TRANSLATOR’S BEST FRIENDS
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A list of supportive tools for a high performance work.
I’d like to address this article mainly to those who are starting their activity as translators (whether this is their first job or they have worked elsewhere before).
The list I decided to submit derives mainly from my direct experience, but also from forums and websites, discussions with other colleagues and customers suggestions.
This is obviously not exhaustive and I’d like to know the opinion and any suggestions from the readers.
I decided to omit from the list PC and other common tools, which I suppose translators still have and use.
I only state that I’m a technical translator and that literary translators may need other tools for their high-performance activity.
Many articles have already been written about different CAT tools, tips and tricks and so on. I will then limit the discussion saying that it is probably my best friend, since it helps me saving really a lot of time and it gives me the opportunity to work for many more customers (mainly translation agencies).
Agencies in particular ask more and more for the use of a CAT, but I also found some private customers (i.e. not in translation marketplace) that requested me to use it.
I dare say it’ almost essential. At least for technical translations.
In fact I saw many different opinions about using a CAT tool in a literary translation.
In any case, it provides time saving and assures terminology consistency throughout the text.
Terminology management software
Some translation memories management software offer a terminology management tool too, and also in this case many words have already been spent.
I’d just like to add that building, updating and maintaining a glossary is basic for a translator.
It can be considered her/his treasure, as it derives often from many years of translation.
OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
In my daily work I often receive non editable .pdf files to translate and I could see that OCR can save me a lot of time during translation.
First of all, I can use CAT tools on my “OCRred” file, and if the document is quite similar to other I translated, that saves me a lot of time for translation and term research, besides assuring a terminology consistency.
If I had to translate a book or a long document, I prefer to OCR (I’m sorry for the new verb) it in order to use the CAT for consistency reasons.
I can even translate machine-typed documents, as sometimes occurs to me.
It often occurs that in technical documents there are plenty of tables and formulas. With OCR the edited file has the tables/formulas already printed in and so I can avoid rewrite it entirely.
I just had to eventually format it for the final delivery, but I don’t risk making errors in copying numbers and letters.
If I had to update older documents, OCR help me focusing only on the changes, without wasting time in rewriting the whole document.
I use OCR software that recognizes many languages, so the language of documents is not a problem (I say that because I once used a free one that only recognized English, which was a problem for my French documents).
The time spent in scanning the source document and/or in accurately reviewing and formatting the final translation is however smaller than translating an entire printed document.
Moreover, if my source document is a printed one, it becomes more difficult to translate it having a look both to the paper and to the PC.
Errors and lines skipping are more frequent if I had to pay attention to two different focal points at a time.
To physically manage printed documents I need more space on my desk and I cause more suffering to my neck and shoulders.
And, last but not least, with OCR I don’t have to print my document so saving paper and being more environmental-friendly.
Speech recognition software
I don’t know how many people are good typists. Anyway, I’m not a good one.
Particularly when I’m tired and/or I’m typing from many hours, I do lots of typing errors that require a longer revision phase.
A speech recognition software can speed up my job in a significant way, above all if the translation is not too technical and schematic.
I found that when I dictate my phrases I’m less bent to interruptions and distractions in comparison to when I type them.
And of course I do less typing errors and I can revise my sentence immediately and in a more accurate way (I better recognize errors made by the software - or by myself during the speech - than by typing).
Moreover, when I speak I pay more attention to my words with respect to writing a sentence.
It’s also a great benefit for the health of my back, my shoulders and my fingers.
The only thing you need is a quiet and enough silent location (no children shouting on your side, no other people talking near you, etc.).
Word counting software
CAT tools often have an integrated word counting tool, but in the market there are many software that allow counting words from files of almost all formats.
It’s useful in preparing an offer to customer, in evaluating the time needed for the translation and so in organizing work schedule, or in wondering if the price offered by the customer can be valuable for that project.
Documents filing software
If you have to manage a very large amount of documents or documents versions, which need to be recovered in very short time.
I don’t have it, but I think it can also be useful to literary translators to catalogue their translated books.
For a technical translator it can be useful to classify their reference texts, for example by argument (e.g. Medicine, Pharmacy, Pharmacology), by author, by publishing date, etc.
Conversion tools and special characters
A very useful tools above all for technical translators.
U.S. and U.K. documents still have their own measurement units (the so called imperial system, as opposed to IS system, widely used in European countries).
However for a good translation/localization it is necessary to convert the measurement units into the ones in use in the countries/language areas to which the translation is directed.
These tools can be found very easily on internet and are often free, while covering a wide range of units (power, mass, length, pressure, electrical units, etc.).
Another useful tool concerns special characters.
Apart from some languages that require a dedicated set of characters/alphabet (e.g. Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, etc.), many scientific and mathematical formulas use Greek letters or other characters.
Some of them are included in the Unicode set, many of them, too, are available in common word processors.
I personally use the sets of characters that Microsoft Office WordTM offers.
A good accounting software
Whether you prefer a ready-to-use accounting software or you build it yourself (for example by spreadsheets), it’s a key tool for a translator.
Freelancers have to manage also accounting (orders, invoices, taxes, payments, etc.) even if they rely on a chartered accountant.
Some commercially available software have a set of pre-set worksheets/tools to help freelancers managing this part of their activity.
These software often allow tracking the time needed for a specific project, to schedule the working time and meetings, to track a specific project from the purchase order to invoice, to the payment by the customer, and to assess the value of incomes and revenues at the end of the year.
I personally still use an “old time” system: a series of ExcelTM spreadsheets, since I still did not find the software that fits for me.
I’m looking for the right one, so I learnt the various features that these softwares offer and their limitations too. Many of them can be downloaded for free from internet or have a free trial period.
This argument is extensively discussed on ProZ various forums: it’s sufficient to make a search.
Dictionaries, Specialization texts and Grammar books
I’d have to put this item at the very beginning of my article, since dictionaries (papery, electronic, on CD) are really basic for translators.
It can be considered an obvious item, but I’m not so sure.
Of course every translator must have the dictionaries that best fit for her/his language pairs, specialization fields, both bilingual and monolingual.
Many dictionaries are examinable for free on internet.
Two points are very important in my opinion:
1. Not all dictionaries are the same (above all free internet dictionaries).
Translator must carefully assess the quality of a dictionary before buying/using it.
Whether it has extensive explanation of terms, it is easy to consult, it is updated, it provides, for example, on-line updates, widening of some arguments, and so on.
I think that translator must not care only about the price, but above all about quality. I’d like to repeat that it’s the key tool for translator, even it does not possess CAT tools, OCR, other softwares (even a PC).
2. It’s basic to know how to consult the dictionary
How to distinguish between the different solutions proposed and pick up the best one for the text we are translating.
I learned this the first time while translating Latin texts during my high school. It’s not so obvious or so easy.
In summary, in my opinion a translator should have/consult bilingual dictionaries, monolingual dictionaries, general and specialist volumes, synonym dictionaries (I dare say some times also for languages she/he doesn’t use for work) as it should occur a sentence or a reference in another language that is essential to understand for the whole context of the text. Of course, dictionaries are examinable for free in local public libraries.
As for specialization books, they are basic particularly for technical translators (both in the source and target language), in order to go thoroughly into an argument and to understand it.
Many translators have a specialist background: they are former doctors, lawyers, scientists, architects, engineers and so they already have a deep knowledge (or at least deeper than a linguist) about a precise argument, but they simply can’t know everything. They don’t have to think so.
So, specialization volumes are very important as very important is doing researches on arguments we don’t know.
Finally, grammar books.
Many languages have a very difficult grammar and a large set of grammar rules, which perhaps in oral speaking are forgotten or not properly used.
In writing, though, grammar rules have to be applied for a good outcome. I’m referring to grammar books about the target language.
Yes, we learnt grammar in school, but are we sure to know and to remember all grammar rules and exceptions? I don’t think so.
Translators must have also grammar books for the source language(s), since they might find some unknown situations in their texts.
And, besides what I said above about target language, if we don’t know/remember our mother tongue grammar, are we sure to know/remember all the rules of a foreign language?
To conclude, these are tools to consult at every doubt, indecision, ignorance about an argument, a sentence, a word.
Internet various communication and management resources
This category is not as important as the others are. You can prefer using a papery agenda, going to an office to use fax or owning one yourself, going to post-office instead of using on-line tools.
I prefer using some tools and services (often free) that allow me to save time and annoying and stressing queues (in Italy they are almost normal in every office).
I decided not to mention any specific tool in this list, first of all not to advertise them, but above all because I think that everyone has to find the one that best fits to her/him as for features, utility, price and other individual needs.
I actually don’t possess a tool for each category, both because I don’t need all of them (now) and because for some categories I’m still looking for the one it can satisfy me.
If you need some more specific information, you can write me in private.
I ask you pardon for my mistakes in writing, as I’m not an English mother tongue.