What am I talking about?
CAT tools (for computer-aided translation) are computer programs that help translators work more efficiently and keep translations more consistent. The software automatically adds each translated sentence to a “translation memory” (TM), and displays that translation if the same, or a similar, sentence occurs elsewhere in the document. TMs can be used across projects, so if the translator later works on another project for the same end client, he or she can use the same TM ensure that the new translation is consistent with the previous one.
A number of different programs on the market perform this function. Unfortunately, the proprietary file formats of competing software manufacturers often make it difficult to move TMs between different CAT tools. All tools will convert the translated file back into a more common file format, such as MS Word. The translation delivered is usually that Word document.
If all you ever need is that translated Word document and only work with one translator, the tool used is irrelevant. However, if additional text to be translated later will be produced and the same translator is providing both the current and forthcoming translations, the tool used is again irrelevant.
But if you need more than one translator for a particular language combination, the ability to share the TM among the translators becomes important. You can then either specify a particular CAT tool when hiring translators or introduce the various translators working on your projects to each other and ask them to find a way to share the TM.
Option 1 is easier and faster, but option 2 may yield the better results.
If a particular CAT tool is specified when approaching translators, the person who is the best match for a specific project may not be able to work on it because he or she uses a different tool. You must also be quite familiar with the various CAT tools, so you can specify the tool most appropriate for your subject area and language combination.
Translators probably know “their” specific CAT tool better than you. They are therefore likely to know – or can find out – how their TM format can be made compatible with that of a colleague who uses a different tool. Moving between different CAT tools may be difficult, but it can often be done.
To be sure, not all translators will want to work out such technical details with their colleagues. The back-and-forth communication and research required take time. The translator will only invest that time if he or she can be reasonably sure that there will be enough business from you to offset that effort. And of course that extra time needs to be taken into account when deciding on the deadline for the initial project.
Putting all your translators for a specific language combination in touch with each other offers another benefit, too: they can collaborate on unclear/uncommon terminology or phrasing, which in turn improves the quality of the translation.