Why Time Management is Important for Freelance Translators

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Freelance translators sell their time translating as a service. Maximizing output of translated words over time, therefore, increases income. But output is governed by productivity, which in turn is influenced by distraction.

Attention Span

As a freelance translator, I experience many distractions: family, chores, surfing the internet, watching tv, shopping for groceries, you name it. Once I’m distracted, I find it hard to get back on track. This is how I lose productivity.

How, then, can attention be maximized and distraction minimized? I think the first step is to break away from the habit of working 8 hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Some people are more focused early in the morning, while others can concentrate better late at night. Unless working by the hour, I find it to be more productive to work during my most focused hours.

Time Management

A successful freelance translation career cannot be separated from good time management. Some indicators of time management in freelance translation are translation output per hour, translation output per day, translation output per week and translation output per month.

Translating at maximum capacity for an hour will not convert to maximum output per day. Likewise, translating at maximum capacity for a day will not convert to maximum output per week. No one can work at maximum capacity for days on end. Only machines can. Attention is lost; quality is impacted. That’s why time needs to be managed.

Pomodoro Technique

I personally use the Pomodoro Technique to manage my time. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that breaks down work time into 25 minute intervals followed by a 5 minute break. After four 25 minute intervals, a longer 15 minute break is taken. This ensures better attention and less distraction during the 25 minutes.

I usually do four 25-minute intervals early in the morning, four during the day, and four late at night. That’s only 6 hours of work, including 30 minutes of break. I don’t work 8 hours or only during the day. But I get more done, I experience less stress, and I produce more in the long run–all thanks to time management.

Anxieties that Come with Working as a Freelance Translator

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About one year into doing freelance translation as a full-time job, I started experiencing many unusual things about my health, which I later found out to be due to stress and anxiety.

Overuse of my eyes

My work required me to stare at the computer screen for over 10 hours a day. About one year into living this way, I noticed that my eyes were drying up quicker than before, and my right eye was red all the time. It even started hurting (somewhere deep inside) at the end of a long workday, and I had to put a hot towel over my eyes to bear with the pain. At its worst, I reached the point where I couldn’t open my right eye at all, so I had to work with just my left eye.

Meeting deadlines

I also found myself dealing with multiple obligations. Oftentimes, I was working on two or three jobs simultaneously. I was working beyond my capacity, and that continued for weeks. Before I knew it, these deadlines were disturbing my sleep patterns and making me nervous all the time. I had to do more in less time and still produce the same quality.

Anxiety attack

One night, when I was out shopping, I had an anxiety attack for the first time. All of a sudden, I was sweating, breathing hard, felt like fainting and everything in front of me went blank. I had to lie down for a while until I got better. And I had to cancel or postpone my ongoing jobs. But that was only the first time, and I would experience many of these anxiety attacks over the course of my freelance work.

Making a living

After the anxiety attack, I decided to cut my workload. But when I did so, I started losing many of the clients I used to have. I became their second, third or fourth choices, due to not being as responsive and available as before. All of a sudden I wasn’t making enough for a living, and expenses like insurance, medical bills, taxes and other costs all got me worried. But I knew that getting back into the old habit of overworking would only give me more anxiety.

Quality is like a magnet

While dealing with these anxiety issues, I noticed one thing, and that is, as long as you stick to quality, there will always be someone out there who will find you. That’s been the case for me for the past 4 years, and each time I needed a job, I would somehow find one. There’s something mystic about quality. It’s like a magnet that attracts you to the right people at the right time. My personal solution to anxiety in freelance translation has been to remain confident that quality will save me in the end. And so far it has.

List of CAT Tools for Freelancers

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Platform Operating System License Type Price Link
Across Personal Edition v6 Desktop Windows Free after registration $0
Alchemy Publisher 3.0 Desktop Windows Perpetual EUR 749 Click Here
Atril Déjà Vu X3 Professional Desktop Windows Perpetual EUR 420 Click Here
CafeTran Desktop Mac/Windows/Linux Free Download $0 Click Here
Fluency Desktop Mac/Windows/Linux Monthly or Yearly USD 20, 200 Click Here
Google Translator Toolkit Web Mac/Windows/Linux Free Access $0 Click Here
MemoQ Translator Pro Desktop+Cloud Server Windows Perpetual USD 770 Click Here
LogiTerm Pro Dekstop Windows Perpetual CAD
795
Click Here
MadCap Lingo Desktop Windows Monthly (12 months, billed annually) USD 33 Click Here
MateCat Web Mac/Windows/Linux Free Access via Link $0 Click Here
Memsource Personal Edition Web+Desktop Mac/Windows/Linux Free after sign up (Max 2 Files) $0 Click Here
MetaTexis for Word Lite Desktop (Runs on Word) Windows Perpetual USD 45 Click Here
MultiTrans Text Web Windows Contact RRDonnelley N/A Click Here
OmegaT Desktop Mac/Windows/Linux Free Download $0 Click Here
SDL Trados Studio 2014 Freelance Desktop Windows Perpetual $825 Click Here
SmartCat Web Mac/Windows/Linux Free after registration $0 Click Here
Transit NXT Freelance Desktop Windows 3, 6 or 12 months EUR 75, 135, 225 Click Here
Wordbee Freelance (1 license) Web Mac/Windows/Linux 6 or 12 months USD 182, 330 Click Here
Wordfast Anywhere Web Mac/Windows/Linux Free $0 Click Here
XTM Cloud Freelancer Web Mac/Windows/Linux Monthly Euro 11 Click Here

Freelancer Metrics: Pros/Cons of Source Word, Target Word, Hourly Calculations

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Source Word

  1. Pros
    1. Easy to calculate and agree on with the client for certain file types like Word Documents, TXT files, etc.
    2. Easy to estimate daily capacity and turnaround time
    3. Easy to calculate perfect and fuzzy match discounts
    4. Fair for websites, PowerPoints, etc. that may require the output to be made more concise than the source
  2. Cons
    1. Hard to calculate and agree on with client for certain file types like PDFs or anything with images, which are not captured by word count
    2. Hard to agree on whether to charge for numbers, hyphens, symbols or other characters, which are not translated per se, but have to be checked in context

Target Word

  1. Pros
    1. Easy to calculate and agree on with client for any file type, including PDF and images
    2. Fair for culturally sensitive documents that may require in-text clarification/explanation by footnote, etc.
  2. Cons
    1. Hard to estimate daily capacity and turnaround time
    2. Hard to calculate discounts
    3. May give the incentive not to translate as concisely as one wants to

Hourly

  1. Pros
    1. Fair for documents that require additional formatting
    2. Fair for documents that require extensive research
    3. Easier to calculate rates and set deadlines
  2. Cons
    1. Preparation work done outside of actual translation may not be compensated
    2. May be hard to track the exact hours spent and hard to focus for a prolonged period of time (How many breaks are allowed?)
    3. May reduce flexibility of schedule
    4. May give the incentive not to translate at one’s maximum speed, or to spend more time researching than usual

Wordfast Anywhere: Some Possible Improvements

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Wordfast Anywhere is a tour de force of free cloud translation technology. It features simple and intuitive uploading and management of translation memory and term base. It has features like Preview Document and Free Alignment (up to 3 files) that sets it apart from other free tools. Furthermore, maneuvering the tool is easy, making it accessible to new and experienced freelancers alike.

Points that Can Be Improved

But there are still areas where Wordfast Anywhere can improve. Below are a few points I noticed as a freelance translator:

  1. Wordfast Anywhere is language-pair restrictive. It only allows one pair per user, and this usually suffices, except for rare cases where we get orders the other way around.
  2. The segments are inflexible. Users can’t move between segments just by clicking. You need to click on the “down” button multiple times until you can edit the desired segment.
  3. Wordfast Anywhere is slow. When there’s a lot of tags, it freezes. And when it freezes, you need to log off and then log in again. This is a big waste of time.
  4. There’s no “confirm” button for segments. Users can’t tell how much they’ve finished. And, users can’t jump to the next unconfirmed segment, either. This is a big problem when proofreading and editing, because you need to click the “up” or “down” button each time until you can get to your desired segment.
  5. The buttons are cluttered. There are too many buttons that aren’t useful for translators, and conversely it’s missing buttons for functions that are often used. For example, there isn’t an Add Term button. There’s a shortcut for it (Ctrl + Alt + T), but why not add it as a button, instead of buttons like Web Search that is rarely used? The Alt + Insert shortcut is also unintuitive, especially for a Mac user who doesn’t have an Insert button.
  6. The Document Pane isn’t appealing. The target segment box size isn’t fixed and it sometimes changes size. The font, size and layout can all be improved. The TM is on the top, and the TB is on the right side, but usually freelancers reference both at once, so having them in two different places is awkward. The spacing of the Wordfast Anywhere layout makes me feel claustrophobic.

The inflexibility in moving between segments, the lack of a confirm button and progress status, and the poor design of the document pane all take away from the appeal of Wordfast Anywhere. Although it’s free and useful, there are still some improvements that can be made.

Review: ABBYY SmartCAT

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Most of us know ABBYY for its free OCR, but now they’ve introduced a free CAT tool combined with OCR features. I thought I’d give it a try, because I’ve received many newsletters from them via email. But ABBYY’s CAT tool, SmartCAT, isn’t just spam. In fact, it’s far from it: My impression is that SmartCAT is one of the better, if not the best, free CAT tools available.

And…You Say this is FREE???

There are several other free cloud CAT tools: Wordfast Anywhere, CafeTran, Memsource Free Edition are just to name a few. But, I think SmartCAT has already reached the top in terms of being “free”. The reason: Unlike the others, it doesn’t have restrictions. Wordfast Anywhere has a language pair restriction—it only allows one language pair per user. Memsource free edition has a one project restriction. If you want to run more than one project at a time, you’d need to subscribe to one of their premium editions. CafeTran has a size restriction to .TMX and .TBX files. But SmartCAT has none, and it even comes with free OCR.

Space for Improvement

But, SmartCAT is still new. It still needs improvement in many aspects. For example, as a Japanese translator, I think its OCR is very poor. Japan-made OCR tools like Panasonic’s Yomitori Kakumei are far superior to ABBYY. On top of that, uploading a PDF with Japanese text resulted in many failure messages before it finally uploaded. This was a big waste of time for me. Not only that, I think SmartCAT may have slower “loading” speed than others, even in respect of uploading term base and translation memory.

There’s also a weird design mistake. Look at the image below:

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.46.32 PM

On the bottom right of the screen shot, you’ll see credit card logos. But these logos can’t be clicked and are just there for the design. But this freelancer edition is a free tool, so having a credit card image on the bottom makes no sense at all.

Uploading translation memory also had some problems, like shown in the screen shot below. In the end, I just gave up on uploading my own translation memory. SmartCAT also doesn’t handle .TBX yet. If you want to upload a glossary, it has to be in Excel format. These kinds of compatibility problems also need to be fixed.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 6.58.36 PM

Finally, the screen shot below shows another problem I faced, where I wasn’t able to attach a translation memory to my Japanese to English project. As you can see in the image, there isn’t even an option for “Japanese” as a source language; that is, SmartCAT doesn’t handle language pairs from Japanese to other languages. As a Japanese to English translator, this is a critical problem that would eliminate SmartCAT as a realistic option.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 7.00.38 PM

Amazing Usability

Setting the above problems aside, SmartCAT has amazing usability. The user interface can simply be described as “beautiful.” The screen shot below is an example of their workbench. The shortcuts are easy to understand, and the buttons are intuitive. A clean and simple look like this would reduce the burden of multiple hours of continuous translation on the eyes.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 7.10.49 PM

SmartCAT leaves competitors far behind in terms of being a “free” tool. However, in terms of Japanese, it’s OCR, .TMX and .TBX all have problems. Moreover, the time required to upload files can be irritating. But even after taking these negative points into consideration, the fact that ABBYY offers such a beautifully designed tool for free is, I believe, something to be cheered and welcomed by all freelance translators.

Are In-House Translators Worth It?

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In-house vs. Freelance 

Is it more beneficial to hire an in-house translator or a freelancer? I think that, in the past, freelancers had the edge over in-house, based on cost and quality. But, managing freelancers comes with the disadvantage of uncertain schedules and time lag between order and delivery; in-house translators have quicker time to action. Furthermore, the recent rise of translation technology has brought a paradigm shift to this debate.

(1) In-house as Translation Data Manager

Various translation environment tools offer low-cost solutions. For example, Memsource, Wordfast and SmartCat allow users to manage integrated data in the cloud, and Memsource in particular features translation memory sharing, which allows real-time collaboration through translation memory.

Against this backdrop, the role of in-house translator has shifted from merely being a translator to also functioning as translation data manager. In-house translators in the new age will unify terminologies translated by multiple freelancers into a single set of memory maintained according to an internal standard. Thus, in-house translators will also be data managers. Furthermore, even if an in-house quits his/her job, the asset he/she has left in the form of data will be passed down to the successor automatically in the cloud. Loss of human resource will not signify loss of translation memory.

(2) In-house as Proofreader and Quality Controller

In parallel with this new role of in-house as translation data manager are the traditional roles of proofreader and quality controller. Which resource manager do you think will find a better Japanese translator: a resource manager that has no background in Japanese, or a resource manager who is also a Japanese translator? Hiring the right talent is the first step to quality control, and an in-house translator also serving as resource manager will eliminate the guess-work.

Hiring freelance proofreaders can also be costly and time-consuming. Finding a proofreader who will follow in-house guidelines is a big hassle, and it’s an even bigger hassle to retain them. In contrast, an in-house translator, functioning as proofreader and quality controller, can reduce the time to outsource to freelancers, reduce the guess-work involved in talent finding, and eliminate the extra cost of outsourcing proofreading and QA to freelancers. 

(3) In-house as Security Administrator

In addition to the roles of translation data manager, proofreader and quality controller, in-house translators can also take on the task of security administrator. Distributing translation memory or similar data to freelancers could lead to an important data breach. A representative managing access to translation data should ideally be an in-house translator who has access to an internal server. And such a security administrator would distribute glossaries or confidential files to trusted resources through a secure file transfer protocol. He/she should also closely follow up with freelancers to ensure that confidential files are deleted upon completion of the project.

Why Choose In-House

Hiring a single in-house translator can be a big investment, and expenses will involve not only wages but also benefits and other social responsibility. These expenses will be deemed as “risk” from the traditional business point of view. However, the critical importance of in-house translators in light of the growing value of translation data assets, the rise of translation technologies, and the importance of quality control may give them an edge over freelancers. Moreover, an investment in an in-house translator will clearly differentiate one agency from another, in terms of taking greater responsibility for security, data assets and quality control.