Unparalleled success as a translator – with a Macintosh

by Charles Ek

Assistant Administrator

Nordic Division


I am a freelance translator working from the Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) into English. My specialty is legal translation – I previously practiced law for five years. I also have substantial experience in the areas of commercial insurance and environmental matters. I started my translation business five years ago, in 2009.

My involvement with Macintosh computers predates that event by some twenty-five years. I cannot claim to be the first purchaser of a Macintosh when it arrived in 1984, but I was among the very early ones. Since that time, I have exclusively used Macintosh computers for both my personal use and eventually for my legal practice and my translation business. I have used Windows-based machines in the past, but only when required by an employer to do so.

When I first contemplated starting a translation business, I quickly faced a choice: Stay with what I liked, or switch to what I was told I had to have to be successful. Luckily, I had advice from the poet Robert Frost in his poem “The Road Not Taken”, which I commend to everyone, regardless of whether you’re choosing an operating system or a career path.

My choice was made enormously easier by the availability of a native Macintosh version of OmegaT, an open source computer-assisted translation tool. I will leave it to another time or another writer to plumb the depths of this application’s usefulness for translators. Let me just say it plainly:

In five years, there has not been one day I have regretted not having another CAT tool available on my computer.

Admittedly, my work as a legal translator is well suited to OmegaT. I work primarily with Microsoft Office documents or files that can be converted more or less easily to the various other formats that OmegaT now handles in stride, after some very early issues. (More on the “less easily” part in a moment.) I know that other CAT tools are possibly better suited for specific situations. I work as the sole translator on a project more than ninety percent of the time, so I rarely have to share anything other than a finished translation. If the need arises, I can import and export TMX-formatted translation memories. I have happily washed my hands of any demands to produce so-called “unclean” files, and it hasn’t put any noticeable dent in my revenues or profits over the last five years.

I quit making glossaries a very long time ago, even though OmegaT handles them nicely. Whenever I find an online glossary or other resource that will be helpful, I simply copy it (where legal!) to my desktop machine. The Macintosh operating system includes an amazing application called Spotlight, which rapidly searches the entire hard drive at my command. It takes moments to know whether I have some file showing either the meaning of a term or at least its use in context. Accessing that content then requires a couple of mouse clicks.

Ah, what’s that you say? Yes, I’m aware that I could be running many other CAT tools and other Windows-based applications with the aid of Parallels (or some other arrangement) that would allow me to run such software on my Macs. But I don’t feel the need, my experience has borne that out, and there are technical and financial burdens with such arrangements that I choose to avoid.

Surely I have lost jobs because of my intransigence, you say. Well, yes, but the losses have been virtually painless, and not nearly as frequent as those unfamiliar with Macintosh capabilities would have you believe. Time after time, a project manager has realized (or knew all along) that the end user of the translation really could not care less how it was produced, except to the extent that affected the cost.

Apart from OmegaT, what applications are open regularly on my machines? Almost from the start, I felt compelled to abandon OpenOffice.org and NeoOffice, two fine office suites, in favor of Microsoft Office for Mac (I currently use the 2008 package.) There were too many formatting problems switching back and forth with files, something that rightly irritated my customers when it happened. I realize that things may have changed on that front, so do not take this as the last word on the subject!

After spending a few years trying different ways to convert electronic and scanned PDF files to Word documents (for use in OmegaT), I have mostly settled on Abbyy FineReader Pro for Mac. This usually does a good job. When things go badly, as occasionally happens with files with tiny print, non-editable images inserted and/or other horrors, you can hear me wailing across this continent and the adjoining oceans. That’s why there is prior agreement on an hourly surcharge for translating such entertainments, or I walk away.

My browser is Apple’s Safari, which time and again proves capable of running Web-based applications deemed necessary by someone I do business with. (I was once told I was the first person to complete the U.S. government’s security clearance application with Safari.) My timesheet application for hourly billing is the Web-based Paymo 3, which I use infrequently but happily. My accounting application is Quicken 2007, which has survived despite some near-death experiences with abandonment by its publisher. My invoices are done online via ProZ.com, and I love that approach for its simplicity and reliability when billing and tracking payments (and chasing amounts outstanding …) My e-mail application is Apple’s Mail, which does a great job for me except when I will be away from my office for more than a day. There is no good way to set up an out-of-office autoreply. Shocking, but true.

For those times when I am literally in the woods, my contacts, bookmarks and calendar are seamlessly synched via Apple’s iCloud service for my desktop iMac, MacBook Pro laptop, iPhone and iPad. I bought my first iPhone the day I lost a job because I had to leave my computer to go to a doctor’s appointment and a request to confirm my availability arrived five minutes later. My favorite iPhone story came a month later. I was out in the woods in the pre-dawn darkness of the first day of turkey hunting season. A translation agency contacted me via e-mail, and I quoted and got the job before the sun came over the horizon. Why is this my favorite story? Because the agency was located in … Turkey.

As for the miscellany: I use three offline dictionary applications that suffer slightly from not having all the features of their Windows counterparts. Skype now runs like a champ, after a few years of my avoiding its midlife Mac crises by refusing to update it until they got it right. (Microsoft acquired the company along the way and eventually forced everyone to update, which nearly required dental work to repair damage from clenching my teeth while I installed the update.) I’ve done a limited amount of subtitling with ExpressScribe, which has mostly worked quite well. I do not discuss security protection publicly, for reasons that are apparent. Suffice it to say that I sleep quite well.

You will notice a dearth of references to Adobe products. I would say more, but I know what legal fees can amount to. My regular PDF reader is Apple’s Preview, and I use the excellent independently-published GraphicConverter for any heavy lifting in converting and exporting graphic files. If the need arises, I can easily make annotations on highlighted text in PDF files using Preview. A click on the highlighted portion opens a text box that appears to the left of the document.

So, after five years I know – and now you do – the outcome to the choice I made when two roads diverged.

Exit smiling.

2 Responses to Unparalleled success as a translator – with a Macintosh

  1. Another very good Translation Environment Tool available for MacOS is CafeTran.
    Well worth checking a consideration. Might be a little easier to get going out-of-the-box than OmegaT, although OmegaT itself has come a long way since five years ago.

  2. Tapani Ronni says:

    Thanks for posting this, Charlie!

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