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 A computer journal for translation professionals

Issue 18-2-284
(the two hundred eighty fourth edition)  


1. Getting Fancy With the Basics

2. Software Tools for Translators (by Riccardo Schiaffino)

3. Translation Matters.

4. This 'n' That

The Last Word on the Tool Box

Technological Competency

I've said this many times before, but let me say it one more time (and, I promise, with a completely straight face): I am not technical. Not the best person to write the Tool Box Journal? Maybe not -- but then again, maybe I'm exactly the right person.

See, just because I don't get completely "geeked out" about the awesomeness of technology does not make me miss the relevance (both positive and negative) it can have as a tool for my work as a translator. It amuses me to read the writings of real language tech geeks who can't sing high enough praises of any given technology -- until the next step in that technology's development is reached, at which point the narrative radically changes ("We always knew there were many shortcomings in the old technology, but now..."). I imagine many of you noticed that change in the enthusiasts' narrative in regard to statistical (and, of course, rules-based) machine translation when neural machine translation became available.

In a recent interview with Moravia's Viju Hedge, she asked me whether there is still space for a translator who's not inclined to learn about the whole range of tools available. And the answer is: yes, of course. While technical translators with virtually no access to translation technology are getting rarer and rarer (though, yes, there are some of those as well, and in some exceptional cases they're even doing well), the typical technical translator uses some set of technology. And most of us use it well (though, as Kilgray's Łukasz Rejter points out in the interesting memoQ trend report, "nowadays even hard liner, technology-minded power users will not be able to keep up with all the services and features of more advanced tools"). But can that same typical translator learn about all the tools available? Absolutely not if that means actually knowing how to use them. On the other hand, if it means simply knowing such tools exist and being capable of learning to use them if they have to be used for a certain job, by all means, yes. It's at that point you'll have to be able to find them by either intelligently Googling for them or checking out the index of your Translator's Tool Box ebook ;-).

And really, the same is true for advanced processes within tools you're familiar with (and this goes back to Łukasz's quote). If you already know how to create filters for complicated XML files or write regular expressions for complex processes with a translation environment tool, all power to you. Nothing to be ashamed of. But there is just as little to be ashamed of if you can't. What you will have to be able to do in that case is not throw up your hands in disgust and frustration; instead, ask the right kinds of questions so you'll find the answers. This is one of the areas that separates a successful technical translator from one who continues to be a burden for project managers or who never quite finds the most interesting jobs. 


April 22, 1988 - April 22, 2018  

Celebrating 30 years of experience in translating technical documentation German - Dutch 


1. Getting Fancy With the Basics

Here are a couple of shortcuts for Microsoft Word and Excel. While most of your actual translation work is unlikely to happen in those interfaces, many of you will still appreciate this:

As translators, we often have to open text files in Excel because many glossaries are in some kind of text-based format (such as CSV files). It typically works really well: You open the file from within Excel, and Excel starts a wizard that lets you tell Excel how to segment the text (i.e., how to put the different fields into columns). Well, Excel is actually smarter than you may think, and in most cases it knows how to deal with the file in question. So rather than going through the three- or four-step wizard, you can also force Excel to open the file as it sees fit by selecting File> Open, locating the file that needs to be imported, and pressing the Shift key while you click Open. This way Excel simply uses its best judgment to open the file correctly without the wizard.

Or how about this:

Let's imagine that you do indeed have one of those glossaries in a tab-delimited text format (or in proper Excel format for that matter), but they have only source and target information. Fortunately, you are well-trained and you know that you need to enter some additional data to that table -- such as subject matter, client, or whether the data is approved or not -- before importing it into your terminology database. So rather than going through some convoluted process of entering and multiplying the data in the third, fourth, and fifth columns, you can simply enter the record of interest in the first cell of the respective column, select that cell and all the other cells you want with that data, select Fill and Down on the Home tab, and there you are. (Alternatively you can also highlight the cell with the entered data, point your cursor to its lower right-hand corner, and then drag this to the area you want the identical text in.) If you would like to do the same with a running number, enter the first number in the first cell and then select Fill> Series. (The dragging here works also, and if you don't want a running number but the same number in all the cells, enter the number in two cells, highlight them both, and have that copied to whichever area you drag it to.)

There are a number of other things you can do with the Fill function, but I stumbled on one just the other day that is really quite clever: Flash Fill.

Flash Fill was introduced in Excel 2013, and it can either be manually activated as one of the options in the Fill menu (see above) or with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+E, but it is likely more helpful if it's activated automatically (under File> Options: Advanced> Editing options> Automatically Flash Fill).

Flash Fill will recognize a pattern once you enter two or more values and then suggest that it automatically fill the remaining column for you. For instance, if you have <Given Name> in column A and <Family Name> in column B, and you enter <Family Name, Given Name> in the first two cells in column C, it will suggest that pattern to you for the rest of the C column.

See the following example of a list of honorary ATA members. The Excel preview not only applies the new writing order, it also makes the names upper-case 

according to the first two entries.  


To accept the preview suggestion, just press Enter (and as this shows you there might be some small errors as in the spelling of "O'keefe" but those are easy fixes). This also works with dates, phone numbers, and a host of other things.

Here are some cool tips I used to know about Word but then completely forgot until recently:

The Find and Replace dialog (Ctrl+H) obviously offers much more than just the normal search and replace for text snippets. For instance, here are two ways you can find graphics or replace something with graphics. To find graphics, enter ^g into the Find what box (or you can select More> Special> Graphic). This is helpful if you need to remove graphics from a document that has become too large, or if you want to find tiny, hidden graphics that prevent your document from being processed properly.

You already knew that. But how about this:

If you want to replace something with a specific graphic, enter the text you want to replace (or whatever else needs to be replaced) in the Find what field, copy the graphic you want to insert onto your clipboard (just highlight it and press Ctrl+C), and then enter ^c into the Replace with field (or you can select More> Special> Clipboard). Cool, huh?

Or how's this for making Find processes easier: It's annoying to have the Find dialog or the Navigation pane stay open forever and ever when you want to search for a repeating piece of information in your document. So try this: Use Ctrl+F the first time as you would normally, then close the dialog box or the Navigation pane and from then on just keep on pressing Shift+F4. Word will keep on searching without anything blocking your view.

Happy searching.



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2. Software Tools for Translators (by Riccardo Schiaffino)

Following is an infographic that was developed by EN> IT translator Riccardo Schiaffino who is using this for a course on translation tools he's going to teach at Denver University. Riccardo generously allowed me to share his helpful graphic with you. (You can click on the graphic for a larger specimen.)  




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3. Translation Matters.

I've mentioned my latest book "Translation Matters," but recently I realized the best way to talk about it might be to share its introduction. Here it is:

"Palimpsests. I've loved the word and the concept since a friend from New York visited my family during our one-year hiatus in Berlin and described the city as a palimpsest with layer upon layer of history. Ever since I've looked at Berlin differently, and I've also followed stories that deal with "true" palimpsests, pieces of parchments where one or several layers of inscription were scraped away to make room for new writing. With modern techniques, the earlier layers can often be uncovered to provide fascinating insights, as discussed in this recent article in The Atlantic.

"I love this concept of re-finding texts that earlier generations deemed irrelevant but later generations find more important. This brings up something that -- ironically -- we also struggle with today. As translators and writers we create a plethora of content, but the lifespan can be of such short duration. And while it's true that not everything we produce has to be preserved, it's typically not our decision how long it will be available and whether there is any kind of expiration date associated with it.

"When I worked on my PhD thesis on the history of Chinese Bible translation 25 years ago, I spent a lot of time in dusty archives, re-reading letters that were written 150 and 200 years ago, and I knew that my eyes were often only the second set to ever read that letter after its original reading. Those letters were rarely deemed important or publishable -- but fortunately they were archived. I remember gasping in horror in a large archive in Cambridge when I was told that the correspondence of the timespan I was interested in had originally been archived, but later in a time of shortage had been re-purposed as meat-packing paper by a local butcher.

"I'm afraid we're in the midst of those times again, caused not by a palpable need for paper to wrap meat in, but by carelessness and, even worse, disregard. Once a year or so I spend a couple of hours to update my list of publications, and most of the time is spent finding out that links to articles have simply disappeared along with their content. Some of it can be chased down with archival internet tools, but much has turned to vapor -- if even that.

"Some might point out that in this age of self-published books, blogs, and social media posts, the easy-go is just the trade-off for the easy-come. And while there is some truth to that, it's just as true that we need to be more gentle and appreciative of and with each other as we honor the products we work hard to bring forth. (Their quality is an entirely different matter, of course.)

"It's in that spirit that this volume has been assembled. Whether the articles, thoughts, and snippets on the following pages are good enough for yet another gasp of public air is not for me to judge, though I was the one who rescued them from oblivion. Why?

"First, there are exactly as many essays as there are chapters in the Chinese Daoist classic Daodejing -- 81 -- in honor of my teacher to whom this book is dedicated, whose much-talked-of goal was to publish a book with just as many poems.

"Also, while much of the content deals with technology in some way or other, for the most part I chose articles that don't deal with specific features of specific tools, which likely would no longer reflect the current situation and would therefore be worthless.

"Mostly, however, I simply chose essays that made me smile when I wrote them or that may hold some relevance beyond just myself and the specific point in time when it originated.

"The majority of content deals with several overarching themes that have crystallized from my writings over the years. These prevailing themes deal less with translation technology per se and more with how translation technology empowers translators, with the effect it has on our self-perception, and with how technology is possibly the most important area in which we can determine and steer our immediate and long-term future.

"A handful of articles also deal with translation from an entirely different perspective, Bible translation, which was the focus of my academic work of long ago and a theme that I've revived again recently in a non-academic manner. I think it's a fitting inclusion considering the enormous impact religious translation, and in particular Bible translation, has had on the development of our profession (not least symbolized by St. Jerome, the 4th-century Bible translator and patron saint of translators).

"Much of what you'll find in this book is personal, much to the annoyance of my children and the long-suffering chagrin of my wife (and editor), without whom there would be no writing to be published or re-published. (I wrote elsewhere that without her I would have no voice, which is true in more than one way.) I can't help but express myself personally, for that's the only framework from which I can grasp anything of relevance."  


If you live in the US and would like a signed copy, I would be very happy to send you one for the same price as the print book at Amazon ($14.95 -- you can send a payment to on PayPal or contact me directly). If you don't live in the US, postage is just a little bit too expensive, but you can of course purchase the book directly at Amazon or as a PDF on my website



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4. This 'n' That

To prove my introductory claim that I'm not technical, here is a very recent discovery I made (it only took me several years to figure it out). I use the Windows 10 apps very, very rarely. Each time I did, I was always confused about the language of the user interface. My Windows installation is in English, but the apps were in German. Now I have nothing against German -- that's the language I translate into for a living -- but it "just did not seem right!" (Get it? German...) Here is where this setting can be changed for any variety of reasons (including the fact that you might want to have apps show a different user interface language than the rest of Windows). Under PC Settings (to open, press WinKey+I) select Time & Language and Region & Language and then make the language of your choice the "display language" under Languages. (Red-faced Tool Box Journal writer steps off the stage....)


Last week I stumbled on an article from 2002 by Alan Melby that deals with the need to have technology taught in college courses for translators. Here is an excerpt:

Why should [the] requirement [of computer technology] be imposed on the new generation of translation students? Translators have gotten along just fine for thousands of years without technology. What changed in the final decades of the twentieth century? Gradually but steadily, translators were required to acquire certain kinds of technology and be skilled in using technology in order to get work. First came word processing. The old mode of using a typewriter or hiring a secretary to take dictation gradually gave way to translators using word processing as opposed to a typewriter or dictation secretary. Informal surveys taken at the annual meeting of the American Translators Association from 1983 through 1989 revealed that the percentage of translators using word processing generally followed the year times ten. That is, in 1983, a little less than 30% of the translators at the conference used word processing. In 1984, it had risen to about 40%. By 1988 it was up to about 80%, and by 1989 it was hard to find a working translator not using word processing and fax. The 1990s have seen a gradual transition to increased used of specialized translation tools in the form of Windows software and a rapid shift to e-mail and file-transfer protocols.

Does that seem to stem from a whole different epoch for you? It sure does for me!


Yves Savourel has written a really excellent article about the many translation tools of the Okapi Framework. Yves's introduction to the article provides a very good idea for why this is going to be a good read:

The Okapi Framework is a free open-source and cross-platform project offering a variety of tools that can be quite helpful for translators. However, there's a caveat. The project was developed initially as a tool set for localization engineers, not translators, which can make things a bit more difficult.

At its core, the framework is a set of components that are meant to be put together to create processes for doing various translation-related tasks. Think of Okapi as a Lego set with which developers or technical-minded users can build very powerful utilities. But this isn't very practical for most translators, since they would rather have something more concrete with which to work.

Fortunately, among the different things Okapi offers, there are a few high-level applications ready to use "out-of-the-box" that anyone can take advantage of without any programming skills.

I highly recommend that you read the rest of this article, especially if you don't know what the Okapi tools are about. And next time you see Yves personally or digitally, be sure to thank him for his work on the article and on these free tools.


Oh, and Alejandro Moreno-Ramos published the third installment of the adventures of Mox, the translator. I'm relatively certain there's virtually no translator around who isn't familiar with Mox and his friends who tartly and pithily allow us to view ourselves in a sometimes shockingly truthful manner.

Here is last week's cartoon strip in the accompanying blog:




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