Computer tools for translators

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For any professional translator, having computer skills is a must. Translators should devote time --and sometimes money-- to acquiring translation-related computer tools knowledge.

Most common software

There are several computer tools a professional translator may need to know how to use. These include:

  1. Word processors and text editors
  2. Electronic dictionaries and encyclopedias
  3. Internet tools
  4. Image editors
  5. CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tools
  6. Desktop publishing tools
  7. File management or conversion software
  8. Proofreading systems
  9. Translation quality assurance tools
  10. Billing tools or software
  11. Anti-malware Software
  12. File compressors or decompressors

Word processors and text editors

Word processors help translators to produce written material. Most word processors allow:

  • composition (text input)
  • editing
  • formatting (including desktop publishing)
  • spell-checking
  • grammar-checking
  • syntax-checking
  • image and diagram insertion
  • file printing
  • file saving
  • character/word/sentence/line/paragraph/page counting
  • footnoting
  • numbering
  • index generation
  • text insertion using voice-recognition software
  • text creation from scanned documents
  • content search
  • content replacement
  • automatic correction
  • cross-referencing
  • captioning

Some of the most popular word processors are: Microsoft Word, Notepad, Oracle Open Office Writer, WordPerfect, Atlantis Word Processor, Microsoft Works, Writely, Zoho Writer, gOffice and Google Docs.

Electronic dictionaries and encyclopedias

Electronic dictionaries and encyclopedias may be either programs that can be downloaded for free or purchased on the Internet and installed on a computer, or else platforms that can be used online. These electronic databases can be monolingual or bilingual, and allow translators to search and check terminology in a given field or language, idioms, pronunciation, grammatical use, collocations, etc.

Electronic dictionaries and encyclopedias include: Wikipedia, The Free Dictionary, Probert Encyclopaedia, and Merriam Webster.

Internet tools

Internet tools include web browsers, search engines, specialized databases, and chat, e-mail and online communication systems. These tools allow translators to retrieve information from the Internet, interact with other Internet users (including colleagues and clients), and mediate and organize communication.

Most popular web browsers:Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari and Maxthon.

Most popular search engines: Google, Yahoo!, Bing, Ask and AOL Search.

Most popular chat software: Windows Live Messenger, Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, Google talk and ICQ

Most popular free email service providers: Gmail, Yahoo!, FastMail, Hotmail and AIM Mail.

Image editors

An image editor is an application that allows the editing of images or pictures. Translators may need these editors to alter or manipulate source images such as photographs or illustrations that include text and render them in the target language.

Just as word processors, image editors may be available online or translators may need to download or purchase them and install them on their computers.

Most common image editor programs: Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, Photoscape, ArtWeaver and Pixia.

Free online image editors include: Picnik, Adobe Photoshop Express and Pixlr.

CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tools

Computer Aided Translation tools --or, simply, CAT tools -- are computer programs designed to support and facilitate the translation process.

Though not all professional translators have learned how to use at least one CAT tool, and not all clients will require their use, CAT tools help to translate text documents more efficiently by allowing, among other things:

  • spell checking
  • grammar checking
  • terminology management
  • access to dictionaries
  • full-text searching
  • concordance checking
  • text merging (or bitexts)
  • project management
  • creation and access to translation memories (terminological databases)

Most popular CAT tools include: Trados, Star Transit, Deja Vu, Wordfast and OmegaT.

Desktop publishing tools

Desktop publishing tools --or DTP tools-- allow translators to create documents for publication. While desktop publishing can be made with most word processors, there are other electronic layout software that could help translators with the task of preparing documents for publishing and distribution.

Most common DTP applications include: Adobe FrameMaker, Adobe InDesign, Adobe PageMaker, CorelDRAW, Microsoft Office Publisher, OpenOffice and QuarkXPress.

File management or conversion software

File or document conversion tools allow translators to covert one document's format to another so that the document can be read by other applications. This is specially helpful when the source file format is not common or readable by the software available to the translator or when the client wants the translated file in a special format, no matter the source text format.

File conversion tools are available both to download and install, and online.

Most common file conversion software include: Expervision TypeReader, ABBYY FineReader and OmniPage.

Proofreading systems

In translation, proofreading or checking systems allow the detection and correction of production-errors in texts. Proofing tools will generally be associated with the word processor being used. However, there are also online proofreading tools for quick checking.

These tools allow:

  • spell-checking
  • word flagging (suggested replacements)
  • grammar/style checking
  • synonym and antonym listing
  • translation
  • auto-correction
  • hyphenating
  • contextual spelling

Common proofreading tools include: Paper Rater and Proofing Tools for Office.

Translation quality assurance tools

Translation quality assurance tools help translators catch errors in bilingual files during the proofreading stage:

  • Check inconsistencies;
  • Catch common formatting errors (consecutive spaces, consecutive punctuation marks, differences in the punctuation, spaces in front of punctuation marks, discrepancies of HTML/XML tags, different capitalization);
  • Find untranslated words or phrases;
  • Distinguish different length of source and target segments.

Some of the QA tools for translators are: XBench, AceProof, QADistiller

Billing tools or software

Billing or invoicing applications allow translators to create, send, and track invoices online. Most invoicing programs allow taxing, tax deduction and compound taxes. Also, some of them allow invoice data back-up, export and printing.

Most popular invoice tools include: invoicing for translators, Invoicera and Tradeshift.

Anti-malware Software

Anti-malware or anti-virus software includes programs used to prevent, detect, and remove malware --computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware and adware. Using malware software is almost a must for any translator if they want to protect personal and professional data in their home computers or laptops.

Most common anti-virus software include: Norton, ESET NOD32, Kaspersky and AVG.

File compressors or decompressors

Data or file compression is the process of encoding information using fewer bits than the original representation would use. Compressed data must be decompressed to be used. Translators may find it useful to work with file compressors and decompressors as this helps reduce the use of hard disk space or transmission bandwidth.

Most popular file compressors include: WinRAR, 7-Zip and WinUHA.


While the list of computer tools translators need is by no means exhaustive, every translator must know how to use the majority of the tools explored above. There are, in fact, several computer software trainings that will help translators acquire the knowledge they need to handle these tools effectively. Also, most of these programs come with a tutorial section that will explain translators how to use the tool and how to get the most out of it.

One way or the other, translators must spend time learning to use these tools to be sure they will be able to use them effectively when the time comes.

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