5 Useful Tools for the Travelling Translator

Translating is a global job in more ways than one. There’s the obvious correlation in that as a translator, you probably are fluent in languages from around the world; like French, English, Korean and Russian all in one mental melting pot.

The other aspect of translating as a global business is that many translators actually travel while working on their projects. Some never leave home. Some hop around the country. Some are bonafide globetrotters!

No matter how far you travel — whether to foreign lands or to the corner store — translators on the go need tools that work for their mobile needs. These five tools are great for all translators to use, but they’re especially useful for any translators who need mobile capabilities.


Working on projects that require translations often means communicating with clients from outside of your timezone. For instance, translating a guide from Japanese to English means you may be going to sleep when you client is waking up. WorldTimeBuddy is a handy tool that helps you establish time zones, conversions and differences, even when multiple timezones are in the mix.

Google Docs

It’s always great to have a trusty program like Microsoft Word on your desktop computer, but what if you’re on the go? What if you don’t have access to your own computer? Google Docs is an absolute lifesaver in situations like these. You can create documents, easily share them and also have access to them based on your account — not your computer. It’s also easy to share documents with others via Google Docs, whether it’s with an editor or a client for approval.


Storing data and sharing it with clients are two cornerstones of the translation industry. It’s always great to have hard copies of your completed projects on hand, as well as in progress translation jobs that need to be shared between editors and others. Dropbox is an integrated storage application that can work from your desktop and your web browser. Simply drag and drop files to upload them, then invite other users to share your folders.


Programs like Word have pretty decent spellcheck systems in place…but what happens when you don’t have access to that program? Apps like Grammarly are perfect for translators who need to use online methods to write content. Even though the app isn’t directly compatible with Google Docs, it’s still possible to upload files from your computer or device to the Grammarly app. From there you can see grammatical and spelling errors you can fix in the home document.


Finally, translators on the go don’t always have time for checking emails and onboarding new clients. The process can be rather lengthy without a tool like YouCanBook.Me. Once users have created an account, YCBM connects to their iCloud or Google account and accesses their calendar. From there you can set up an account and share your grid, enabling easy bookings with highlighted availability dates.

Don’t let static programs and apps keep you grounded. Find tools that work for your mobile lifestyle and translate (while making money) no matter where you are!

Work from Anywhere as a Freelance Translator

Work from anywhere as a freelance translatorIt’s often difficult to describe to people what it means to be a freelance translator. There are still some who have a hard time wrapping their heads around how anyone would or could work from anywhere but a desk within a cubicle, and you may get the combination look of disbelief and surprisingly, pity.

Somehow “freelance” translates to some as “not a stable job” and “translator” makes a few people think that freelance translators are glamorous multilinguistic great travelers of the world.

Then they ask just how many languages a freelance translator should, in fact, speak and expect them to suddenly recite sonnets in 12 different ones. They are surprised to find out that some can only speak 3; technically 2 because they are not fully conversational in the third yet. How can anyone who only knows 2.5 languages be a translator by profession, who works from anywhere, no less?

The reality of working from anywhere

To be a freelance translator, you certainly don’t need to be an expert in multiple languages. But you absolutely must be fluent in at least two of the languages you offer to translate.

And because there are plenty of good translator social networking websites, finding jobs isn’t challenging at all. Apart from freelancer websites, you can also easily find jobs on translator portals and translation agencies. You will get to work with clients, not for them. Realistic deadlines and competitive rates are agreed upon with each respecting the urgency of the project and the nature of your “office hours.”

Since you choose how often you work, you also decide just how much you can earn. For some, this can mean working by the hour or getting paid per project. Again, your schedule, your rates, your rules.

The perks of being a freelance translator

In theory, you can work from anywhere. For some, anywhere is right in the comfort of their own home. But if you were to wake up one morning (or afternoon) and say you wanted to work from the new café around the corner, then you could also certainly do that. Working anywhere really does mean you can work by the beach, in transit, or even on a park bench. You can work wherever your productivity is at its peak.

As a freelance translator, you can set your own terms and define what work-life balance means to you. There are those of us who have never quite fit into the 9-5 work day mold or the “normal” 5-day week.

Perhaps one of the biggest perks about freelance work as a translator is all the money you don’t spend on the commute to the office in the city. There is no more need for the daily shuttle from office to home. Not stressing over the commute also means never worrying about the weather and having to brave the elements.

Yes, there are plenty of telecommuting jobs that are just as convenient and cost-effective, but because of the service you will provide as a freelance translator, yours will be rewarding.

As for “the look” some get when they say that they work from anywhere; You can always say, “I can do my job so efficiently that a boss doesn’t need to constantly look over my shoulder as I work. And because of that, I have rewarded myself the luxury to choose where I work, when, and how often.”

A Freelance Translator Doesn’t Have to Speak 19 Languages to be a Pro

Translator-Joke-GoT-19-languagesSometimes, it can be difficult to actually explain what it means to be a freelance translator. People can have varying ideas of what it is you actually do and how it can actually be a “real” job.

So why fight it? Why not just have fun with it and let people’s imaginations roam with what it is you actually do?

For example, imagine the amazing opportunities to entertain yourself at the next boring dinner party you get roped in to attending.

You’re minding your own business, hanging out at the shrimp cocktail platter at the party. Out of the blue, another guest approaches you and says, “So, what’s this I hear about you now being a freelance translator?”

They hang air quotes around “freelance translator” as if it’s a fake term.

You smile politely, nodding your head and staying focused on the shrimp cocktail on your napkin. Truthfully, you are trying to choose your words carefully. Let’s be honest: it’s difficult to explain your business sometimes.

“Yes it’s been an interesting year to –“

They don’t let it go. “Wow! That’s cool! I barely passed English class, let alone speak, like, 19 languages like you. Now you get to just get up when you want, work in your pyjamas and listen to headphones all day. Sounds easy. Must be nice.”

“Well…” you try to clarify that you don’t actually speak 18 languages but they are on a train that is now barreling down the tracks.

“My uncle’s cousin’s ex-roommate needed a translator for some documents one time and he said it was expensive. What’s with that? Like can’t they just use Google Translate and it’s good enough? And don’t you find it boring reading other languages all day long? And how long does it take you to… ”

You suddenly get the urge to wave past his shoulder and say, “Oh, look! There’s Elvis!”

But no, you’re bigger than that. You are a going to represent your career with pride.

Instead of blaming Elvis, you simply smile and say, “Well, for starters, I don’t actually wear pyjamas…”

Maybe some things are just better left to the imagination 😉

How Translation Project Management is like Air Traffic Control

10720103175_bfeced04bd_zI was on a flight from New York to Dakar, Senegal, working on translating a pitch for a German TV series, when it hit me that translation project management and air travel share a lot of striking similarities.

Both air travel and translation are functions of globalization: the first in a physical sense, literally bringing people together and making distances between countries and continents shrink, the second through bridging linguistic divides, connecting individuals and businesses by translating and localizing their content and communications.

The more I thought about it (I had plenty of time: the flight from JFK to Dakar’s Léopold Sédar Senghor airport takes 8 hours), the clearer the parallels became. Let’s look at it step by step:

Ready for Take-Off: Translation Project Preparation vs. Pre-Flight Routines

Translation projects and commercial airline flights can’t be launched on a whim. Both need meticulous, careful preparation to make sure they come off without a hitch.

The first thing any flight requires is a flight plan. The two crucial considerations are fuel calculations to ensure the plane can reach its destination in the most cost-effective way and the best choice of a route by selecting airways and waypoints that comply with air traffic safety regulations and ensure a successful and efficient flight.

Similarly, once a translation project has been commissioned, the project manager has to create a project plan that guarantees the successful completion according to the client’s specifications. The right translators for the required language pair(s) have to be found. Deadlines and project milestones need to be identified. Estimates have to be calculated in much the same way a flight planner calculates the minimum necessary fuel load to guarantee a safe flight.

Now the client can send the files (and the ground crew can board the aircraft) — but even with the passengers in place, the plane/project isn’t quite ready to get off the ground yet.

Before take-off, the captain goes down his pre-flight checklist and mechanics will conduct one or more “walk-arounds” — the so-called physical external check, looking for impact damage, fuel, oil or hydraulic leaks, or blocked ports.

Before a translation project can get off the ground, the project manager also conducts a number of mission-critical checks. Depending on the file format the source texts arrive in, text has to be prepared, segmented, and aligned. Terms have to be extracted and researched, glossaries and term databases created. Translators may need special instructions about file formats, naming conventions, or special project terminology.

In both cases, launching the flight/project without taking all necessary precautions can be fatal.

Cruising Altitude: Executing the Translation Project and In-Flight Monitoring

Once our translation project/transatlantic flight has  taken off, it enters a new phase. The role of the translation project manager, which is to say, the air traffic controller in charge of the flight, changes. With all the appropriate planning and preparation completed, they are now more concerned with monitoring and controlling during the flight/translation itself.

In a modern aircraft, flight management systems handle a wide variety of in-flight tasks — to the point where they don’t even any longer carry flight engineers or navigators

It’s tempting to compare the so-called “auto pilot” to modern CAT (computer aided translation) tools. And while translation memories and machine translation can make any translation project easier, they can never replace human translators — much like you wouldn’t send a commercial civilian airliner on its way without a pilot and a computerized flight management system alone.

During the duration of the flight, en-route air traffic controllers monitor the flight and stay in radio and radar contact with the aircraft. They can direct the route, instruct it to climb or descend, provide information about weather conditions and handle unexpected events, such as emergencies or unscheduled traffic.

During this stage in the project, translation project managers often feel like they are sitting in an air traffic control tower as well. Like John Cusack in the 1999 comedy Pushing Tin, they have to multitask to the extreme, dealing with changes in project scope, translators no-shows or delays, additional files, delayed deliverables and time-zone management without succumbing to the stress inherent in juggling incoming and outgoing files in countless languages and formats at all times of day and night.

Whether it’s turbulence or corrupted files without proper backups, this stage of the project/flight is about dealing with unexpected complications while keeping the clients/passengers as happy as possible and bringing the flight/translation in for a smooth, on-time landing. Often, this involves having the cabin crew go around one more time with appeasing smiles and free alcoholic beverages while the flight goes for another “go around” in a holding pattern and the final document is sent for one more round of proof reading.

A Safe Landing

18227917006_a55104f2f3_zAs my flight landed on schedule in Dakar, I was grateful once again for the smooth cooperation between flight attendants, in-flight and ground crews to assure a safe and pleasant trip. These days, we take air travel almost for granted, forgetting how much work, attention, and care goes into even the most routine flight.

In the same way, the smooth, on-time delivery of a translation project owes much to meticulous planning, translating, and proofreading that often goes unnoticed by the client. As the plane descends on its final approach and local air traffic controllers take over, translation project managers run final consistency checks, missing word detection, grammar checks and test advanced file formats for compliance.

When everything goes well and the project arrives safely and on time, we barely notice any turbulence and perhaps even took a little nap that keeps the worst effects of jet lag at bay. On our way to claim our luggage, we thank the crew who waves and says, “we hope you choose to fly with us again in the future.”

Like any airline, a good translation agency aims to build a long-term relationship with its valued customers, project by well-executed project. The only thing missing are platinum “frequent translator” accounts that grant clients access to a VIP lounge while we prepare their next project for take-off.


Tools for Translators: 10 Ways to Make Evernote Work for You

evernote-translatorsMost people who spend time online have come across Evernote with its green elephant logo at this point — it’s a hugely popular service that routinely appears in the top downloads of every app store on the web. But just as often, I hear from people who tell me that “they really ought to figure out Evernote” or wish they understood it better. Which is a real shame because Evernote gets more useful the more time you spend with it — and as a freelance translator, I couldn’t imagine my life without this essential tool.

Here, then, are ten tips on how to make Evernote work better for any translator. Try them and see what I mean when I say that it’s changed my workflow and completely and increased my productivity immensely.

1. Collect and Store Your Translation Research

Translators deal with vast amounts of research, and the beauty of Evernote is that it can handle just about any type of information you can throw at it. Whether it’s text, Office documents, image files, PDFs, audio or webpages, you can store it in Evernote and easily retrieve it with a powerful search function. There are many ways to import documents: by hand, from your mobile device, with an automated watch folder, by email, and of course there’s the web clipper to easily store articles and web pages.

2. Keep Notes Organized with Tags and Notebooks

Stackable notebooks and a great tagging system make it easy to keep your projects organized. Personally, I’ve learned that it’s most efficient to keep it simple by using a combination of tags and notebooks and rely on the search for the rest. Depending on the size of your average translation project, you could create a notebook per project or client, or simply use one catch-all notebook for your research and use tags for individual topics.

3. Track Clients, Invoices, and Hours

With Evernote, it’s easy to create tables and checklists within notes, so one master note can keep track of invoices sent and payments received — or you can import your invoices individually and tag them “paid” when your money comes in. Create a saved search for untagged invoices to find out who isn’t paying on time.

4. Go Paperless

Life for information workers, including translators, is increasingly moving into the cloud. Evernote is a great way to the completely paperless office by keeping all your important documents online and available at all times. You can set up your scanner to import directly into Evernote — but you can even use your cell phone camera to transfer important paper documents and keep them at your fingertips. No filing cabinet required.

5. Use reminders to stop on top of deadlines

Evernote’s reminder feature lets you create notes that will trigger a notification at a specified time — a great way to warn you of looming deadlines.

6. Keep a notebook for fun stuff

In my own translation work, I often come across interesting tidbits that I want to follow up on later, when I’m not on the clock. Whether it’s a movie, book or website I’m interested in, I simply drop it into the “fun” notebook. Later, when I’m done with the deadline and the project is squared away, I look through my “fun” notes and check out things I would surely have forgotten about without Evernote — like this archive of 98 free Korean movies.

7. Use Evernote in different languages

Not everyone likes to work in an English environment. Evernote is already available in languages as diverse as Chinese, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Korean, Spanish, Thai and Turkish. If you feel inspired, you can even volunteer to make it available on more platforms in even more languages.

8. Go Global, Go Mobile

Translators are often also travelers, living between countries and cultures. With excellent mobile apps for all platforms, Evernote is perfectly suited to this lifestyle. Notes are always tagged by location, and by using the Atlas, you can easily search according to where a note was created or updated.

9. Collaborate seamlessly with others on your team

Shared notebooks and the new work chat feature allow you to collaborate with others on individual notes or entire notebooks. It’s an easy way to stay synched and share research, finished files, and cat pictures with your co-workers.

10. Go Premium

Basic Evernote functionality is available for free, but the premium plan (starting at $5/month) offers more upload space, PDF full text searches, offline notebooks, presentation mode and other great value-added features.

How do you use Evernote for your translation work? Which features and tricks did we overlook? Which tools for translators would you like us to discuss next? Tell us in the comments!

Five Great Reasons to be a Translator in Berlin

Berlin“Arm aber sexy”: it’s been a while since former Berlin Mayer Klaus Wowereit declared the German capital “poor but sexy” — but the label has stuck. Berlin is still considered hip and happening, but maybe not the best place to make a living. Because of its former island-like location in the East of a divided country, there didn’t use to be a lot of industry here, and traditional jobs aren’t as plentiful as in the rest of Germany.

But this reality is changing quickly: Berlin is gentrifying at an alarming rate, and while there still aren’t as many traditional jobs in manufacturing or industry, the digiterarti have definitely arrived in the capital. In some neighborhoods, you can’t throw a MacBook Pro without hitting someone launching a startup.

What does this mean for translators, a notoriously nomadic bunch who can do their work anywhere in the world, provided they have a laptop and a working Internet connection? Here are five great reasons to be a translator in Berlin:

1. Berlin is a truly multinational city

Berlin is home to half a million non-German residents from 190 countries. This multicultural melting pot makes it a perfect place for someone whose job it is to connect cultures and languages. For English-language news and international connections, follow Exberliner or Internations.

2. Berlin has one of the most vibrant cultural scenes in Europe

From music to art, dance, theater, literature and film, Berlin is one of the most dynamic cities in the world. For translators, it’s crucial to recharge the creative batteries, and Berlin offers hundreds of fascinating events on any given night. Zitty is good place to start exploring.

3. Berlin has amazing outdoor spaces

13522405173_b9f6b24094_zFrom the Tiergarten to the Wannsee, Berlin offers great green spaces and escapes. After a busy day of translating, why not hop on your bike and take a spin through Tempelhofer Feld, a gigantic park created from a repurposed airport?

4. There’s wifi everywhere in Berlin

We know just how dependent translators are on the Internet — after all, that’s how we connect with clients and agencies, how we research and look up online dictionaries. Berlin is blessed with a huge number of comfortable libraries, cafes, restaurants, and co-working spaces that all feature wifi connectivity. Additionally, many spots around the city  feature free wifi.

5. There are great food options in Berlin

The days when curry sausage and döner kebab were the only choices in Berlin are long gone — now you can get sushi, Thai, outrageous burgers and homemade vegan ice cream on almost every corner. For tips, check food blogs like Foodie in Berlin or Berlin Food Stories.