Blog post dated Dec 9, 2019

Translation Tools: Translation Helpers

For quite some time, many people's private and professional sphere has been dominated by new technologies. This also (and especially) applies to the translation profession: What would a freelance translator or a translator in a company's translation department do without a computer and software? The (correct) use of software can be vital to make sure that a translation process delivers a high-quality translation that is flawless in form and content.

An Article by

Maurice Mayer-Dewor
Lecturer, Heidelberg University

General technical skills as well as specific tool skills have become indispensable.

These skills should be acquired as early as possible, perhaps even while studying at university. The earlier a translator makes it a habit to install and familiarize himself with new (professionally relevant) application, the better his general technical understanding and his basic software utilization skills will be, enabling him to use tools correctly, systematically, and efficiently. In a world permeated by technology, such skills—along with solid translation skills as well as soft skills such as the ability to communicate and team spirit—can be decisive in determining whether a translator receives a particular translation order or an employment contract.

Computer-Aided Translation

Today, a translator's work is largely based on the use of various types of software: Apart from applications of a more general nature, such as word processing software, communication software (e-mail, instant messaging, etc.), or backup tools, computer-aided translation (CAT) tools play a key role. These are applications and tools that assist the translator in his work.

Computer-aided translation should not be confused with machine translation (MT), i.e. the translation of texts by software systems without any input from a human translator (for more information on this subject, see e.g. the blog post "Machine Translation for Translators").

Today, a translator's work is largely based on the use of various types of software.

The TM System: King of the CAT Tools

Among the CAT tools, translation management systems (TM systems or TMS; formerly also referred to as translation management systems) are of great significance and are used in many translation projects. The history of commercial TM systems goes back to the 1980s.

Since then, they have undergone ongoing development and have become a veritable Swiss army knife: Based on conventional core components such as the translation memory, translation editor, terminology management, and project management, they now not only support the "plain" translation of source documents (in various file formats and with various workflows), but have also been supplemented with more specific functions, such as reporting and billing functions, customer and order management, terminology extraction functions, automation options, the possibility to connect third-party systems via interfaces, and, since recently, the integration of MT.

For a description of the main components and basic functionality of TM systems, please refer to the information provided elsewhere, e.g. in the white paper entitled "The Principle of Translation Management Systems" and in the blog post "All about Translation Management Systems (TMS)".

Beyond TMS: Other Little Helpers

Besides TM systems with their powerful function scope, there are countless other useful function-specific tools that can assist the translator in his work.

(Electronic) Dictionaries: The Oldest of All Translation Helpers

Dictionaries are the oldest of all translation helpers. Apart from conventional printed dictionaries, many translators use their electronic counterparts, which may be available online or offline. Some of the advantages of the applications of electronic offline dictionaries over printed dictionaries include the options for accessing the dictionary content and the search functions (e.g. full-text search).

So-called dictionary platforms, which form the basis for the integration of multiple dictionaries, are especially efficient for daily use. Using these platforms, it is possible to efficiently search multiple dictionaries with a single search request. For the German language, for example, the range of options includes the Duden library for Duden dictionaries and UniLex, for which monolingual, bilingual, and multilingual dictionaries are available from various publishers. Apart from a version for local installation (UniLex Pro), it is also possible to access the dictionaries online (UniLex IDS).


(Web) Research Tools

Online terminology research is both useful and time-consuming. Often, this involves selecting a language direction for the various online resources in separate browser tabs, manually entering the expression searched for, running the search, and finally sifting the results. Research tools centralize the search process, bundling the individual steps of the search. In a central search environment, it is sufficient to define the language direction once and enter the search word once. Subsequently, the search can usually be conducted throughout several online researches in one go.

Some TM systems, such as Across, have an integrated search function that is capable of conducting such searches. Moreover, there are special online and offline research tools that offer a variety of benefits. One of the web-based tools from this field is Search Bar, a rather simple solution that is suitable for the first steps in this subject area. However, the available language combinations are limited, and it is not possible to individually select the online resources to be taken into consideration in a search. MagicSearch offers a much greater range of languages and language combinations. Moreover, it enables choosing from the predefined online resources. (Thanks to the use of cookies, the selection will be "stored" even if the MagicSearch web page is closed and accessed again later on.)

So-called dictionary platforms, which form the basis for the integration of multiple dictionaries, are especially efficient for daily use.

Unfortunately, it is usually not possible to expand the available online resources of web-based research tools directly. In some cases, this has been possible indirectly by contacting the developers or authors. On the other hand, it is not possible to integrate offline sources (e.g. the applications of locally installed dictionaries).

Often, offline research tools that are installed on the local computer are not marred by such disadvantages. They can be (and in some cases must be) customized by adding online and offline resources with the help of wizards and configuring custom keyboard configurations. For example, IntelliWebSearch is such an offline research tool.

Upon startup, the tool "slumbers" in the background until it is called up with a keyboard shortcut (by default: Ctrl+Alt+B). This can be done from within any application in which text can be selected, e.g. also from within the translation editor of a TM system. If a word is selected before calling up IntelliWebSearch, it does not need to be entered manually. Subsequently, the web search can be conducted in one or several online and offline sources. The search can be fully automated with keyboard shortcuts.

The current version of IntelliWebSearch is available for a fee (two-month test version is available free of charge). Additionally, an older version is available for free use without any time limit. Compared to the latest version, the older version has some disadvantages, especially in terms of the user-friendliness.

Offline recherche tools can be customized by adding resources with wizards and configuring custom keyboard configurations.

The communication by e-mail and other means accounts for a considerable part of a translator's daily work. For example, translation requests need to be answered, invoices need to be issued, and finished translation orders need to be delivered with a cover letter. Many of the text components and phrases used in this context are repetitive, e.g. the salutation, introductory sentences, standard phrases, and entire text passages that are used over and over again. Information such as the translator's IBAN, mailing address, and e-mail address also need to be entered repeatedly.

To speed up the typing of such repetitive texts, Word enables the creation of document templates (for entire documents) and building blocks (for individual text passage). The disadvantage of this approach is that the use of these functions is limited to Word. However, texts need to be written in other areas as well, e.g. in the web, in the e-mail client, or in the translation editor of a TM system.

This is where text template management tools come in. These tools enable the storage of texts that need to be written repeatedly in the form of text templates. If necessary, these text templates can be auto-inserted in the current text via a keyboard shortcut or a defined character sequence. This functionality is available throughout the entire system, regardless of whether the text is being written in an e-mail program, in Word, in the web, or in a TM system. One such tool is PhraseExpress. Upon startup, the tool runs in the background, waiting to be called up in order to insert a defined text template.

Apart from "static" text templates of virtually any length, input forms can be used to generate entire documents with dynamic content. The tool also boasts some other useful functions, such as system-wide auto-correction for selected languages (this and other extensions can be downloaded free of charge from the PhraseExpress website) and a multiple system-wide clipboard.

PhraseExpress is free of charge for private use but subject to a fee for professional use. The same vendor also offers the free tool Textbausteinverwaltung, which however comes with a trimmed-down function scope.

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In the translation industry, the automation of repetitive tasks and processes plays an important role, as it enables significant efficiency gains and cost savings. Freelancers, too, can automate repetitive tasks or procedures with relatively easy means, e.g. by using script languages such as AutoHotkey. The (free) AutoHotkey enables the automation of any keyboard input, mouse click, and mouse route in Windows—from automated keyboard input and text replacement (which ultimately enables the creation of text templates; see above) to the automatic execution of applications, mouse routes, and mouse clicks as well as the creation of custom applications (by compiling the respective scripts).

Though the creation of a script to implement a task requires some experience and a measure of technological affinity, it does not require any programming skills. The syntax of AutoHotkey is very straightforward, and the online help and online documentation are excellent.

As the AutoHotkey scripts are text-based, they can be created with a simple text editor, such as the free and highly versatile Notepad++. The scripts can be executed e.g. by means of freely definable keyboard shortcuts. The created scripts can easily be compiled into applications. In this way, the automations can be shared with other users even without installing AutoHotkey. Moreover, to enable the recording of (and subsequently automate) routines and clicks with the mouse (e.g. on a menu item or button), the free tool Active Window Info is also installed.

Freelancers can automate repetitive tasks or procedures with easy means, e.g. by using script languages such as AutoHotkey.

More Helpers ...

Apart from the tool categories explained above, there are of course numerous other useful tools for translators, which however we are unable to cover in detail in this article, such as quality management tools, voice detection tools, conversion tools (e.g. for PDF files), OCR tools, TM tools such as TMX readers and validation tools, tools to compare different document versions, and tools to archive web content.

About the Author

Maurice Mayer-Dewor holds a degree in translation for Italian and French. He works as a lecturer at the Institute for Translation and Interpreting (IÜD) of Heidelberg University. His range of teaching subjects includes the use of translation management systems. He also works as a freelance translator and technical writer.

Website: IÜD staff profile (in German)