The main functions of numerous translation database tools available on the international market are segmentation of source text, preservation of the original typesetting and layout, and the translation database proper.
Segmentation means that a translator does not need to look for the beginning of the next source sentence to be translated. The software offers this next sentence automatically. Deja Vu uses a table; TRADOS, a highlighted colored background. This keeps the translator from skipping a sentence or even a paragraph — a rather common problem.
Using a translation database, you translate a sentence, phrase or word once. The next time you come across the same element, a program suggests that you use your previous translation. This may be edited if the context demands it. This is important primarily, but not exclusively, for technical translators, because technical documents tend to have many repetitions. For example, when working with one of my long-term clients, Volvo Cars International, about 60% of the sentences in the brochure on the Volvo S60 were sentences I had already translated working on the Volvo S/V70, S80 and S/V40 brochures. In such cases, which are not at all rare, a database saves time and ensures perfect consistency of terminology, which the client appreciates.
Preservation of the original typesetting and layout means that the translator no longer needs to think about this requirement.
In my opinion, when choosing a tool, a translator should first of all pay attention to the factors of price, user-friendliness and the amount of time necessary to learn to use it.
I am a freelance Russian translator who depends greatly on the Internet as a source of work, dictionaries, reference materials and translation software. I came across Wordfast in January 2001, and this program immediately became my favorite tool. I had extensive experience with Deja Vu 2.3.78 and TRADOS Workbench 2.0. Now I use Wordfast 3.34 every day, and it boosts my productivity even when there are no repetitions in the source text.
Wordfast is actually a set of macros, a template compatible with any version of Microsoft Word. It builds on the standard Microsoft Word window, adding 13 special Wordfast buttons and implements for functions such as segmentation; creating, using, importing and exporting translation databases and glossaries; exact/fuzzy matches; pretranslation and context search (concordance). Alignment — creating a database from previously translated materials — is performed by an additional tool (template), Walign.
It took me only a few seconds to download Wordfast. This is a great advantage for freelance translators with low-speed phone-line Internet connection. Installation also took only a few seconds to copy the file wordfast.dot in the Template folder of Microsoft Word. It took me a couple of hours to become familiar with all Wordfast's functions. The Wordfast manual is 18 pages.
I tested Wordfast in versions 3.30, 3.32 and 3.34 for more than half a year, using it in many translation projects. In one of them, I translated articles into Russian for www.balkan-info.com for the US Department of Defense via a translation agency on a daily basis. Wordcount was 1,000 to 2,500 words daily, a total of about 220,000 words from March 22 to September 30, with tight deadlines, strict preservation of original layout and hyperlinks, consistency of political and military terminology and transliteration of foreign names.
Wordfast never let me down. I want to emphasize its reliability — this factor is most important when you have to meet tight deadlines each day. And Wordfast operated with Cyrillic fonts without any difficulties.
Sometimes the translation agency re-sent a revised copy of an article without indicating what had been changed — in some cases almost at deadline. It was easy to translate a revised text using the previously created database.
Another project with a wordcount of about 22,000 words, with a lot of exact and fuzzy matches, proved to be a test of compatibility between Wordfast and TRADOS. When asked if I could provide translation databases in TRADOS format, I replied positively and was hired for the project. I submitted my databases created by Wordfast. The manager may still think I have TRADOS installed on my PC!
In these two cases, I used Wordfast on three different PCs — Pentium 233, Intel Celeron 466 and AMD 1100. The operating systems were Windows 98 and Windows Millenium. The text editor was MS Word from MS Office 97 and 2000. Wordfast demonstrated the ultimate reliability in all these combinations of hardware and software.
No translation database tool I have tested was free of bugs. At least, I came across bugs running them on my two PCs, both of which operate perfectly when I run many other applications and games. This is the case despite the fact that these products were developed years ago and have been debugged for all this time. I noticed several bugs when testing Wordfast in February and reported them to the developer. They soon disappeared.
Of course, being much more complex and “heavy,” TRADOS and Deja Vu perform functions beyond those of Wordfast. For example, they process files of “exotic” types such as QuarkXpress and PageMaker without forcing a translator to convert them to the .doc format beforehand. Deja Vu and TRADOS also offer a lot of windows and functions that are basically meant for translation managers and translators who are also advanced PC users.
In my opinion, Wordfast is a cost-efficient, user-friendly and reliable segmentation/translation database tool that may be useful and/or helpful to translation professionals and to people who translate only now and then. Wordfast will also find a market among those translators who are allergic to any software that they feel complicates their lives instead of facilitating their work.
By Andrei Gerasimov, Ph.D., ATA member