the translator does not have the possibility of converting the text into an electronic format by using optical character recognition (OCR—another tool to make the translator’s life easier), he or she must constantly shift the focus between the paper and the screen. Finding the last translated sentence on the paper and adapting to two or more different type sizes and typefaces adds to the difficulty and the aggravation. With Trados, the translator does not have to look for the sentence to be translated or the point where the translated text to be inserted, since they are both located in the same area of the screen, are marked with different colors, and have the same type size and typeface.

Once the translation has been inserted in the bottom window, the program saves both source and translated segments in the TM (translation memory). Thanks to this process, Trados can automatically suggest, in the bottom window, the saved translation every time this segment occurs in this or a future translation. The translator is then free to accept it unchanged or to modify it.

In some cases, the program can also suggest translations of similar, but not 100% identical segments, depending on the Minimum Match Value set by the translator before starting work. If a 100% match was set, Trados will suggest translations only for identical segments, which has the advantage that the translator can be sure, without checking, that the suggested translation is correct. In this way, however he or she gets no suggestion from the CAT in the case of segments that differ from each other, even if only by a single word. Therefore, most translators set a Minimum Match Value of 60% so they can consider also similar segments (fuzzy matches).

If, during the translation process, a term comes up which the translator knows is stored in the memory, it is marked and a Concordance command is entered, which immediately retrieves all segments in which this term occurs.


In January 2009, Wordfast Pro 6.0 was launched, which is being sold as an alternative to Wordfast Classic. The basic principle of both versions, as well as of Trados, is the combination of two technologies: segmentation and translation memory. Let me briefly describe Wordfast Classic and Pro.

Unlike other CAT tools, Wordfast Classic is not actually a program, but a suite of Microsoft Word macros. This is why it is especially well-suited for those just starting out in the world of CAT tools. Since it is based on Word, it lets the beginner move on well-known terrain without having to deal with a new program and a new window.

Wordfast Classic is certainly an easy-to-use tool, although this ease of use is offset by reduced performance and flexibility. One example is the Glossaries, which, while will not satisfy the terminologist’s requirements, are adequate for the translator’s needs. Also, compared with Trados and other CAT tools, Wordfast Classic handles fewer formats, which makes it easier to use, but does not contribute to the popularity of the product.

In conclusion, although Wordfast Classic has a limited performance range compared to other computer-aided tools, it is an excellent aid for those who wish to enter the world of CAT tools, especially for Word users. And it is clearly a better value compared to other programs.

The greatest innovation of Wordfast Pro is that, unlike the previous versions, it is a standalone program not based on Word. Its graphics is also new. The interface is clear, simple, and intuitive. In addition, the visual appearance of the page and the keyboard shortcuts can be customized. The best innovations include faster Analyze and Clean-up functions, the retrieval of repeating segments, and an expanded range of compatible file formats

Advantages and disadvantages

The most important advantages of CAT tools are based on the above explanations and do not apply only to specific texts: When using these tools, it is immediately clear which parts of the text must be translated; the unchanging portions are transferred accurately and directly; the time savings due to repeating expressions is huge; and expressions are translated consistently. However, there are many other functions that offer the translator a number of other advantages.

Most CAT tools let the translator work with formats other than Word (Excel, PowerPoint, Visual Studio, Java, HTML, XML, etc.) without modifying the format. In files created in a tagged language or which have special page breaks, the CAT tool leaves the layout unchanged, which allows the translator to focus exclusively on the translation.

Another common feature of many CAT tools is the creation of easily and rapidly retrievable terminology cards. Most translators had to work with terminology cards and glossaries, which were often the product of hard work, especially in the case of special and complicated texts. CAT tools allow correct terminology databases to be created, which contain not only the expression in the source and target languages, but the context, examples, and images can also be stored, and the categories provided for describing the expression can be freely customized. Of course, an expression contained in the database can be retrieved during the translation in order immediately to display the appropriate word in the target language.

Of course, CAT tools, like most computer programs, have their shortcomings and sometimes do not function as they should for unknown reasons. While considerable progress has been made regarding trustworthiness, these tools are not yet absolutely reliable, especially in the case of complicated applications. It must be stated that difficulties often result from the user’s insufficient familiarity with the software, and their resolution is often trivial. Learning these programs requires time, especially if the translator wishes to make use of all available resources. Thanks to the abundance of information available on the Web such as user forums which often provide solutions to problems, learning programs provided with the software, and professional associations, which offer courses and specific workshops, it was never so easy for the translator to familiarize him/herself with the different CAT tools.

What conclusions can we draw from this

We have seen that the principle of computer-aided translation software (CAT tools) is based on the segmentation of the text and the creation of a translation memory. While the underlying principles of most tools are very similar, each tool is best suited for a different application and meets different requirements. For example, Wordfast Classic is best suited for those working exclusively with texts in Word format. In contrast, those who work with different and special texts, will prefer Trados.

Do not get discouraged after the first difficulties. When you are ready to spend time, money, and patience to familiarize yourself with the world of CAT tools and to use all available resources, you’ll wonder how you were able to live without them.

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