Trados vs Wordfast – Which Translation Memory Tool is Best?

20 August 2011

Trados and Wordfast are the largest translation memory tools in the translation industry. When I first became an English to French translator, I noticed that the most interesting projects went to translators who had one of these programs.

Deciding which to use was not an easy because of the large price difference and strong opinions from other translators. What I realized in the end was it is not important which translation memory software is best, but which is best for achieving the translator’s goals.

I ended up investing in both translation memory tools since I worked on technical documents from clients of all sizes. Most of my smaller clients requested Wordfast and large agencies required Trados. While it is possible to use Wordfast on a Trados project, or vice-versa, I did not want to continuously fix compatibility errors, find work-arounds and annoy my clients. If a client wanted me to use Trados, then I would use Trados. Over the years of working with Trados and Wordfast, I have to admit that I prefer Trados. It offers more flexibility and time saving conveniences.

Patience is required when learning Trados. With its many features, it can take a while to figure out how to use it to its full potential. It is convenient for handling file formats other than .doc, plus has modules for expanding its capabilities. With Wordfast, you must convert files to MS Word before being able to work on them. This can become tedious and take time away from working on the translation itself. Trados allows translators to import documents directly into the software, such as PDF, HTML, XML, InDesign, QuarkXPress and PageMaker. Many translation agencies tend to require translators to use .ttx files, which are only editable through Trados. But if a translator’s clients normally only send .doc files, then Wordfast is more than sufficient.

Most large agencies require technical translators to use Trados. Some translators will use Wordfast for these projects, but may have to make additional requests from the client. For instance, translators will have to ask the client to provide a tmx memory since Trados memories are encrypted. A tmx memory does not take long to create, but most clients expect translators to be able to handle tmw files themselves. It is also not possible to create tmx files in Wordfast. This is okay for clients that do not demand it at the end of the project. For clients that do, the translator will have to tell them to do it themselves by running the segmented files into Trados. You will not gain many professional points by doing this.

It is tempting to only purchase Wordfast since it is easier to learn and less expensive. It integrates nicely into MS Word by providing a special toolbar on top of the page. Features of Wordfast that are not available in Trados include being able to conduct real time quality checks, input new terminologies quickly, link to unlimited external dictionaries and share translations memories online. It also is a much smaller application, so it does not take up much space on the computer’s hard drive.

Since my clients usually have tight deadlines, I want to limit any possibility of having software issues or asking them to handle file conversions. Serious technical translators should purchase both Trados and Wordfast in order to use the one appropriate to the client’s project. This way they are not losing time on technical problems or risking the client’s satisfaction. New translators handling smaller projects can gain a start in the industry by only using Wordfast and then purchase Trados after gaining momentum. Time is money, so wasting time on solving issues, calming confused clients and finding workarounds may cost you more in the end than making the investment.

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