Q&A: Translation aids

Q For all sorts of odd reasons, I have agreed to help a friend translate her large collection of French stories into English. Are there any cheap or free tools that might help me in this?

A Professional translators rarely use machine translation (MT) unless they have vast amounts of relatively mundane work that they could not hope to accomplish using their own skills.

Although Google Translate and other free online services can sometimes help with small amounts of text, you will probably find translation memory (TM) systems most useful. These divide the input text up into sentences and smaller chunks, which you then translate.

When a similar or identical section appears later, the software then suggests the most probable translation, based on its memory of your previous work. For texts that may contain many reasonably repetitive phrases, this can be very efficient.

Commercial products with TM such as WordFast Pro can be costly (€400), but OmegaT and OmegaT+ are both free, and work so well that they are the choice of many professionals.

You may also want to purchase some of the excellent electronic dictionaries now available. Note that Yosemite comes with a reliable free French dictionary which can be enabled in the standard Dictionary app.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 27 issue 18, 2011.