Productivity Tools & Tips for the Modern Translator

Business, LSP

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In today’s “new economy,” translators have a huge role to play. Not only are they working behind-the-scenes to keep the global business train running smoothly down the tracks, they are expected to work faster and more efficiently than ever before. 

All of this has wide-ranging implications for how the modern translator does their work on a daily basis. When it comes to delivering for clients, translators must juggle several complex systems and processes:

  • Translators must constantly think about how to improve the quality of translations.
  • They must be masters of adaptation. When clients request that translators implement new technologies and processes, it’s up to the translators to figure out how to make it happen.
  • They must figure out how to work smarter (no surprise here).

Given that translators want to help their clients gain as much value from their work as possible, productivity tools are their best friend. Yes, you really can increase speed and efficiency without compromising quality. So, let’s talk about some of the best productivity tools and tips for the modern translator.

Get Cozy with Technology

There’s no doubt that technology makes the modern translator’s job easier. Of course, it can also be a distraction if you don’t set the right boundaries. So, consider what technology tools you need and which ones will truly boost your productivity.

There’s no one-size-fits-all here and what works for one translator may not work for you. Depending on your speciality—legal translation, technical translation, audio & visual transcription, phone interpretation—some tools will become essential, while others will be useless. Here are some tools to explore for yourself.

  1. OCR and Image Text Extraction Software

If you often work with PDF files or images with unusual formatting or fonts that your average Word or CAT tool can’t extract well, then you may want to check out Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. For example, Able2Extract bills itself as the “Swiss Army knife for PDF files.” There is also PDFelement, which is a free download and the old standby Kofax Omnipage. Many CAT tools will do reasonably well for common document types. However, for legal documents, patents, and other types of research documents, OCR is a necessity.

Translating text embedded in images can be quite a challenge, since no CAT tool is designed to extract text from vectors, pictures, or clip annotations. Or you may be looking to simply grab a few words from a PDF without going through the whole process of extracting text. In these cases, the open-source browser plug-in, Project Naptha is a great option.  

  1. Speech Recognition Software

I don’t know one translator who couldn’t use speech recognition software to save them time. Like a personal secretary typing up everything you say, speech recognition software can save you thousands of keystrokes each day. If you have been holding off on trying out some of these programs because you’re worried about accuracy or it feels odd to talk to your computer, it’s time to give them another try. Speech recognition software has improved by leaps and bounds within the past few years.

These programs simply convert what you say into text on the screen. Here are some examples to try:

  • If you send a lot of emails and your correspondence includes translating large portions of text in long segments, you may want to try the Dragon line of speech recognition software. This program can take time to set up, but once you’re up and running it’s easy to use.
  • You may also want to try ordinary dictation software such as Speechnotes or Dictation.
  • Google docs has a speech recognition program built-in too. You simply press the microphone icon (voice typing) in the “tools” menu and start speaking.
  1. AutoHotkey

AutoHotkey is a free, open-source scripting language for Windows that allows you to easily create scripts for all kinds of tasks. You can use this program to automate ANY recurring action you perform on your computer. For example, if you find yourself typing the same email response many times, you can set up a trigger for a certain series of keystrokes.

This automation software is totally customizable. Use it to confirm segments on your CAT, autotype frequent messages or texts, open applications more quickly, and create custom menus. You can make your automations as simple or complex as needed and it’s so easy to use, even beginners will love it. Take a peek at the developer’s website and fan forums for examples and ready-to-use automations.

Free vs. Full-License Programs
You’ll notice that the above tools have various price tags ranging from free to quite expensive. Should you fork over some serious dough for that piece of software or will the free version work for you? It’s always a good idea to test out free tools first. Many commercial applications offer demo versions or free trial periods so you can play with the software tool to see how it works. Full-license programs can be expensive (or include a subscription model), but a simple calculation estimating how many hours per month or year the program would save you will help you make a decision.
Start by Making a List of Your Repetitive Tasks

Once you have explored the technology tools above, make a list of the repetitive tasks you complete each day. Next, consider what systems, processes, and automations could make your life easier here. Also, don’t be afraid to seek out recommendations from your colleagues and friends (especially the tech-savvy ones).

Be ready to test, install, uninstall, and repeat until you have what you need. It can be frustrating to set up processes and systems at first, but if you can get through the initial set-up and trial period, you’ll start to reap the rewards of your hard work.

As a translator, it can certainly feel like the stream of documents in need of translating is never ending. But it is so important to take time out of your schedule to analyze your tasks, systems, and processes. Being your own boss can be a wonderful thing, but only if you understand how much your time is worth and set strong boundaries around your time.

    Get Picky with Your CAT Tool

    CAT tools all come with myriad features, but just because they are available doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Maybe you love Auto Suggest, but Auto Propagation is nothing but a headache for you. There are all kinds of automated filters and QA checks too, but if many of them seem to be nothing more than a time suck or distraction, it’s time to let them go.

    95% of translators don’t realize they can or don’t take the time to change the default settings on their CAT. This is a big mistake. The good news is that with a little experimentation, you can quickly figure out what you need. Try modifying some of the features and then track your time to see if you work faster without them. For example, when it comes to certain types of localization projects, Auto Propagation might not make sense because you’ll have to manually check for out-of-context matches. If there are more out-of-context matches than accurate replacements, it doesn’t make sense to use Auto Propagation. So, you may want to disable this feature if you find it doesn’t actually save you time.

    In addition, you know that you can access many common functions using keyboard shortcuts. Most programs also allow you to modify the key combinations. So you may want to assign a different, more comfortable, shortcut to actions you perform regularly, such as confirming a segment, copying tags, or applying Machine Translation to a source.

    Bonus Tools & Tips: General Productivity

    The above technology tools will save you time, no doubt, but what else can you do to improve productivity if you’re already comfortable with the tools you’re using? 

    Here are some more general productivity tips that will make many of your daily tasks more efficient:

    • Divide larger projects into milestones: Large projects can suck the motivation right out of you. It’s always overwhelming to think about the project as a whole, but if you think in terms of smaller milestones, you’ll keep your workflow moving forward. Getting in the habit of dividing bigger projects will also make you more accurate in your pricing structure. You’ll gain a better understanding of how long each project takes and be able to adjust your rates accordingly.

    • Reward yourself after you complete a large project: Relax and take a break from other work assignments, rather than rolling right into the next project. When we take the time to recharge, we’re more productive.

    • Eliminate distractions: Our lives are full of distractions, but if you find it hard to stay on task while working, consider what’s distracting you. Our brains can’t deal with more than one complex task at a time. So, if you think multitasking (e.g., texting or answering emails, while translating) makes you more efficient, think again. Because it takes time to “switch gears” and the process of switching from one type of work to another can lead to mistakes, multitasking hurts productivity. So, set specific times to check email each day, turn off your cell phone when translating, and get a second monitor if switching from your browser to your CAT and back has become a source of distraction.

    • Get more sleep: Yes, it seems like we shouldn’t need to be reminded of this one, but our high tech, uber high speed world messes with our body’s natural rhythms and can make it hard to find the balance we need. As tempting as it might be for you to do your work at night when there are fewer distractions, consider whether this is the best thing for your well-being. When you’re well rested, you’ll be happier and better able to focus on what really matters.

    • Track your performance: Monitor your output to get insights into your performance. This could mean keeping track of how many words you translate each hour throughout your day. By tracking your time and translation rate, you’ll start to notice patterns. Perhaps you’re more productive when you get up earlier. Perhaps having lunch at a certain time helps you maintain a steady workflow. Perhaps you need to take a 5-minute break each hour. Adjust your schedule based on what works best for you.

    Increasing productivity comes with time, but only if you make it a priority. Use the above tools and tips to help you reorganize your routine so that you can increase efficiency and speed without sacrificing the quality of your translations.

    At DTS Language Services, Inc., we are always recruiting amazing translators to join our team. Our language experts partner with us to provide detail-critical documents and information to some of the world’s most well-known brands. If you are a Life Sciences translator looking to partner with the leader in high-quality medical and clinical trial translation services and globalization solutions for Life Sciences organizations, apply here!