Why I use TRADOS as a literary translator

February 21, 2023

If you wonder why there is a cute cat in the picture, it’s because we are going to talk about a CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tool. This one is called TRADOS and I use it to create the first draft of my literary translations. Here are a few arguments to understand where I’m coming from.

The controversy

It seems controversial to announce that I work with a CAT tool for such a creative specialisation as literary.

Let me show you why.

A screenshot of what I see every day when I create a first draft on TRADOS

As you can see in the picture, one of the functionalities is text segmentation. The original paragraphs can still be identified in the grey column on the right-hand side.

This segmenting is not always accurate, particularly if dialogues are involved.

While extremely useful when translating segment by segment, you should not rely exclusively on a CAT tool to perform any kind of literary translation, and even less transcreation, which often asks for an almost complete rewrite, adding some things and removing others.

However, here is my personal experience using TRADOS as a literary translator.

The good

  • I already owned the tool. I didn’t invest in it only for my literary work. I regularly translate other kinds of documents, both from Norwegian and English.
  • It’s easier for me to split the book into workable chunks and keep track of my daily word count. This is actually the main reason why I really enjoy this tool. I can keep daily realistic and measurable goals in the first phase of the translation, which is the most demanding. Being extremely creative and quirky, I’m as scatterbrained as a squirrel in a Nutella factory. Keeping my eyes on that segmented screen allows me to concentrate.
Me when I see a shiny object
  • I never miss a segment (I sometimes did in the past) and always have the source text easily available. I don’t mind not being able to “see” paragraphs as easily as on a Word document. I will get to that anyway when I export the first draft.
  • I’m a big believer in the “eat the frog” method. I like to create a rough first draft in the mornings, working for several hours. In wintertime, I can start as early as 4.30 a.m. In the afternoon, I reread the previous session to catch the worst mistakes. Then, I recreate the entire book in Word and start the big editing and rewriting stage once everything is translated. Some translators like to have an almost definitive version before they move on. I don’t. It’s similar to the “architects versus gardeners” approach to fiction writing.
  • I translate a genre (historical novels) that is quite straightforward. The books are often optimised for digital and audio format: short sentences, lots of short dialogues… This makes segmentation easier, and I don’t rewrite the dialogue tags until the editing stage anyway.
  • I translate series. The style carries throughout the same book and across different volumes. You’ll be surprised to see how many times my TM (translation memory) sends me suggestions for “stage cues” like “she smiled at him”, “he raised an eyebrow” (usually quizzically), “he looked at her”, etc. Not having to type those out saves me roughly one day of work on each book, which I can then spend editing.
  • It’s easier to save and manage terminology, as you’ve guessed.
  • Antidote, my favourite proofreading software is integrated!

The dodgy side of using TRADOS as a literary translator

However, there’s the other side:

  • Machine translation? LOL. Mind you, it can be really useful for very short sentences, but it’s more adapted to an informative style of writing.
  • Not all genres or styles can be segmented easily or at all. Some books contain sentences that last for several pages. Good luck segmenting this one. Others are too poetic in nature. You need Word or even a printout.
  • You really need to see and hear the text, as well as use other tools to get to your final version. For example, I use the “Read Aloud” function directly in Word. There’s always some rewriting to do afterward! Some translators may find they prefer doing that work straightaway, little by little.


If you are an author, this probably doesn’t speak to you a lot, but I felt it was important to talk about this tool. I even received a questionnaire from a large publishing company I work with about using TRADOS as a literary translator, proving that I’m not the only one.

Don’t worry. AI won’t be taking over the translation of your books any time soon! You can check my portfolio here.

1 Comment

  1. Marco Giani

    Hi Angélique, that is a very interesting post! I am a legal & financial translator, so I would never be able to work without a CAT Tool. I have shared a co-working with a french literary translator and he showed me that he was working on a standard word format, basically on one screen the source text, and on the other screen the target text. As for the segments, you can play around a little bit on Trados, if you need to combine a couple of segments. Marco


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My last published translation

Opposites attract in this historical romance.

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A tale of several quirky sisters who never thought they would attract husbands.