Technology: Embrace It or Get Left Behind

There's a lot of resistance to machines in the translation industry and some of that resistance is for valid reasons. Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools were introduced to improve both quality and productivity. Translation agencies then began capitalizing on that by asking translators for discounts. Being asked for a discount doesn't feel good. It might even feel like someone is telling you that you're no longer as valuable as you once were. As a result, a lot of translators loathe CAT tools and technology in general. While it might be an understandable viewpoint, it's a very flawed one.

Technology is not the enemy, it's the future and not just in the translation industry. Instead of resisting this shift, it's time we embrace it and make it work for our bottom line. Successful translation agencies are skilled at leveraging a variety of tools to increase their profit margins as much as they can and many translators have become increasingly resentful of this and may even take it personally. Guys, I promise you it's not personal, it's just business – and by the way, if you're a translator, you're running a business too.

When I was coming out of graduate school and entering the translation industry, I was told that 2,000 words a day /300 words an hour was the industry standard, and it still is for some reason. That's a little over 6.5 hours of translating. If you're a current translator, stop reading and do the math using your current rate per word to see how much a full-time day of translating 2,000 words earns you if you don't know already. Now, subtract about 30% of it for Uncle Sam. Not very encouraging, is it?

Enter technology (insert a cool, dramatic sound for effect)! I average 4,000 (new) words per day and I translate for around 4 hours (ok, sometimes 4.5) and I'm far from the only one. How? Well, I use the same CAT tools that so many translators hate and some additional tools that just make my life easier and also happen to help me translate faster. So, what do you need to be able to do the same thing?

1) A quick brain. Technology is going to help you type faster and eliminate wasted time, but it can't make your brain think faster. If you're slow at coming up with the right words, focus on getting better at that. You can do this by sight translating out loud and/or by practicing interpreting even if you're not an interpreter. If you are, then you're in luck because you surely have this one covered.

2) A computer.

3) The ability to use a computer. So far so good, right?

4) A CAT tool. Do your research. If you intend to work with agencies, then those agencies will all prefer one tool over another and you'll probably want to have whatever tool they use. A few of the newer tools are starting to integrate the ability to be compatible with other CAT tools as well. Even if you don't do a lot of repetitive texts or want to work with agencies, CAT tools are great for your own quality control. They often have a built in tool that can automatically check for consistent terminology, correct numbers, untranslated segments, etc.

5) Dragon NaturallySpeaking (or other voice recognition software). This is essential after you have the above covered. Even if Dragon doesn't make you faster (but it will), it will save your body. Typing that much is just frankly not good for you. Your wrists and hands will thank you. See my post on Dragon for more information.

6) Optical character recognition (OCR) tool. If you work with PDF files on a regular basis, this is an absolute lifesaver. It will help you quote jobs and schedule your time by allowing you to quickly generate word counts and it will help prevent skipping words or, now you can use a CAT tool! See my post on OCR for more information.

7) A killer process. You need an awesome process to put all the pieces together. I've spent years perfecting my process and I'm happy to share it with you, but whether you use mine or not, this is a crucial part of achieving ultimate productivity.

Remember, you are a business and you should think like one. Use the tools available to increase your bottom line...or to just spend more time with your family or at the beach!

Skeptical? I get it. Why not check out my next free webinar? Bookmark this page and watch for the Productivity in Translation webinar!
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  1. What is sight translation?

    And by the way, I’m using memoQ for CAT, and there’s no way I’m going back to Word / Notepad (pen and paper? Hammer and chisel?). memoQ is compatible with Trados to a very large degree.

    • Sight translation is the process of translating a written text into spoken language. So, for example, if you’re interpreting for a patient in a doctor’s office and you are completing a form, you might sight translate the questions for the patient in order to obtain the answers and complete the form.

  2. Sight translation is a *very* useful skill that every translator should cultivate! For one thing, as Jenae says, it saves you time, but it also helps you recognize whether what you’re saying sounds natural in the target language or not.

    • Depends on the tool. I’ve used it with Studio 2011 as well as Wordfast 3 and 4. Dragon also has the option to use its dictation window for any program it does not support.

  3. I like the article and agree with the tools, use them all myself (apart from Dragon, which I intend to get soon – will be reading your post on that as well :)), but I definitely do not translate that much per day. 4000 words per day on average seems a lot! If I did that every day I would exhausted pretty quickly. Unless I’m missing something here, it seems a little unrealistic. But if you have advice on how to pump up my numbers, then I’m all ears 🙂

    • Hi Kristina

      Dragon helps quite a bit with those numbers. I have a very systematized approach that includes not just translating faster (as is done with Dragon, etc.) but the rest of my day as well, which I think a lot of translators don’t think about and can radically affect words per day. In fact, I am giving a webinar that might be of interest to you this Thursday where I talk quite a bit about productivity. It’s free and you can check it out here: 🙂 Hope to see you there! (There’s also a replay available if the time doesn’t work for you.)

  4. Thanks for this post, Jenae, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s webinar.
    Dragon can also be used with memoQ, my favourite translation tool. Some of my questions would tackle the practical side:
    1. How much of this 4-4.5 hours net translation time “translates into” 😉 gross working time? I can’t imagine you sitting down at the desk at 9AM, only to rise at 1PM, having completed the 4000 words allotment for the day.
    2. How much time does self-revision, especially with dictation, requires of your time? Do the 4.5 hours already contain that? There are some really nasty spelling errors that can occur with dictation, which are hard to spot as the incorrect word could be a dictionary word, spelt correctly.

    • Thanks for your comment. That’s actually exactly correct. Due to outsourcing tasks like bookkeeping and automated email systems, I was pretty much done working by 2 pm (having gone to the gym at 12-1 for a class back when gyms were open here plus about another hour for lunch/shower). I would occasionally check email after that but for some types of documents, I could hit speeds as high as 2k an hour (done and ready for delivery)…that’s not all types of translation though. With Dragon, I would proof every sentence before going to the next one for “Dragonisms” and then do a normal proof step but it’s pretty quick for me. I have another webinar you might be interested here:

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