Tools You Need as a Translator

Just as a carpenter needs tools like a hammer or a saw, there are tools you need as a translator.


You need a considerable amount of initial investment no matter what kind of business you start, but thankfully, the translation business doesn’t require a very large initial investment. There is no need to get an office somewhere, no need to advertise, no need to acquire an expensive machine costing hundreds of thousands of dollars… I’m exaggerating a little, but a translation business is something you can start right away as long as you have a computer with Internet access. Realistically, however, you are going to need a few small tools and resources.


High-speed Internet

It goes without saying that you are going to need a fast and secure Internet connection.



A laptop is fine, but it’s good to have a big monitor if you’re using CAT tools. Your computer’s processing speed has to be fast, so a desktop computer would be better. Of course, having a laptop as an assistant would be good. (A lot of CAT tools include ways to synchronize the two.)



Sometimes you have to print out source files or invoices, so in any case, you’re going to need a printer. An inkjet printer is cheap to buy but too expensive to maintain, so I think a laser printer is better. Also, if you need to sign and send things like contracts, you’re going to need a scanner. I am using a laser printer that also works as a photocopier and scanner. I bought it for around a $100 and it’s been working well for a few years now without any problems.


OCR program

An OCR program is a program that optically reads files like PDF to extract text. There are two types of PDF files. There is one where you can drag and copy text and paste it onto Word to get extracted text, and there is one where you can’t do that. It’s for the latter that an OCR program is needed. You must get one that can read both Korean and English. There are lots of programs that recognize English text well; the problem is Korean text recognition. The rate of recognition falls too far below that of English. Honestly, there’s not even one program that I actually like. Nonetheless, I’ll introduce the program that I use, though I’m not an expert in this area. The program called ABBY Fine Reader made in Russia, randomly enough, has been better than the rest. (I really wish Korean developers would make more of an effort… I don’t understand why a technologically advanced country like Korea can’t make a decent Korean OCR program.)


Nowadays, any decent CAT tool can immediately read a PDF source file, but this is not some amazing trick that the CAT tool is performing. All it’s doing is simply running the PDF source file through an OCR program autonomously and then segmenting it. English source files are often OK, but the recognition rate is terrible for Korean source files. This makes the aftermath very troublesome because you’d have to translate while simultaneously doing source work all through the CAT tool. This is why I first run PDF source files that can’t be dragged onto Word through an OCR program separately to extract text, compare that text with the original PDF file while correcting errors (I will refer to this as source work), and then use a CAT tool.




The program I use is called ABBYY FineReader. For PDF files that allow you to drag text as well as English PDF files, there is no real difference between this program and any other; its true value is demonstrated with Korean source files. That’s why I use this program to create a DOC file for Korean source files that can’t be dragged before using Fluency even though Fluency has a built-in OCR program. For those of you who translate into languages other than Korean, you need to experiment a bit and find the best OCR program for your language.


PDF converter

You need this for making and sending invoices, and sometimes because the other party can’t tell that the Korean text is broken (Do you remember? Not only are agencies, the direct client of translators, unable to read Korean, but they can’t even gauge whether or not Korean text is broken), they might ask you to send a PDF file along with the DOC file, for which you will need a PDF converter. Occasionally, when a PDF file contains lots of pictures and the text is scattered, you might even have to work within the PDF file. You will need a proper PDF mould to do this. I am using something called Adobe Acrobat 9 ProExtended and I think it’s good enough. If you have this, you can insert text boxes into the PDF and correct things or add comments.


CAT tool

Because this is such an important topic and is difficult to explain simply, I will do a separate post about it later. However, I will tell you that it will be difficult to continue working as a professional translator without one of these tools. A positive side is that your productivity will rapidly increase if you use a CAT tool and a negative side is that more and more agencies are trying to only work with translators that use CAT tools, so it’s slowly becoming harder to find jobs without one. If you’re going to do it anyway, it’s better to crash right into it from the start. Although it will cost you some money and it will take quite a bit of time to learn something new, this is an obstacle you must overcome. No, actually, this is not an obstacle, but a tool that will definitely help you. Later, even if you can live without kimchi, you won’t be able to go a day without CAT tools. As with anything, starting is half the battle. You will soon get used to it and there will definitely come a day when you look back and think “why was I so worried about such a simple thing?”


The CAT tool that I use is Fluency. I’m sure every CAT tool has its advantages and disadvantages, but I don’t think there’s another CAT tool out there that understands a translator’s work process as well as this one does. Because all the resources are compiled onto one screen, you can finish the translation work without having to leave the screen. It also has a flexibility that allows the user to specify the type of screen layout or the type of resource that suits him/her and it is compatible with other tools including SDL Trados. (Later added: I can now provide a Fluency discount code. To use the code, visit this post: Good News: Discount Code for Fluency Now!.)


Marketplace businesses


From what I can see, this seems to be the most popular translation site in North America (and maybe even the world). I first registered here as well and am pretty sure this is the place with the most registered translators. There really are a lot of job postings here, so I think it would be helpful to those of you first starting out in translation. There are also many valuable materials and informative posts that will help you a lot. Although I’m no longer a paying member (called master translator), I still refer to the many resources on this site to this day.



This is currently the only marketplace business that I am registered with as a paying member. I especially like the fact that it’s not agency-focused but rather has several features advantageous to translators. Because it has features like the Blue Board, Pro title, accumulation of feedback, etc., I think a lot of translators will choose this site in the long term.


Speech recognition program

Some of you may be wondering why you would need such a thing for translation, but these are actually very useful programs. Speech recognition programs have many purposes, but what I’m talking about here is a dictation program. (Don’t waste your time and money buying the wrong thing. If you don’t really know what I’m talking about, try researching the types and purposes of speech recognition programs.) Without such a program, you have to do a lot of typing, which can put a strain on the wrist and fingers. Moreover, no matter how skilled you are at typing, the speed is nowhere near that of speech. Since I started using this, I think my productivity has improved around 50%. In addition to using this for translation work, you can also use it to write things like e-mails.




There are a few competing English programs, and the one I use is called Dragon NaturallySpeaking. This is an important piece of software that those who translate into English must consider. You must first overcome the difficulty of having to train the program to suit your pronunciation and speech patterns, but once you train it to suit yourself, it’ll be really useful in the long run. Because you can use it any time you’re writing in English, including emails, you will be freed from the keyboard to a considerable extent. It obviously works well in Word, and it also works quite well in Excel and PowerPoint. Of course, using it in Excel or PowerPoint is not as simple as it is in Word. But all you have to do is familiarize yourself with the methods. It is just a little less convenient than Word. This is even compatible (kind of) with the CAT tool I use, Fluency, so I use this speech recognition program even in my CAT tool. It feels really good. When doing this kind of work, I take pride in the fact that I have a rate of productivity difficult to match by anybody else.


It’s not as expensive as you might think. I don’t remember the exact amount, but I think I bought this for around $110 when I upgraded two to three years ago. (I think it would be a little more expensive if you’re not upgrading but buying it for the first time.) I don’t know whether this kind of program will become increasingly cheaper or more expensive, but for now, I think it is very good deal for the price. However, it is a big mistake to think you will be able to use it right away after buying it. Just like your CAT tool, it is a real nuisance when you first buy it, because you have to get familiar with it. Speech recognition programs in particular will need at least 100 hours of training before they are fit for use.(Training here refers to the process of getting the program to understand your speech. It’s not so much training as it is the program getting used to your speech habits and methods.) The good news is, the more you use the program, the better it will understand you. I like that kind of thing. I like that although it’s hard at first, you get better and it gets easier as time passes. So even if you don’t get one right now, it’s worth buying in the future after sufficient consideration. Those translating to English should especially consider getting this.



I recently discovered that Google Docs has Korean speech recognition. The performance isn’t perfect, but it’s still quite good. I think it’s worth it for English-Korean translators to give it a try. It of course recognizes English as well as other languages, but the reason I’m introducing it here is that I think it’s currently the only dictation program that offers Korean speech recognition. It is, of course, free. You should check if your language is supported. Well, if Korean is supported, I am pretty sure your language (whatever it is) is also supported by Google Docs. You can refer to another of my posts about this.



The Prosperous Translator: Advice from Fire Ant & Worker Bee




As you can tell from the title, the focus of this book is on the business side of freelance translation. There was, of course, some general advice, but it also offers straightforward and fresh answers regarding the business side of translation in particular that are hard to find anywhere else. This was the book that opened my eyes to the translation business where I used to lack interest and was stupid about the business side. If you don’t have the time to read the entire book or feel that the book is not right for you at your stage in life, I recommend that you at least read chapters 5 and 6.



Speaking of Translation

This is a podcast site about the translation business operated by Corinne (and Eve). It might sound like translators simply chatting with each other, but there’s actually quite a lot of useful information. I think this will be a very informative site for those of you who like absorbing information through your ears more than your eyes.


CBC podcast

Because our work is translating writing into writing, it’s easy to think that translation all reading and writing, but if you don’t approach the fundamental nature of language itself and familiarize yourself, you won’t even be able to handle writing, a small part of that language, well. This is why I think translators should constantly listen to their foreign language and get familiar with it just as small children naturally get familiar with their mother tongue. Of course, to do this, you have to immerse yourself in the culture that uses that language and understand that culture. The best way to do this is to actually live in the country of your language, but this is also possible to do through the Internet at no cost at all. Next is a podcasting site for CBC Radio (national television) that I really like. Some programs I like from here include Ideas, DNTO (recently discontinued but you can still listen to its episodes), The Best of Sunday Edition, etc. These gems of programs are worth every penny of my taxes.


Studying English

A translator must undoubtedly continue to study his/her foreign language, but I don’t think there is a correct answer to how one should continue to study. The world is overflowing with books and websites teaching you how to improve your English skills, and I don’t think it’s really my role to introduce that to you. A translator must always make an effort to improve his/her language skills, but at the same time, you can’t just keep studying forever just because you lack the skills. Don’t get hung up on useless things like tests or certificates. I can’t stop you if you’re just doing it for kicks, but I think the best way for a translator to improve his/her skills is not studying, but doing the actual translation work itself. Having to look up every single thing in a translation project, thoroughly understanding the entire content of the translation, and trying your best while acquiring an extensive knowledge related to the project might seem like you’re going beyond what is necessary but it is truly the best way of studying. Although it’s slow, you will improve your skills all while earning money. I also think it would be best to continuously approach English in the most enjoyable way possible by immersing yourself in movies, TV shows, radio programs, podcasts, books, etc. in your spare time. Below, I will introduce one thing you can try occasionally without too much trouble.


Uni-edit English Writing Tips E-mail:

If you click on the above icon, you can receive English composition tips through your e-mail. It is very practical rather than theoretical and it explains these things in a way that’s easy to understand simply.


Various courses and e-books from the Happy Translator Academy



I know it’s a shameless plug, but I also included e-courses that I created. They are courses that teach about various fields and functions that a freelance translator needs, starting with the “How to Participate in the Internet Translation Market” e-course. To look around the shop, visit Translation Courses. To help you find the right course for you, I also created a page that categorizes the courses: Translation Courses Overview.



If you have good computer skills and have a program like InDesign, it will be easy for you to win related jobs. (An agency I know realized that doing that kind of work without any knowledge of Korean was resulting in too many errors and was desperately looking for a Korean person with this, but I never got to introduce them to such a person.) Also, those of you looking to specialize in subtitles can start equipping yourselves with related software and get familiar with it. A voice recorder (programs that save audio recordings as a file on your computer) is also useful sometimes. This kind of thing is required if the source file is a video and you’re overlaying your voice on top of it. But all these things are applicable only to those who are heading in those directions, so you should research for yourselves and buy the appropriate equipment after consulting with your agency or use the free stuff provided by your agency. I don’t think you need to buy all this stuff to prepare from the beginning. You can start researching software once you make the decision to specialize in a certain field. Personally, I’ve tried a few of these programs, software, and equipment but don’t use any of them now. That is because I’ve chosen to only deal with text. This decision is neither right nor wrong. At the end of the day, it’s all an issue of personal strategy and decision. For example, if you’re interested in audiovisual material or shows, it’d be a good choice to get into the market for that, don’t you think?


브라이언은 의료분야에서 한영번역을 하는 번역가입니다. 캐나다 온타리오의 작은 시골 마을에서 아내와 둘이 삽니다. 여행과 독서와 음악과 커피를 좋아합니다.

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