Streamlining & Automation: the Key to Translation Speed

Translating faster isn’t about rushing. It’s about saving time on everything else. As translators we perform so many time-consuming tasks without realizing it that it is all too easy to wonder where your day went. Here are some tricks I use to help automate what I can so I can spend my time translating.

1) Typing replies to each job request/e-mail

Use voice recognition software and create templates so you can say a keyword like “booked day” and generate an entire e-mail. If you find yourself typing very similar e-mails, create a template. You can also create templates on mobile devices so you can accomplish more when you’re out and about.

2) E-mail dialogue involving 2,854 e-mails before you’ve even accepted the job

OK, I might have exaggerated a little but the point is, don’t treat e-mails as instant messages. Be as comprehensive and specific as possible about how you can help your client solve his/her problem. If you’re booked, maybe include when you are available to begin new work. Predict the questions he/she is going to have and answer as many of them as possible in advance. Instead of “thank you but I’m booked” maybe try “thank you but I’m booked through February 3rd at 9 am PST so I could complete this job by February 5th at 11 am PST.” Consider using a Google calendar with your general availability that your clients can access and include a link to it in out of office messages.

3) Finding resources and opening them in browser tabs

Organize frequently used resources into folders. For example, legal translation folder, medical translation folder, Spanish translation, French translation, etc. Use the “open all in tabs” feature.

4) Navigating to job folder and opening files

Create organized shortcuts to anything frequently used. Fewer clicks = less time! I have one for my spreadsheet that lists all of my jobs/job numbers, one that goes to my “working jobs” folder, etc.

5) Navigating through references (glossaries, reference files, etc.)           

Invest in monitor space. The less minimizing/maximizing/finding/losing you have to do the better. Fewer clicks!

6) Invoicing  

If you’re using Word or Excel for this…you are wasting oodles of time—that’s right oodles! I use QuickBooks but there are many other software programs to choose from.

7) Bookkeeping    

See “invoicing.” I actually invested in a bookkeeper because math/accounting is not my strong suit and it is worth every penny. Calculate what you make per hour and how long it takes you to do it yourself. That’s how much you’re losing. If the cost of a bookkeeper is less and you’re usually booked up, get one immediately…right now…I’ll wait.

8) Extensive research    

Specialize. You still have to research, but if you are willing to translate everything under the sun, each translation takes quite a bit longer to research before you can even begin, making it difficult to automate anything but the most mundane tasks. Remember, no one pays you for that time.

9) Terminology checking/in-process research  

Create glossaries. This is another argument for specialization as it is only useful to have glossaries if you translate similar documents. You can also set up translation memories for each subject or document type so that you can draw on previous translations you’ve done of that type. Just make sure you’re not violating your clients’ policies and agreements as some of them may prohibit this. Learn the ins and outs of your computer-assisted translation tools…they are more powerful than you think!

10) Reading 

Learn to speed-read. No, you cannot speed-read the source and translate it. However, it is useful for the following:

  • Reading a long source before you begin to familiarize yourself.
  • Unconsciously speeding up your “slow” reading too.
  • Reading a lot of resources very fast, speeding up research and improving quality as you’re able to draw from more resources and take in more information in less time than your slow-reading counterparts.

Speed-reading is more than skimming but please, DO NOT speed-read your translation and call it “proofreading.” Speed-reading is to obtain information while proofreading is to ensure quality.

11) Typing  

Voice recognition software. Note that in order to use Dragon (I’m not sure about other programs) to generate template e-mails and create other commands, you have to buy the professional version.


What are some other time-consuming tasks you do and do you have tricks for handling them?

Feel free to comment and let me know if you’d like more information on any of the above as well.


Author: Jenae Spry

Jenae has been a French > English translator for over 10 years and a productivity and performance coach for freelancers for over 5 years. Jenae launched the Success by Rx blog to help freelancers achieve success.

Posted in Productivity.


  1. I use the memoQ Web Search inside memoQ, which is a really cool feature for terminology checking and research, while I’m translating. I can highlight something in the source, and also in the target I believe, and then press Ctrl+F3, which will open a very minimal internal internet browser. It will then feed the highlighted text or word into whatever webpage I set it up for, and display all those webpage results in a single browser window on different tabs.

  2. Write a few lines (so people will actually read it) on your website about the translation process and what you need to know on beforehand in order to make it quick and reliable. Then put up a web form for asking quotations, where they can upload the file and indicate max budget, intended target audience, availability of terminology lists and/or similar translations, deadline, etc., so you can see immediately if you can (and want to) do the task at hand, and how much time it’ll take you.

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