Staring at a computer screen for 8 to 12 hours a day can make any translator start to think about other job options. However, with some of the utilities and tips described below, we can return to the days when we looked forward to sitting down to a day's work.
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After we've done the standard ergonomic optimization of our workstation (nobody out there is sitting at the computer in a straight-backed, dining room chair, right?), we're ready to get down to business.
1) Hotkey Lookup Tools
TOOLS: Google Deskbar, PractiSearch SearchBar, WordWeb
The Google Deskbar and the PractiSearch Searchbar are tools that will open your web browser and look up a term that you have selected (i.e. highlighted) with the press of a simple key combination. You can configure these programs to look up the term at different sites (Google, dictionary sites, whatever!) using different key combinations. And you can select the word from any program you are using--never again will you have to cut and paste a term from a Word document to the Google search window.
WordWeb also looks up words you have selected using a hotkey, but it is only an English dictionary. Wait a minute, only a dictionary?! WordWeb is also a great thesaurus, far better than the one included with Word, and it also gives you the option of looking up your word on the web. Best of all, it's quick--you don't need to wait for your browser to open any sites because the WordWeb dictionary/thesaurus is on your hard drive.
2) Web Browsers
Still using Internet Explorer? Well, you may want to consider moving to a tab-based browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Opera. Why are tab-based browsers so great? Because you can have as many sites open at once as you want, and you can switch between them as easily as you would select a folder from an organized file drawer. It's true that you can have multiple web pages open with IE, but it's anything but convenient to manage and switch between these pages.
If you want the advantages of tab-based browsing and the familiarity of IE, you could try an IE front-end, such as MyIE, or Avant Browser.
CHECKING AND PROOFING TOOLS
1) Text to Speech
Text to Speech, or TTS, technology has advanced notably in recent years, and can be of great help to the translator. How so? Well, many professional editors suggest having an assistant read your work aloud, as this will help you catch mistakes (because you hear errors that you would otherwise not see). But how many of us always have an assistant around to help us when we finish an urgent project? Enter TTS--you can use a software program to read for you. This is especially useful in the stage of comparing the translation against the source text, as you can read your translation while following along with the original which is being read aloud. This is a surefire way to catch careless mistranslations and omissions!
There are several free and low-cost TTS programs available, among them, ReadPlease and Elan Sayso (demo).
2) A Virtual Ruler
This one is very simple, but the simplest things are often the most useful, right?
A virtual ruler is just like a regular ruler, except that it's on your computer screen. What good is that? Well, think about how you check translations on paper. Do you ever use a ruler to keep your place, or to line up the source and target texts? Well, you can do the same thing on your computer screen. This is an excellent remedy for eye-strain (I don't, however, recommend it in place of a final hardcopy check-over).
I use Cool Ruler, but I'm sure there are other ones out there.
1) Windows Keyboard Shortcuts
Use Windows keyboard shortcuts for commonly used functions. My favorite is the Windows Logo Key + E (hold down the Windows Key and press "E"), which opens the Windows file manager (Explorer). Here are some more useful ones:
Windows + F starts a file search.
Windows + L locks your system until you enter your password.
Windows + M minimizes all windows.
Windows + R brings up the Run dialog.
Windows + Pause/Break brings up the System Properties dialog.
(If you're still wondering where the Windows key is, it's between the CTRL and ALT keys.)
SOME CLOSING REMARKS
I have left CAT tools out of this howto because there is so much to say, and there has been so much written on the subject already. If you are a beginning translator and wondering what CAT tools are, some research is in order. In my opinion, a good CAT tool (or two) is about as useful as all of the above tips combined.
A couple of notes on hardware and internet connections: 1) I strongly recommend using a flat panel display. Your eyes will be forever grateful. 2) High speed internet connections save time and lower blood pressure (the last point is from anecdotal, and not scientific, evidence).
Lastly, I am not affiliated in any way with the companies which produce the programs listed above. I just use them and like them. I hope you will find them useful, too.