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4 min read

Will there be CAT tools programs in 2020?

The speed at which computers and computing have evolved over the last 30 years has brought massive changes to many professions –and change for translation companies has not been an exception. However, the speed at which automation has hit and awaken our industry has often been “slow”. I mean automation not just in the general sense of machine translation, but most kinds of automations, including project management. 

Adoption and progress have been painful, if we measure how clients often measure us: per capita productivity or how fast can you turn your translations around.

The revolution brought about by the surge and increasing acceptance of machine translation in the last 5 years can only find a comparison in the “revolution” brought about by CAT tools in the 90’s. So, the question soon arises: Will there be CAT tools in 2020? Is a higher level of automation going to kill or transform radically how translators do their work? Will translators do their work as they did in 2000 or will they use interfaces, machine translation suggestions, managed terminology, touch pads? Will CAT tools in 2020 be free from keyboards? And what about voice recognition and machine translation? No single product epitomizes change better than operating systems.


They are the framework upon which our CAT tools sit. Historically, Windows as been the winner for translation software. Only a handful of programs had working Apple version (Swordfish, etc).

Does Windows 8, the new Microsoft operating system change the way translators work with computers? I have experienced first-hand translator resistance to move to newer versions of some CAT tools because it meant moving away from known interfaces into a new territory that (unlike their looking-alike iPhones, iPads and macs) this time looked too unfamiliar. I wonder is the new laptops, with their hybrid features and touch screens can bring anything new to the translation profession.

Eye-tracking has been used to measure what translators and post-editors are doing, but I do not see the eye control as major breakthrough in our profession. And I do not see touch screens having a major impact in the way translators work.

Will translation companies and translators be able to work on a Microsoft Surface? I doubt it. True, typing on the go via an interface can be useful in some situations and for some platforms and business models, but it is an innovation rather than a productive solution in a massive scale.

No translator worth the name in 2014 would send his/her CV without listing the number of CAT tools he/she uses in order to make work more efficient. Very few quote any skills in post-editing or machine translation, despite the massive amounts of money and funds invested in development. Why? Machine translation did in fact exist before translation memories came about in the 1990’s. They key difference is that while translation memories produced an easy-to-understand “saving scheme” by way of % discounts, machine translation products have yet to come close to producing a truly reliable confidence score which easily translates into a paying scheme.

So, despite post-editing not taking much longer than working with a bad translation memory or working with 75% matches whose other "25%" has to be identified, checked, compared and translated to fit, translators shy away from machine translation. I have been long enough in the translation industry to remember the initial outcries by translators who were not paid repetitions or had to face discounts because of translation matches.

But eventually, translators did take up percentage discounts as a means of calculating productivity and payment. Some machine translation providers present their results in a traditional “translation memory” breakdown so project managers can calculate machine translation post-editing effort as yet another version of TM matching. In the hope to ease post-editing adoption ….so much for innovation.

Productivity per translator head has been quoted stuck at around 3,000 words on average for the majority of languages for many years. Many freelancers claimed higher production rates, but never disclosed how they could fit proper proof-reading and checking procedures in a working day. Dictation software has been a solution for some time, but I have only seen it applied in isolation by freelancers. So, what about disruptive innovations, like “working in the cloud” for translators?



David Canek from Memsource says: "Standalone CAT tools as we know them today will not exist anymore. They will become part of comprehensive translation platforms. These platforms will be cloud-based of course." I can see where things are going. If some new translation companies, backed by venture capital, are making use of the "typing on the go", then surely CAT tools in 2020 will have adapted to touch screens. But surely typing on a screen is slower than a keyboard.

So some sort of cloud-based system including project management? I also contacted István Lengyel from Kilgray, who said: "I think that translation will not be particularly touch-friendly, but project management (quoting, invoicing, etc.) can be multichannel. Dictation will remain to play a strong role, but it is already a reality today. I think that translators will be empowered with the management tools that companies have today. I also believe that there’ll be more linguistic knowledge included in the tools, but this is something we already said in 2005 :)" - uhm, that is an interesting insight. Most translators have not even considered adding voice (dictation) to their skills, but those who do make a difference. I do agree with the statement that freelancers and groups of freelancers are going to become more and more empowered with tools that only translation companies could afford a few years ago. So perhaps the change may come from CAT tools in 2020 having clever linguistic features, project management and CRM features to make them an "all-in-one" package.

Paul Filkin from SDL adds: "Given the conservative nature of users in our industry today I think CAT tools will continue to operate along the same basis they do today, but perhaps with more emphasis on post-editing capabilities and plugins to enable personalized machine translation in a more controlled and yet flexible way. There will be greater choice enabling a more modular approach to building your preferred translation environment to suit your needs, and at the same time I think we’ll see more integration of our current processes and workflows into the cloud and accessible on more devices for more types of users." - Again, the trend seems to emerge towards cloud and more non-translation features, in this case together with higher customization (read empowerment) by translators and machine translation.

So, what do you think, will there be CAT tools in 2020 or will they be so different that they will not look like a translation memory system any longer? You can say YES/NO if you think they will be similar (YES) or unrecognizable (NO) in our poll.


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