If I use a CAT tool will I get paid less for my translations?

February 12, 2013 by

If I use a CAT tool will I get paid less for translationsA few translators have told me recently that they’re reluctant to buy a CAT* tool because they have heard that agencies pay less for your translations if you use one. That makes it sound like CAT tools are a very bad investment! So, is it true?

*CAT tool = Computer-aided Translation tool, also known as a Translation Environment tool (TEnT)

When put like that, it does sound bad – you pay for the software and then agencies demand that you give them a discount for matches with the translation memory that they supply. What’s so good about that?

Well, that’s certainly not why I bought a CAT tool. I prefer to use mine to save myself time and increase consistency in my translations. I find that the terminology and concordance features are a huge benefit and translation takes longer without them.

Percy Balemans has just published a great blog post on The Usefulness of CAT Tools, which gives some very good reasons for using them. I agree wholeheartedly – that’s exactly how I use mine.

However, even though they’re time-savers and can help you ensure consistency, should CAT tools be avoided because you’ll get paid less for using them?

Well, many agencies that use CAT tools in-house will look for translators who use the same tools, and only pay reduced rates for text segments that match the translation memory. (A segment can be as short as one word but is usually longer – a heading or a whole sentence.) The rate that they offer may be around 60% for segments that are “fuzzy” (non-exact) matches, and up to 30% of the usual rate for exact matches and repetitions.

Some agencies may only offer 15% for exact matches, or even 0% in some cases. Not many translators would be happy with 0%, especially if fuzzy matches are discounted too – I remember it caused quite a stir when some of the less desirable agencies introduced this practice a few years ago. However, I do know one reputable agency that pays 100% for any kind of fuzzy match, and 0% for exact matches, which is a bit different to the usual graded discounts.

It’s often the bigger agencies that ask for steep discounts for repetitions – but you don't have to work with those agencies just because you have a CAT tool. If you do choose to work with them, you can negotiate your rates for discounts, and if you don’t have a CAT tool, they probably won't want to work with you.

There are many other customers who don’t mind how you do your work and are happy to pay for the high-quality translations that you deliver. And if you find you can translate texts quicker if they include matches and repetitions, you can consider passing this benefit on to your customers.

(Note: if you use Trados Studio and are wondering how to take repetitions and matches into account when quoting for a job, this free online CAT weighting tool might be worth a look – here are the details on how it works.)

Overall, I don't think that translators need to avoid CAT tools and miss out on their benefits just because they think agencies will pay them less if they use one. If you have a CAT tool you can choose to work with agencies with this business model, and negotiate discounts for matches. If you don’t have a CAT tool, those particular agencies might not be keen on working with you anyway.

By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about the the business side of owning a CAT tool, eCPD Webinars are running a webinar on just that. It’s aimed at “anyone who has, or is thinking of buying, a CAT tool and would like to know more about the business aspects of their use”.

So what do you think? Are CAT tools a bad investment because you get paid less if you use them?

By Jayne Fox BSc MITI, German-English translator.
For German-English medical translation – and translation of corporate communications.

Photo: stock.tookapic.com via pexels.com

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About the author: Jayne Fox is a German-English translator specialising in corporate communications for sci-tech and health care. She works with German and Swiss organisations to help them communicate effectively with international audiences.

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  1. Billy O'Shea

    There are more CAT tools in the world than Trados: other CAT tools such as MemoQ and Deja Vu are not locked into the agencies' repetitions systems. In my opinion, the so-called repetitions discounts are simply a con to cheat the translator. Just say no. 🙂

  2. Lucy

    On Thursday at 4 pm GMT eCPD Webinars is running a webinar on just this topic. We will be discussing the issue of discounts, when, why and how much - and if they should be offered at all. We give tips for what to watch out for in source text analyses. For more information http://www.ecpdwebinars.co.uk/events_94086.html
    (Webinar is recorded if 4 pm GMT is bad for you)

  3. Aurora Humarán

    They are a great investment because of all their pros. No need to work for agencies that weight words as if they were apples.

  4. Zoe Wildsmith

    Very interesting post, thank you. I've always preferred translating without a CAT tool but you're right, many clients expect them to be used these days, so it's about being flexible and having access to a CAT tool is definitely a plus.

  5. Ismo Leppänen

    I translate English/German/Swedish to Finnish, and use always a CAT tool. In fact I could imagine myself translating without one. Every so often I would actually like the ask an agency extra for processing fuzzy matches. The differences may be small, but may require lots of work, because Finnish is so different from English or German.

  6. Matt Young

    I use a CAT tool for 90% of my work, but I have never given a discount for matches. In fact, I don't think any of my clients know which CAT tool I use, or even whether I use one at all. I'm fortunate enough not to have to work for the type of large agency that (I believe) demand such discounts, but I'm of the opinion that if a translator invests their own money in a tool that enables a client to receive a superior translation, often in a shorter time, then it's simply bare-faced cheek for the client to expect to pay less for it.

  7. Giovanna Lester (@cariobana)

    If an agency opts for using CAT tools to offer their clients discounts, that is their business model and should not be transferred to me - the vendor. When my doctor buys new equipment or takes a new course, my fees are bumped UP, not down. Same with my mechanic. Why should it be different for me? My CAT tool helps me in all the ways discussed above, it's an investment I chose to make on myself so I can deliver better, more accurate services to my clients - and they are happy to pay for it.

  8. Kevin Lossner (@GermanENTrans)

    Ms. Lester, you are soooooo right 🙂

    I actually know of one agency debating a 5% bonus to translators who use their tool of choice. Don't know if this was adopted or not, but many at that agency argued passionately for that.

    This whole idea that one "must" give discounts simply because of owning a CAT tool is bollocks. We are adults. We set our own terms of business.

    • Jayne Fox

      "...a 5% bonus to translators who use their tool of choice" - I like the sound of that! Very fair, because we do tend to deliver more complete and consistent translations when we use CAT tools.

  9. bingo

    I my case, I dont like CAT tools because it supposes to benefit me but it doesn't. I found that translating through CAT tools can be time consuming if we have to deal with tag and if the agency give a a bad TM and use that as a base for discount, I seems to work for nothing if I calculate the hour rate from that income. I work mostly in medical and CAT tools put me off, and my newbie colleague down the rate so that the agency told me others doing so, why dont I and blah blah. I am disappointed to the point I am thinking of stop working as a medical translator. I put lots of effort in educating myself, get a degree in medical for nothing.

    • Jayne Fox

      That doesn't sound good. Hope you can find some clients who will pay you a bit better!

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German-to-English translator specialising in medical and technical translation and corporate communications
Welcome to my blog, Between Translations! I'm Jayne Fox, German-English translator specialising in sci-tech, health care & corporate communications.
I work with clients from around the world. From my location in New Zealand, I translate overnight for European customers.
See my websites for more information.
Sci-tech translation and corporate comms: www.foxdocs.biz
Medical translation: www.jfmedicaltranslation.com
Email: jayne(at)foxdocs.biz