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How To Make The Translation Process Less Labour Intensive

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Although in fact it ended only two decades ago, the era of handwritten or typewriter translations is one that most of us are not nostalgic about – if they remember it at all. To any modern-day translator, versed in – and addicted to – the cut-and-paste functionality of the latest word processing software, it is almost unimaginable there was ever a time in which translations were produced with a pencil and an eraser, or with a typewriter and correcting fluid. Having said that, there is no denying that the translation process has remained extremely labour intensive.

PCs are obvious and indispensable tools in the modern translation business. The computerisation of our business has enabled us to become far more productive and to produce more polished texts which, thanks to the immense body of ‘googleable’ reference material, are probably also more sector-authentic than our output of, say, fifteen years ago. Even so, not all business owners are aware that in addition to advanced word processing software, a host of other tools have become available to make the translation process more efficient. Here are a few tips.

1. Make sure to get digital versions of as many reference works as possible. Many dictionaries, encyclopaedias and the like are also available on CD. This will save you the trouble of leafing through weighty tomes, and help you find the term you need with a few clicks on your mouse.

2. Get hold of high-quality terminology database software (TRADOS or another reliable brand). Even though it will take some time to build up your customised databases, once they have reached a critical volume they will help you use customer-specific terminology consistently and retrieve it in no time at all.

3. Ask your client about his lay-out requirements. Especially in the case of documents in exotic formats, it would be a pity and a waste of time if you went to the trouble of copying complex lay-out features while your client would in fact, for editing purposes, have preferred a plain lay-out.

4. Try to find out if your client has already produced documents similar to the one you are translating and, if so, ask if you can have a copy. This will prevent you from reinventing the wheel, and will ensure consistency with the client’s existing terminology. 

It is interesting to note, finally, that while all sorts of tools have helped us speed up the process, the actual translation process itself has so far not been computerised to any significant degree. Most of the efforts aimed at automating the translation mechanism are focused on reproduction rather than creation. Translation is, and will probably remain for a long time to come, a purely cognitive skill that is performed inside the translator’s brain and that no amount of software can replace. 


About the author

Fester Leenstra is co-owner of Metamorfose Vertalingen, a translation agency in Utrecht (The Netherlands). After having worked for several translation firms in paid employment, he took the plunge in 2004 and incorporated his own company.


For further details about Metamorfose Vertalingen, visit:

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