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Cat out of the bag: Training for All?

January 20th, 2007 | by mm

From the The Tool Kit by Jost Zetzsche.

I received an interesting message the other day from a reader about the SDL Trados training/certification program:

“I am amazed at the extent to which the cost of training on the leading CAT tools remains unchallenged. I cannot be the only freelance translator who objects to paying the amount SDL is charging in order to properly use the software. Have you ever tried to look into the cost of training? This is in fact a hidden cost which is as high as the cost of the software, but it is never mentioned. How does this compare with other companies? It looks to me that this is just another source of revenue for SDL, certainly not ‘support’ as they like to call it. The training they offer is online, and there is very little training available of any other kind.”

I think I understand what the reader is saying, but I’m not sure I completely agree. I don’t want to argue about pricing and all of that — but I would like to “challenge” the necessity of training and the need for investment into it.

Here are some rather random but heartfelt thoughts: For the longest time, many suppliers of translation environment tools wanted to make us believe that it’s completely easy to use their tools, and you can pretty much sit down and start to use them right away.

Bah, humbug!

(I just played Fezziwig in our local production of  “A Christmas Carol” – so Scrooges’s “humbug” is still ringing in my ears!)

Really, this is nonsense, and I will readily concede that Trados in its earlier days, particularly when it started to sell freelance versions of its tools, was particularly guilty of that crime.

Folks: translation is not an easy task. And while this sounds like a truism in a newsletter to translation professionals, it’s a worthwhile thing to be said in my opinion. Because if it were easy, we could and should expect the tools that support it to be easy as well. (And I guess in that case we would not be translators to start with, because tools would have taken over…). Since translation is a complex task, the tools that support it are complex as well. Remember why I am desperately trying to avoid the term “translation memory tool”? Because “translation environment tools” do so much more than just matching segments on a fuzzy and perfect level, and this is stuff that needs to be learned.

As I listened last week to a recording of a session of representatives from Adobe, Abbyy, and Nuance discussing working with PDFs as a translator, one said something to the effect that “the cheaper the tools are, the more consumers expect.” He meant that corporate consumers who pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for their applications expect to pay similar or even higher amounts for training and support, whereas consumers who (only) pay tens or hundreds of dollars for their tools expect that everything needs to work out of the box without the need for (paid) support and training.

And quite frankly, that’s just not the way it is. Tools that support database-based translation (i.e., translation memory), terminology maintenance, quality assurance, and highly complex formats are complex tools and need to be studied. I talked to the president of one tool maker at the tekom conference in Germany a few weeks ago, and he said that if you were to add up the percentages that the different tool makers claim they “own” in the translation environment market, you would come out with several hundred percent. He was right on that particular point. The reason for that is that so many translators have bought several tools during their career, have installed them, tried them once or twice, and put them back on their shelves where they have been gathering dust ever since. And if you ask them why, they will tell you it was just too hard and did not quite work the way they thought it would. Of course it was hard! And of course it worked differently than they thought! Because, yes, it was much harder.

So, training is necessary. It’s probably conservative to say that you will need the same investment for training that you needed for purchasing a translation environment tool in the first place. And this of course not only includes the actual monetary cost for training courses, but also the time investment while you’re learning and not otherwise making money.

Most tools offer some kind of paid training. And very often you can visit training sessions at translation conferences. Wordfast, for instance, has built up a community network of trainers (see http://snurl.com/3i8p5), SDL Trados offers some training through free webinars and other paid kinds of online or classroom-based training (http://tinyurl.com/yghmpj), Deja Vu announces many of its paid training courses on its Yahoo mailing group, across offers regular free web-based trainings and paid classroom-based training (http://tinyurl.com/ykzqu5), and on and on.

Happy training!

No Responses to “Cat out of the bag: Training for All?”

  1. María G. Otoya de Diehn Says:

    Training is necessary for any application if you do not like to study its documentation or if the application has lacking documentation or is itself buggy.
    The translation company where I work at had a support contract with a translation software provider. I needed support a couple of times. Only once did I get good service and effective help, from a person on the phone. It was a simple problem at a time I was not yet familiar with the software.
    As to real problems, those related to performance of the software, I realized that we, the users, are the builders of their knowledge database. Before asking for any support, even with a contract, and after searching through their documentation, you have to browse through their site and devote an enormous amount of time to something that could be taken care of easily by an expert CSR. Then, they have us write a very detailed description of when and how did the problem occur, and the answer, if any, would arrive late. Meanwhile, they are using us to test their faulty programs, which they sell as finished products.
    The person who wrote the letter is right. I would add that the documentation of the sofware should be enhanced by simplifying it and making the software interface more intuitive.
    On-line training, if sold, should be affordable.


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