Work smarter, not harder: Scripts to enhance translator productivity

*Note: The instructions found in this post should work on the majority of Windows computers. Apple users, let us know if you come up with your own way of making this work!

Recently, my IT guy [husband] set me up with a great new tool. It has made my life as a translator so much more effective that it would be a crime not to share it with you all. I can see tips like this helping with productivity on so many levels and I’d love to hear what other hacks you all can come up with.

Here’s the trick: we set up a “script” to run on my computer so that whenever I hit CTRL+SHIFT+c on my keyboard, it automatically opens a new tab on my browser and performs a Google search for the text I’ve highlighted. I no longer need to copy some text, switch programs, open a new tab in Chrome, and then paste and search; I simply use my mouse to highlight the text I want to research and hit CTRL+SHIFT+c on my keyboard. I’ve used this about a million times since I started running the script a few months ago; here are just a few instances in which the tool has been extremely handy:

  • Reading through a source text in MS Word and came across a word I didn’t recognize
  • Wanted to make sure a phrase in my translation in Trados was the proper way to say something in target language
  • While editing a colleague’s work, wasn’t sure if the term they were using was the proper collocation
  • Reviewing my own translation, I came upon a name that I wasn’t sure was spelled correctly

You can imagine how often these situations arise in our daily work as translators, editors, transcribers, copywriters… you name it. Here’s how to implement the script on your device; be sure to let us know how it works and if you come up with any hacks of your own!

1. Download a scripting program (I used AutoHotkey)

2. Create your script (these instructions can also be found by opening the AutoHotkey program on your computer and clicking “create a script file”):

Right click on your desktop and select “New” > ”AutoHotkey Script”

Name the script (ending with .ahk extension)

Locate the file on your desktop and right click it

Select “Open with” > “Notepad”

3. Write your script: To write the script itself, just paste the following text into Notepad and hit save.

^+c::

{

Send, ^c

Sleep 50

Run, http://www.google.com/search?q=%clipboard%

Return

}

4. Run your script: To begin executing the program, just double click the desktop icon to run the script. You might not notice any change on screen, which is normal. Test that your script is working by highlighting text in any application and clicking CTRL+SHIFT+c simultaneously on your keyboard. If this operation opens your browser and does a Google search for the highlighted text, you’re all set!

5. Troubleshooting: If you find that your search script isn’t working, make sure you’ve set the script to run on startup (so that each time your computer restarts, the script runs automatically and you don’t have to remember to click on it). To do this, click Windows+r on your keyboard to open the Run dialogue box. Type “shell:startup” into the field and hit OK. This will open your computer’s Startup folder, which contains files, folders, and programs that are set to open or run automatically when you start your device. Just copy the file containing your beautiful new .ahk script from your desktop into this folder and you will no longer have to worry about it.

Another script I came up with to enhance productivity inserts a specific line of text that I use very frequently (“[Translator’s Note: Handwritten text is indicated in italics.]”) with just two clicks of my keyboard! What other uses can you come up with for scripts and macros like these?

For more ideas and help with AutoHotkey, check out their user forum here. A tutorial on the basics of AutoHotkey can also be found here. You’ll find that tools like AutoHotkey are a very simple form of computer programming, and similar to the languages that we work with as translators, computer languages have syntax, rules, and exceptions that can actually be fun and useful to learn about. Happy scripting!

Image source: Pixabay

So You Want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Tech and Tools

This post is the fifth and final (first post, second post, third post, and fourth post) in a series of posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received. Sometimes these questions have come from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to start.

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So You Want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Tech and Tools

When an artist sits down to begin a new project, he collects his paints and paintbrushes, selects the right canvas, sets up an easel, and sits down at a chair that’s just the right height. He also chooses the right setting to work in. What about translators and interpreters? What tools do we need to be prepared for the task at hand?

Technology

If you’ve started researching technology for translators, you might think that the only software a language professional uses is a CAT, or “computer-assisted translation,” tool. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! While a CAT tool is an advisable purchase and a time-saver in the long run, a number of other software tools exist that can be useful and beneficial to translators and interpreters. However, we’ll start with translation-specific software and work our way to other types of software you may not think to consider when equipping yourself as a translator or interpreter. The links included for each category are a non-exhaustive list—I’ve selected a few ideas to suggest based on what I have used myself and options that my colleagues and other Savvy team members have used.

Hardware: First things first! You need a device or devices you can trust. I personally prefer my ultrabook laptop over a desktop computer for quick, quality performance and mobility—be sure to select a machine with a strong processor and plenty of ram to handle many applications at a time and still operate quickly (8 or 16 GB is ideal). Other translators may use desktops and store their files securely in cloud-based storage so they can access them anywhere (say, from a tablet while on the road). Multiple monitors are also a good idea for translators, since much of our work involves comparing two documents (the source and target) or doing research in a web browser while working in a CAT tool. Having additional monitors helps reduce eye strain and the time it takes to open and close documents repeatedly, among a host of other benefits.

CAT Tools: A variety of vendors sell CAT tools from open-source to thousand-dollar project management versions, but the three I see most often are SDL Trados, MemoQ, and Wordfast. It’s important for beginner translators to be aware that a CAT tool is different from machine translation—CAT software helps you translate more efficiently and consistently by offering suggestions based on previously translated text from a “translation memory”. It can also aid your work by breaking down large chunks of text into more manageable pieces or sentences called “segments”. The makers of the various CAT tools available on the market will also offer terminology and localization tools, either paired with their main products or at an additional price.

Editing or QA Software: Editing software isn’t only for copyeditors and reviewers—it’s great for helping to check your own translation work as well. PerfectIt and Xbench are two favorites for proofreading and QA.

Invoicing: Some translators use a basic Excel spreadsheet to track projects and invoices, but you can also consider paying for an invoicing tool like QuickBooks, Translation Office 3000, or Xero to record your financial information, send invoices, and run reports.

Speech-to-text: Translators often find it useful to use speech-to-text or text-to-speech in order to dictate translations or proofread their own writing. Free versions of text-to-speech tools exist on most word processors, and Dragon Naturally Speaking is a popular speech recognition software that can help save time during translation.

OCR Software/PDF Editor: Clients will sometimes provide files in flat PDF format, which can make it challenging to estimate a word count or use the source file in a CAT tool. Software tools like Adobe Acrobat and ABBYY FineReader can help translators edit PDFs or run optical character recognition (OCR) in the course of their work.

Security: In order to comply with independent contractor agreements and government regulations, translators and editors should secure their files against viruses, hackers, and hardware problems. See this post on antivirus software for some helpful ideas. As for a backup solution to restore your data in the event of loss, options include cloud storage services, cloud backup software, and network attached storage (NAS) systems. Last but not least, don’t forget about encryption software.

Other Tools

Office supplies: Don’t worry about going to Staples and buying the latest standing desk right away, but make sure that you are comfortable in your office environment. You may not be concerned about health problems now, but if you plan to make a full-time job of freelance translation, you’ll want to invest in equipment that’s good for your health at some point! An ergonomic computer mouse and keyboard is a great addition to your office repertoire, and even if you aren’t ready to purchase an adjustable desk or exercise ball chair, you should be sure to elevate your computer screen(s) so that you won’t have to crane your neck to view it. Some companies, like Contour Design, for instance, will even offer a free trial so you can see if their products are right for you.

Then there is the matter of desk organization preferences. If your desk is too cluttered, invest in a file organizer. If you edit best by reading printed materials, buy a printer and some paper so you can make hard copies when reviewing documents. If you expect to be translating a lot of official documents that need to be notarized and mailed to clients, get yourself some stamps and envelopes. The bottom line is to purchase what you think you’ll need. Many office expenses are tax-deductible, so don’t stress over buying these small-ticket items for your office that make your work life easier or more efficient.

Print resources: Dictionaries may seem a thing of the past to anyone outside our industry, but they can be of great value for specialized translators in certain language pairs. You don’t need to have a library-sized collection when you’re just getting started, but keep an eye out for online sales or conference bookshops that offer the types of print resources you may want to reference depending on your specialty area and language.

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So you want to be a translator or interpreter…what do you think? Are you ready to take the plunge? We hope this blog series has helped to answer some of your questions about getting started and put you on the path to a successful career in translation and interpreting. Here are a few more ideas of steps to take as you get started:

  • Join ATA and get involved by attending the annual conference, joining divisions, etc.
  • Join your local professional association and attend their events
  • Take a course or courses (see GALA’s Education and Training Directory, one of the courses offered in the ATA Member-to-Member Program list, etc.)
  • Read blogs or books by translators and interpreters (The Savvy Newcomer is a great start!)

As you take your first steps into translation and interpreting, keep in touch with us at The Savvy Newcomer. We would love to hear your advice for newbies to this profession.

Image source: Pixabay

Book review: The Subversive Copyeditor

I first became aware of the work Carol Fisher Saller does when she spoke at the American Copy Editors Society conference in Portland, Oregon, and presented on her book, The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago.

I finally read her book in January of 2018. I should have done so sooner. There are so many things we can learn from this book as translators. I am combining what I learned from her book with my own experience in the real world in this post. This post covers the highlights. I hope to give you a taste for more!

In the inside jacket, she is very straightforward about the purpose of this book. It is not for us to learn how to copy edit, but to give us some ideas as we negotiate good relationships with those we work with and ourselves. Many of the tips she gives apply to translators just as much as they do to copy editors.

Part One: Relationships with those who hire us.

Being correct about a particular turn of phrase is not worth a big argument. Instead of focusing on who is right, it is better to see what will reach the readers of the document most effectively. However, inaccuracies and inconsistencies are distracting and reflect poorly on the author. We should take care of those.

We should follow three guiding principles: carefulness, transparency, and flexibility. These remind me of the interpreting guidelines of transparency and accuracy. Interpreters convey everything that is said accurately, ask for clarifications and repetitions as needed, and are transparent so both parties know everything that is happening in the room. In the same way, as translators we should approach the text with utmost carefulness. We should also be very transparent when we make editorial decisions regarding the text by putting comments in so the requester can understand our choices. To be flexible with a translation, of course, we need to know exactly what the text is going to be used for, so it is important to ask questions.

Editing is a gift. Our translations should be edited, since most published material is edited. We should treat our editors with kindness, and learn from the comments our editor colleagues make.

Part Two: Practical issues.

Delegate or automate repetitive tasks, so we can focus on what we do best. For example, someone else might be able to set up a table in Word, check all the numbers in a set of tables, or do other repetitive chores that don’t require translation skills. That person can also check that the references are properly numbered, that the citation reference numbers match, etc. Delegating frees us up to do what we do best.

Though we may work with translation environment tools, our word processor is still our primary translation tool. It is where we do many of our final edits, write letters to clients, and do much of our work. We need to know our word processor inside and out. We should explore every feature it has, because they can help to automate certain tasks and improve our writing in many ways. Carol says having word processors and electronic tools for editing has not changed editing schedules in the last 25 years. It still takes just as long to edit a 10 page text as it did before. These tools do not make us deliver sooner. Instead, they enable us to do many things we were not able to do before, such as verifying consistency, checking for acronym use, checking double spaces, and searching for overuse of the term ‘that’.

We have to plan in order to keep our deadlines. We must organize our day, set aside distractions, set pad in our schedules, set priorities. When we have to slip a deadline, just say “something outside my control came up and I will be one day late.” It is much better to take the initiative instead of receiving an email from the client asking about it.

Sometimes we have to work quickly to meet a difficult deadline. However, that also means we will not be able to follow through with all of our quality assurance steps and we don’t produce very good quality when we are sleepy. I always let my clients know about these compromises and they are usually willing to extend the deadline or accept lower quality work knowingly. This happens in every profession. We shouldn’t make a habit of it.

We have to keep track of our income and send reminders to people who haven’t paid. In my experience, the accounting department is often missing some piece of information and they have forgotten to tell me. Other times, they had not realized the bill was due, and the check comes the next day! In all the years I have worked as a translator, I have had very few non-payers. How to sniff those out is a subject for another post.

Don’t forget to have a life away from work. Without a life, we won’t be able to give our work the best we could bring to it. We will be exhausted.

Carol Fisher Saller. The Subversive Copy Editor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with David Rumsey

Following our most recent “Linguist in the Spotlight” interview (with current ATA President Corinne McKay), we could not be happier to have had the opportunity to speak to immediate past president of ATA, David Rumsey. A Swedish-, Danish-, and Norwegian-to-English translator for nearly 30 years, David has a wealth of knowledge about the profession (which, by the way, he fell into by accident!) that he graciously shares with us. Read on to hear his perspective on what it was like to translate pre-Google, why translators should invest in their education, what he has gained from his involvement in professional associations, and the value of venturing out from behind our computer screens. He also reveals some underutilized CAT and Outlook features for organization and productivity.

His “accidental” introduction to a nearly 30-year career

 Like many translators my age, I actually got started by accident. I was a graduate student working in Scandinavian history, and a translation agency contacted the department looking for somebody who could translate a document on a Danish garbage-disposal system. I found the translation projects fun and challenging, and ultimately more financially profitable than pursuing my PhD. Since that point in 1990, I never looked back.

Vodka and heavy-metal music: Some of his most memorable projects over the years

 In the mid-1990s, when single-malt whiskey became a fad in the US, I translated documents from a large alcohol company that had a strategic plan to create a line of premium vodkas, even though they knew that there was actually no difference in terms of the distillation process. Sure enough, a few years later, a whole host of “premium vodkas” arrived on the shelves. Another interesting project was the history of Swedish heavy-metal music. Not that I’m a fan, but it was a very interesting project!

A few of his favorite things about a career in translation

The flexibility cannot be beat. However, the fact that each project is unique and the profession provides ongoing learning opportunities. I love learning about new developments in the field of energy and technology.

A piece of advice for new translators: Never stop learning

Invest in your education and continue to learn about subjects that interest you so that you can write clearly about them as a translator. Being a translator or interpreter is a lifelong learning practice.

What it was like to translate before Google, and a lesson learned

I learned early on, within the first year of my career, not to accept projects that I did not feel comfortable translating. At the time, I felt pressure to accept any and all projects, even in fields that I was not conversant in. There was a lot of “guessing” in terms of the terminology in that case. But this was long before there was even Google. The results were, shall we say, less than satisfying for the customer. I was very grateful that the project manager provided the feedback and was understanding. A lesson learned: if you don’t feel like you have a good understanding of the document, don’t accept it.

Visibility: The value of networking and association databases

At this point, most people either find me through referrals or through various association databases. I still get lots of projects from the ATA database.

Getting out from behind the screen: The benefit of meeting colleagues in person

Being involved with the ATA has helped me to network with people who can provide support and augment my own skills. Even before I became part of the ATA Board of Directors, I attended the ATA Conference and Nordic Division activities regularly. I learn so much from other translators about how they run their business, how they approach translation challenges, and tips for terminology and technology resources. Meeting your colleagues in person is so much more valuable than online, behind the screen. I always come away from the ATA Conference so energized about my profession.

Unexpected lessons learned through membership and participation in professional associations

Obviously I have been involved with the American Translators Association the most. In addition to being a board member and president from 2015 to 2017, I was also involved in the certification program and the Nordic Division, and was a regular conference attendee. Besides the contacts and professional development opportunities in terms of translation, my volunteering at ATA also fostered new skills unrelated to translation that I still use. These can include leadership skills, conflict resolution skills, interpersonal communication skills, time management skills, and even website skills, etc.

I am also a member of the Swedish Association of Professional Translators (SFÖ). I enjoy attending their events because it helps keep me up to date in terms of my Swedish language skills.

Oft-overlooked tools: The power of term management, plus some Outlook hacks

In terms of CAT tools, I think that terminology software is severely underutilized. Although we might not benefit from a high level of repetition between projects from various clients, we might benefit enormously from a detailed terminology program that we can use with regular word-processing programs and not just translation programs.  My MultiTerm database is quite large and I can keep it open separately when working on all kinds of projects. At the very minimum, it’s important for translators to start to collect and manage terminology.

In addition, I really enjoy working with Microsoft Outlook, which allows me to flag messages in different colors to indicate whether they are in the bidding stage, confirmed, or overdue. I can schedule them on a calendar with reminders.  Outlook also allows you to create specific autoreplies and to move messages with specific keywords or from specific people and place them in specific folders or perform specific actions on them. Outlook is an incredibly powerful tool if you work with it as a mail client, and even as an online webmail program.

David Rumsey is the immediate past president of the American Translators Association (2015-2017). Since entering the profession in 1990, David has worked on all sides of the language industry: on the agency side as a project manager at two US-based agencies, on the client side as a project manager in the localization department at a large software firm, and always as a freelance Scandinavian>English translator in the fields of energy, technology and medicine. He works from his home on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada. He can be reached through www.northcountrytranslation.com.

Pursuing the Translation Dream: What to Know After the Phone Rings

As a new translator, you have prepared yourself long and hard to take on clients, and now the phone is ringing—metaphorically speaking. So, how do you answer?

This post is part two of a five-part series on how to assess your readiness to become a successful translator, inspired by the ATA’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators.

If you have not already, check out the first post on what all translators should know before the phone rings. We also encourage you to explore the ATA questionnaire itself—you can fill it out on the computer to determine which areas you are already strong in and which you might consider working on.

In each post in this series, we delve into several questions from the questionnaire and offer additional insights. In today’s post, we explore section 2: “Professional Product and Services (What I need to know after the phone rings).”

This section includes several cardinal rules for independent contractors, no matter the profession: Honor deadlines without fail (or notify the client as soon as possible of your inability to do so), confirm receipt of materials, follow instructions, know how to collect overdue payments, and invest time, effort, and funds to broaden your knowledge and skillset.

In this post, we will focus on some of the meatier questions the questionnaire encourages new translators to consider:

Do I discuss fees and terms with potential clients confidently, without hesitation or cumbersome excuses and apologies?

Confidence is key for independent contractors, who exist in a sea of other options. Being confident can be as simple as having the conviction that your work and time are valuable, and making this apparent to clients by how you communicate with them.

So, when exactly does confidence come into play for a translator? When it comes to negotiating fees or contracts, sending a simple and factual message without beating around the bush or sounding apologetic will make you stand out as a professional who recognizes his or her abilities and worth.

Of course, there are times when being apologetic is appropriate (e.g., a deadline completely slips your mind until the client notifies you the project is overdue), but beware of behaving sheepishly when you have nothing to be sorry for.

If you do not know where to start, pay attention to examples of tasteful confidence in others and take a cue. As one of my professors used to say, “Fake it ’til you become it.” If you demonstrate confidence, soon enough you will not only be showing it; you will start to truly feel it, especially when others begin to respond.

Do I secure a written agreement for the work before I start the job? (If not, am I aware of the risks? Which risks am I willing to accept?)

If you do not use a contract when offering translation services, you are not alone. Half of the translators surveyed by lawyer-linguist Paula Arturo do not use one at all, and 64.1% do not use their own, leaving both groups vulnerable to disputes involving issues such as project scope and nonpayment. The absence of a contract—or the use of a poor one—can even result in litigation.

Not only will having a contract help protect your business and set expectations for the work to be done, which means peace of mind for both you and the client, but, as Paula writes in her recent post on translation contracts, it can also help cover potential attorney’s fees and combat deprofessionalization.

A great resource when drafting your own contract is the ATA Translation Job Model Contract. This template is a helpful starting point, but keep in mind that it may need customization. When you are ready, consider seeking legal advice to maximize the effectiveness of your contract. Personally, I have used a local university’s legal clinic that offers discounted services to small businesses when I have needed to consult with an attorney, including to draft service agreements. Research resources that may be available in your area.

Am I aware of my limitations? (Do I decline projects which I cannot do well?)

Especially when you are just starting out, you may feel pressured to accept any work that comes your way. It can be tempting, but taking work beyond your limits is not only ethically dubious; it is also likely to cause anxiety and cost you more time and effort. You may hear from the client after the fact if they have been embarrassed by a poor translation. In a worst-case scenario, a poor translation could even cause real harm to a company or an individual.

In the end, it is not worth risking your reputation and your pride to accept work beyond your current skillset. The wisest course of action is to review the source document as thoroughly as possible before accepting the assignment and to turn it down if you are in doubt. Do not feel guilty—the client will thank you, and you can rest easy knowing you did the right thing.

So, what should you do when you see yourself obliged to turn down a job? Clients will appreciate a referral to a better suited translator, if you happen to know one. If you are asking yourself, “Well, how do I find work suited to me?”, Corinne McKay offers some helpful tips in this post.

Do I have convenient access to translation tools, state-of-the-art software, and high-speed Internet service?

Let me begin with an example of inconvenient access: Until recently, my favorite CAT tool was only installed on my desktop computer. Most of my translation memories (TMs) and glossaries were also stored only on that one immobile machine, limiting my ability to work efficiently on projects when traveling. I decided this had to change before the recent holidays, when I had travel plans, and lo and behold—not only was migrating all of my data and software easier than I had imagined, I was able to accept work over the holidays without thinking twice.

It can be hard to ditch old habits, but taking stock of areas where you could benefit from convenience, a better tool (whether a faster computer, a second screen, a higher-end CAT tool, or a CAT tool, period), you may be surprised at how much more productive you will be once you break out of your comfort zone. So, reconsider that tiny screen, the ergonomics of your current equipment, and the repetitive research you may be doing instead of using a TM or glossary. Have no idea where to begin when it comes to CAT tools? Check out this digest that explains the ABCs of CAT tools and tips for investing in one.

Do I keep an electronic copy for potential future corrections, revisions, or additions? For how long? (Do I inquire about returning background materials to the client upon completion of the job?)

When possible, most translators maintain copies of their work. There are a variety of reasons for this: You may be asked to make changes after the fact, or come across a similar translation in the future that would benefit from past work. If you do choose to reference previous translations, just be certain that your contract allows you to store them, and avoid including any confidential or proprietary information in the new translation if it is for a different end client.

In another scenario altogether, you may find that the client has introduced errors into your translation after the fact, in which case you could be faced with having to confirm that the errors were not your own—another good reason to have old work on hand.

Now it is your turn to try out some of these tips on how to “answer the phone” before the next post, where we will discuss how to nurture existing professional relationships and “keep the phone ringing.” Let me know how it goes in a comment below!

Image source: Pixabay