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Applications I can’t live without March 5, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Tech tips, Tools.

1. Trados

Translating with Trados (or any translation environment tool – TEnT) makes life a lot easier. It allows me to quickly look up terms (in MultiTerm or using the Concordance function) and easily align previous translations and feed my translation memory, which makes my life a lot easier in the long run. It also ensures that I don’t accidentally skip a sentence or a paragraph, because the tool treats every sentence as a separate translation unit. I have numerous TMs (translation memories) set up for the various fields I work in or for specific clients. This ensures there is no cross-contamination. However, I know several translators who simply work with one large TM and specify the fields in the project field. If you would like to learn more about the various TEnTs and take them for a test drive, be sure to check out Jost Zetzsche’s Translators Training site.

2. Microsoft Word

Although I also own WordPerfect, 99.9% of my translations are delivered as Word .doc files. I have become adept at tweaking formatting and playing with the ruler to set tabs and line up margins. Translators simply need to delve into the inner workings of Word in order to deliver the best possible translation to their client. Take it from me, clients notice when you deliver a translation that closely matches the formatting of the original. And a happy client means a return client.

3. Electronic dictionaries

I own a lot of dictionaries, but the ones I find myself using the most are electronic dictionaries. I have two electronic dictionary interfaces that I use — the Langenscheidt dictionary interface and UniLex. It is so much quicker and easier to highlight a word in Word or on the Web and use a keyboard shortcut to paste it into an electronic dictionary interface. For more information on the German-English electronic dictionaries I use (and to view screenshots of them), click on the Electronic dictionaries header. I also rely on online dictionaries such as Pons (they also have French, Spanish, Italian, Polish, and Russian dictionaries available), the Pons Bildwörterbuch, Leo (also available in French, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese), dict.cc, LinguaDict, Grimms Wörterbuch, Wortschatz, Das digitale Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, and the EU’s multilingual terminology database IATE (formerly known as Eurodicautom).

skype4.  Skype

Skype has become an indispensable tool in my translator toolkit. I am connected to fellow translators and several of my project managers through Skype. If I have a sentence that is giving me trouble I simply copy and paste it into Skype’s chat window and discuss it with one of my colleagues. It also enables my project managers to instantly ask if I am available, receive an answer and assign the job to me. You can see the status of your contacts in the window and either call them (through headphones and/or video) or open a chat window. It also allows me to keep in touch with friends in Germany and my cousin in China.

5. ABBYY FineReader

Since I specialize in medical I receive a lot of my medical texts in PDF format. ABBYY FineReader allows me to scan the file and convert it into a format that can be read in Word using optical character recognition (OCR). This allows me to quickly translate medical invoices and the like using my medical TM. ABBYY is the clear favorite among translators (although PDF Transformer is a close second), because it creates fewer text boxes than other OCR programs. I also really like the spellcheck feature, which ensures the document I am working on doesn’t have any spelling errors that would corrupt my TM. Sometimes ABBYY has problems reading handwriting or working with fuzzy originals, and sometimes its formatting leaves a lot to be desired. In this case, I simply copy the text, paste it into a fresh Word document and format it by hand. For more information and to view screenshot, click here.

6. iGoogle

iGoogle is a personalized Google page. You can customize this page to have all your information at your fingertips, including news sources, weather, RSS feeds, and all kinds of neat Google gadgets that make your life easier. iGoogle allows me to keep up with the top headlines in numerous German, UK and U.S. newspapers, my Google feed reader, numerous miscellaneous websites, and my Gmail and Yahoo e-mail accounts all in one location. I have written about iGoogle before, but it deserves mention here again.

7. Firefox

I love Firefox. It allows me to easily manage my Bookmarks and gives me a very customizable toolbar for the sites I use most (like TinyURL, my Blog, a medical abbreviations site, the PONS dictionary, ReferenceDesk, the Roche medical dictionary, a button to add any product to my Amazon Wish List, etc.). I also love the Google toolbar, so I can quickly search Google without actually having to visit the Google homepage. I also think it loads faster than Internet Explorer or the old Netscape browser (R.I.P.). Firefox also seems to be less vulnerable to security breaches. If only I could figure out how to add a second toolbar for even more favorite sites…

8. PractiCount

PractiCount is my word count tool of choice. As many of you probably already know, Word does not count text in text boxes, headers, etc. and Trados does not count numbers as words. PractiCount allows me to count a variety of file types, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and HTML and XML files and adjust the settings as needed. It also allows you to count multiple files at once. In the old days we used to have to open each file, do a word count and add it up by hand (and double and triple check the total). PractiCount does this for us. If you like, you can also create an invoice directly in PractiCount based on the word or line counts (whichever you specify in the settings). For more information on word counts, read Word Count Issues – Part I and Word Count Issues – Part II.

9. Microsoft Money

Whether you use Quicken, Microsoft Money or another accounting tool, you need to use an accounting tool to keep track of income and expenses. I like Money’s feature of listing overdue invoices and how many days they are overdue. MS Money also makes tax time a breeze, because I input my business income and expenses throughout the year and can easily generate a report for my CPA at tax time.

10. Time Stamp

I charge by the hour for proofreading. Time Stamp is a great little donationware tool that allows me to track the time I spend proofreading a text, and I can pause it when I take a break and easily start it again when I get back to work. And I can save the report in my archived zip file in case the client ever questions my invoice.timestamp

11. WordPress

It takes a special kind of person to be a blogger. You have to want to share your knowledge with others. Not everyone is willing to do that. I love blogging because it allows me to share my inane thoughts and all the tidbits I learned throughout the years with others – or even thoughts that are inspired by something I read. I used to send random thoughts and websites to the ATA GLD list, but my blog allows me to reach a wider audience. It is also a great marketing tool. Corinne from Thoughts on Translation advised me to use WordPress, and I have never regretted it. It is, by far, the most powerful blogging tool on the web today.

twitterfox12. Twitter (and specifically TwitterFox)

I am still learning how to use Twitter, but it became much more enjoyable once I installed TwitterFox, a Firefox add-on that feeds in Tweets in real time from my browser. Since I have Firefox open just about all the time, it allows me to quickly catch up with my tweets and interact better with the people I am following. Any Twitter feed tool, such as TweetDeck, TweetLater or Tweetie (for iPhones and the iPod touch), will suffice. TweetDeck appears to be the odds-on favorite at the moment. I also feed my latest Twitter Tweet into my blog. For more information on Twitter tools and choosing the right tools for your needs, be sure to read The Twitter Toolbox.

13. Norton Ghost

Everyone should have a backup system. My backup system of choice is Norton Ghost. It runs scheduled backups of my most important files (My Documents, my TMs, my e-mail program, etc.) every night and backs up my entire system once a week onto an external hard drive.

14. Pandora Radio

Pandora allows me to stream music based on my interests in the background while I work. Depending on my mood, I can choose stations based on my favorite singers, such as Eva Cassidy (smooth folk music) or Michael Buble (swing music), or groups such as Ah Nee Mah, which features sounds of the Native Southwest within the context of mellow ambient atmospheres, or Evanescence, which is a bit more rocking. I’ve written about Pandora Radio here twice — in Music in the workplace and Pandora Radio itself.

15. Facebook

Facebook is a favorite for purely private use. It allows me to keep in touch with friends and reconnect with long-lost friends. I have been enjoying posting photos from my Academic Year Abroad year in Salzburg for my AYA friends and have made friends with the widow of a friend that year. That said, I am very picky about who I accept as friends, as I don’t want clients to have access to old photos of me or status updates (not that there is really anything incriminating out there). Facebook is a fairly open environment, so you never know when one of your friends might publish compromising information about you or make a comment that might embarrass you. Better to be safe than sorry. If I ignore your friend request please don’t take it personally.

What are your essential applications? Do you have a few applications that you couldn’t live without? Share your favorites with us in the comments.



1. Benny Lewis - March 6, 2009

Excellent list!!! Great explanation on each one 🙂
I personally use Wordfast, but I will likely switch over to Trados soon for no reason other than nagging from my outsourcers. I use a special macro in Word that gives me an accurate wordcount.
I also use OmegaT, especially with powerpoint presentations (converted to the OpenOffice form first).
In Firefox there are a lot of useful add-ons and greasemonkey scripts, to multiply productivity and I’ve added a host of customised searches into the search toolbar, such as Wikipedia in English and the languages I work from and Wordreference searches for non-technical terms, which saves me having to go to the sites directly. My most important plug-in by far is Leechblock, since when I set myself in a working block (2 hours at a time for me), then it is impossible for me to access facebook, and other distracting sites that do not help me work, no matter how tempted I am and how dull the translation may be.
As well as your electronic dictionaries, I would add GDT, the best technical French dictionary by far, ProZ Term search and then Word Reference for non-technical terms; both for several languages. Wikipedia is also an excellent dictionary for specific items and equipment parts, since translations are linked on the left.
Not so much for work, but I use Pidgin to integrate Skype, facebook chat, MSN, Yahoo, twitter, and ICQ (others are possible) in one application. I actually turn it off when I’m working to reduce distractions.

2. French translator - March 6, 2009

Regarding GDT – very useful, but very Canadian at times for us Hexagonal French translators.

I’m always surprised to see people using Facebook in a professional context, as it’s impossible to control the info about you on such a site. Like you, I’m very, very picky (37 friends) about who I let into that circle, I go as far as using a pseudonym and I wouldn’t actually use it if I hadn’t moved away from home last year and needed to use every possible avenue to stay in touch with my friends back in Brighton. I’m very weary of mixing personal and professional stuff on the net. Not that I have such an outrageous personal life, but I like to control the image I project to existing and potential clients.

3. Maxim - March 6, 2009

>If only I could figure out how to add a second toolbar for even more favorite site

Will this Firefox add-on solve the problem?

jillsommer - March 6, 2009

@Maxim: Fantastic!!! That’s just what I was looking for! Thanks!

@Roberto: Thanks for such a well-written comment. I am planning on implementing off-site backup but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I will definitely look into the alternative WordPress editor.

All you French speakers: Thanks for the tips re: French resources. I am a German-English translator, but I’m sure your tips will be appreciated by my French readership :-).

Oh, and Benny, I might just look into Leechblock, but my friends on Facebook might wonder what happened to me if I don’t post every half hour 😉 I do get distracted too easily though, so this might be a good solution.

4. Roberto Savelli - Translator's Shack - March 6, 2009

Hi Jill,

thanks for the useful post! I’m sure every translator has developed her/his own trusted toolkit and I always enjoy seeing the tools and methodologies used by fellow translators.

To add some more ideas to the great list you submitted:

Translation environment tool: My team has used Trados for 12 years and we still use it for the clients who request it. However, we have recently introduced MemoQ and we think it’s a superior product, especially if you work a lot in Word and have to exchange Trados TagEditor files. It’s Trados-compatible!

Electronic dictionaries: If you frequently visit pages that contain bilingual material for your language pair, such as glossaries, term banks, parallel texts, terminology forums, etc., consider building your own Google Custom Search Engine that includes all your bilingual resources in one place. We have done this with our English-Italian search engine and it works quite well. I did not yet manage to include IATE, though (tips are welcome!).

PDF conversion: Although FineReader is a good choice, if you need to convert only occasionally you may want to use some freely available Web services. Some further information in this little review I posted.

Blogging: I agree, WordPress is simply great. However, instead of editing posts in the WordPress editor, I use Windows Live Writer. It’s a free offline blog editor that has a direct connection to your WordPress blog, including tags, categories, drafts, etc. But it’s so much more powerful than the WordPress editor, that once you have tried it you won’t look back. And the integration with WordPress is seamless.

Backup: Norton Ghost is fine, even if there are cheaper alternatives. But don’t forget that this is just for the on-site part of your backup and it’s just half of the homework. You may want to add online, secure backup as well, and today’s in-the-cloud services allow you to do just that. To name just a couple: Mozy.com and Dropbox (the latter is highly recommended as it allows to automatically synchronize between two different PCs and offers backup and versioning.

5. Mélissa Médart - March 6, 2009

Thanks for this list! There’s a great tool I can’t live without: it’s called Antidote and it’s a very elaborate spell and grammar checker. Unfortunately, it’s designed for French speakers only, but I guess there must be similar tools for other languages. It makes it possible to perform spell checks in many applications (including Excel and Powerpoint). I love the fact that it also detects and highlights repetitive words and structures (in French, you want to avoid this at all costs, as it shows poor writing skills). It also comes with many dictionaries – synonyms, antonyms, derivatives and even an anagram generator (!).
PS: I guess I should point out Antidote don’t pay me to advertize their products… I just re-read what I wrote and it sounds like a marketing product brief 😉

6. jillsommer - March 6, 2009

@Maxim: I am so grateful for your tip. It works perfectly and now I have all my links at a glance. Thank you so much!

@Roberto: Your comment did indeed end up in my Spam folder, but I found it about the same time you were adding the comment to my background page.

7. Álvaro Morales - March 8, 2009

Out of curiosity, do you use any freelance translator specific accountancy software? I use Translator Office 3000 and, although tricky, it works reasonably well for my purposes, as it keeps the information about pending payments and generates invoices quickly.

Didn’t you include that kind of software in your list because it is not in you top ten, or just because you do not use it?

To Jill and everyone: Which freelance translator specific accountancy software do you use (if you do)?

Thanks everyone for making us the coolest guild 😉

jillsommer - March 8, 2009

@Alvaro: I do own Translator Office 3000, but I find it a bit cumbersome and stopped using it. I don’t like having to set up a project and then a job for a small $30 minimum job. I create my invoices in an Excel spreadsheet (one for each quarter) and convert the file into PDF to send to my clients. I track the paid and unpaid invoices in MS Money’s Bills & Deposits.

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