I’m a big productivity enthusiast. It may have something to do with my background in programming, but I like when things are optimized and streamline. I believe efficiency is a really important part of my job. Getting rid off of the frustrating or tedious tasks I have to perform daily (or so) allows me not only to save time, but also to be more focused on what matters the most: the quality of the work I produce.
It’s not all about new tools
But before I introduce any new software, it’s worth noting that the tools we already own can sometimes do more than what we expect. Here are a few examples of shortcuts you can use on Windows (and I believe Mac, with the Apple key) right now to make text selection and edition easier. An article that mentioned them got viral in the translation community a few months ago, and I have to admit I wasn’t using these shortcuts myself:
There was a lot of very enthusiastic feedback from translators, although we are working with sometimes extremely complex software. So why did we fail to notice something that was right in front of us for so long? Maybe we’re not taking the time to better understand the tools we use. Maybe routine numbs our senses or makes us resigned. Or we may simply not be aware such possibilities even exist.
In any case, my first word of advice would be to take the time, every once in a while, to reflect on your daily work, and try to be more conscious about the parts of your jobs that you find repetitive or frustrating. Most of the time, a solution is just a search engine query away, whether you’re trying to type out a certain character or calculate the length of a string.
If you’re lucky, your current tools will allow you to do what you need. If not, you can always look for external solutions.
Introducing the game translator’s toolbox
Having this in mind, I will introduce a few of the tools that are helping me in my daily work. I will start with a number of software and add-ins ready out of the box, before moving on to AutoHotkey, a scripting and automation solution. Again, these are just a few examples. My goal here is not to be exhaustive, but rather to raise awareness about what we can do with the right tools.
First on the list, and probably the most famous of the tools I’m going to introduce today, is Xbench. For those who don’t know about it, Xbench is a QA tool that allows you to look for issues such as inconsistencies within a translated text, missing numbers and tags, punctuation issues (double-spacing for example), repeated words and glossary mismatches, just to name a few features.
It is typically the kind of software that does. There’s a small tip I would like to share about game translation especially. It’s very common for us to translate strings containing variables, line-breaking characters, etc. When you check such a text with Xbench, don’t forget to add these variables and other placeholders to your glossary, so that their presence will be checked for you – it can really be a life saver. It’s just an example, but you can really tailor the software to your need by playing around and making a smart use of the different functions.
Another feature I really like about Xbench is that it can export all project files as a .tmx translation memory file, which you can then import into most translation software. Say a client sends you previous translations in an Excel file. You can easily save the said file as a tab-delimited file, import it into Xbench before converting it into .tmx.
Next on the list is Okapi Rainbow. It is free, open source and available on Windows, Mac and Linux. It offers a lot of different features, but the one I’m using the most is the term extraction one. A term extraction tool really comes in handy for large projects or the ones involving several translators. In such situations, you will need to create a glossary of the most important terms as early as possible, and term extraction tools really save us a lot of time here.
Just add files to your project and select your options. All the basic features you’d expect from such a tool are here, minimum/maximum of words per term, number of occurrences, stop word lists to reduce the irrelevant entries).
Another software I am occasionally using is WinMerge. What it does is comparing two files and telling you what the differences are between them. It can be very useful when you receive updated versions of a file but can’t tell exactly what has changed.
Word also has a comparison feature, which is quite exhaustive but also a bit hard to read and it takes a bit of time to set up. What I like about WinMerge is the simplicity of its interface. You can just copy your original and edited documents in left/right windows, load them and let the software show you the differences, a color coding for the types of changes (addition, deletion, edit).
I will conclude this part with two add-ins for Excel. If you work in the game industry, you probably spend a lot of time dealing with Excel files, so let’s make the most out of it.
Let’s start with XLTools, which offers a free edition with a number of useful utilities to clean up files. CAT tools tend to mess up with Excel files, adding unnecessary spaces and the like. Now, with this add-in, you can easily remove them.
You can also switch the case for a selection of cells. Let’s say a client asks you to write a translation all in uppercase. It occasionally happens, but it’s really tedious when you’re the translator. With this feature, you can write your text as you normally would, and switch it to uppercase once you’re done. You can also switch back to sentence case if your client changes their mind at the last moment.
Finally, RDBMerge allows you to merge Excel files and tabs, which is really useful when clients send you complex file folders. While this add-in can’t unmerge files, it still saves you a lot of time for tasks such as performing word counts or QA checks without opening each file and tab individually.
A few extra recommendations
To conclude this part, a few extra recommendations:
- Olifant, a great translation memory management tool, also part of the Okapi Framework (see Rainbow above). Power filtering, search and replace features to clean up your TMs
- Notepad++, which is my favourite plain text editor. It can open most files in most encodings, and it can highlight code, which can be helpful if you are translating .xml or .html files for example.
As you can see, there’s a lot of work you can automate or simplify with the right tools. But sometimes our needs are so specific that there’s simply no solution ready to use for us. When it happens, you can consider creating your own scripts.
In order to achieve this, let me introduce AutoHotkey, an extremely convenient scripting and automation tool. Usually when I tell about it to other people, they’re having a bit of trouble understanding how it works, so I’ll try to make it as clear as possible and share a number of concrete examples.
What it does is mapping hotkeys (or shortcuts if your prefer) to scripts or other keyboard/mouse operations. You can see those scripts as Excel macros, in more powerful and available in any software.
You just download and install the software, and double-click the script of your choice to activate it. It runs in the background, which means you can use the hotkeys is any software.
The scripting language is relatively easy to learn even if you have no programming knowledge. There’s a macro recorder tool available on their website, if you want to register your own sequences of mouse/keyboard actions without coding anything. The community is also quite active and a quick search should return great scripts ready to use.
What can AHK do?
Here are a few examples of what AHK can automate for you:
- Online searches: You are translating a text and you want to look up a word on Google? You can do it through a hotkey. Once you’ve found the results you were looking for, use another hotkey to switch back to the program of your choice.
- Key remapping: Frustrated with how the software you’re using all have different shortcuts? You can map hotkeys to different key combinations depending on the software you’re in, so that a certain hotkey will have the same effect wherever you’re using it.
- Switching case: You can play around with text as well, for example by making a string all uppercase or lowercase.
- Character count: If you’re a game translator, I’m sure character restrictions are a frustrating part of your job. With AutoHotkey, you can count the number of characters of any text selection, in any software, thus saving precious time.
- Special character output: You can also output special characters, such as accented letters, in a keystroke. On a regular keyboard, you would have to type a tedious and hard-to-remember key sequence to do that, and you’d need a numeric keypad, which many laptops don’t have.
- Text template generation (with user input): AHK can also type out longer texts for you, mail templates, recurring sentences, etc. You can even ask for user input to fill such templates. As a translator, you could create a quote template with just a few fields to input, such as the client name, your rate, the deadline, etc.
These are just a few examples of things you can automate with scripts. The possibilities go well beyond our work as translators. Essentially anybody working behind a computer should try and play around with this software and see how it can make their daily tasks less repetitive. You can download a script containing all of these examples here and read my tutorial here.