Translation software

I want to do a lot of translation at once and want to speed up the process beyond using a dictionary. What kind of translation software is best? I’ve heard of Dr.Eye and the learning CD Wen Lin I believe also has a translation feature. Also I’ve heard of a tranlstion tool that fits inside a pen. You drag it across the text and get definitions (translations?). It’s called ‘quiktionary’. Has anyone ever tried it? Which translation software is best?

I don’t want to sound overly harsh or discouraging, but if the translation process is that slow for you, you probably shouldn’t be doing it (I’m assuming this is translation work, not just something you’re doing for yourself or to prepare for a class). It sounds to me as though your level of Chinese reading and comprehension isn’t where it needs to be to take on the particular document(s) you’re dealing with right now. Obviously I don’t know you so please don’t take offense, I’m just judging from your posting.

The problem with translation “software” like Dr. Eye is that these packages translate based solely on a dictionary; that is, they give basically word-by-word translations. Chinese is not particularly suited to this kind of translation, which is why we human translators are still in business today. I’m sure not a few translators/agencies use these packages, but anyone who is really a professional translator just wouldn’t have need of them. It would take longer to post-edit the (often horrendous) output and (more importantly) to make sure that the meaning the good Dr. got was actually the same as the Chinese meaning than it would to just translate things in the first place.

If you just need a little more terminology support, you can consider some of the following options:

  1. Get a program called “NJStar” (freeware during the demo period). You want the Chinese word processor package. Now if you have a file of Chinese characters (simplified or traditional) you can put it into NJStar, highlight any character you don’t know, and press a button. You will get the pronunciation, from which you can rapidly look it up in a really reputable dictionary (their dictionary is rather limited, although it does have a few characters; the registered version might have a better dictionary, I’m not sure.)

  2. You could consider buying an electronic dictionary or (better, IMHO) a Palm device onto which you could then install a dictionary like the Oxford C<>E or the new one from FarEast (haven’t tried it yet though). I can speak to the Oxford’s features better as I have used it: pen input, radical lookup for those really tough cases, and direct pinyin input with or without tones. It’s fairly comprehensive, and usually you can get the pronunciation even if the specific compound you’re looking for isn’t there.

  3. You can use a program like Bamboo Helper which will automatically segment any Chinese text file and give you a list of the words unknown to you, with their English translations (you have to tell it which words you do know unless you want to just ignore the ones you don’t really need to see, which isn’t a big problem.) I believe the author is Carlos McEvilly.

  4. You can splash out and buy a real CAT package like Trados (which I use) or another one (although you have to be careful about compatibility with Chinese as it’s a dual-byte language). Trados doesn’t translate for you, but it does remember everythign you’ve ever translated with it in the past, so that if you hit upon, say, some unusual species name for a flatfish in a tranlsation 6 years after you did the original translation, the program will help you to find that species name very fast through its Concordance feature (or you can enter the species name into your terminology manager and it will pop up in the window when you’re translating). The downside with Trados is that it’s pretty expensive (even the annual [for me biannual] upgrades are like US$300) but if you’re going to translate seriously for a long period of time I’ve found it useful. Others may not feel it’s so useful. It depends on your work style and the kind of things you translate, I guess.

  5. Available for free and probably the best thing to happen to translation since they invented typewriters, the Google search engine will find all sorts of obscure terminology for you. You’ll need to change your language settings to Chinese (and I found that I needed for the interface of Google itself to appear in Chinese so that I could enter or paste Chinese characters into it). Enter the Chinese you’re searching for and try to add an English word or two that you think would appear on some nice Chinese HTML page that has that Chinese term (you’re basically looking for parenthetical ramblings, like when the Chinese name is followed by the name of the species in Latin, or the English common name in the case of plants). You can also find terms used in other contexts (without entering any English) and sometimes this is enough of a clue to help you understand the term without actually seeing an English definition.

Well that was long but hopefully you can use some of these tricks to make your life easier.


Thanks for the long reply Terry. I’m not a translator, but it sounds like an interesting job I might consider someday after I have reached a higher level of proficiency. My spoken Mandarin is good tone/grammar-wise, although people know I’m a weiguoren. My husband is Chinese and Mandarin is our home langugage 85% of the time. I started studying in '87, but only did it as a hobby and have basically nill writing ability (I write zhuyin and pinyin at lightning speed, however). My reading ability is 80-100% for stuff in the Lifestyles section of the newspaper. For politics/medicine/economics, etc. I can get the main idea- I understand 60%-80% without a dictionary. Right now I’m doing a language exchange here in the states with a mainland Chinese woman, so I’m learning to write jian ti zi. I read fan ti zi, so I’m hoping to cover both this way. I’m also trying an experiment- I’m going to learn jian ti zi and the fast/letter-writing style of Chinese at the same time. Even if my characters look ugly, I’ll have increased my access to info in Mandarin by being able to read (not necessarily write well) jiantizi, fantizi, and- what’s the word for the fast style? cao xie? jian xie? Terry, do you also do spoken/written translation from English to Mandarin? What was your hardest speaking translation job? Is there any kind of job you hesitate to take? Where can I get the palm device with the dictionary you use? Do they have a website? Finally, do you find you can support yourself well as a translator? I am a mother and I couldn’t be travelling all over the place- could I theoretically make a decent living just translating on my computer and emailing the final copies to clients??? xie xie in advance for nide bang mang!!!

Hmmm…I’ll try to take your questions one by one. Remember that the following is only my opinion so take it for what it is worth, which sometimes isn’t really much.

Terry, do you also do spoken/written translation from English to Mandarin?

I do oral interpretation to and from Chinese, Spanish and English, although I do not work in simultaneous mode to or from Spanish. I do both consecutive and simultaneous between Chinese and English. I do NOT EVER translate in writing into Chinese – that is purely a job for educated native speakers of Chinese IMHO. I have only ever taken on ONE job of this type and that was a special situation – a Taiwanese PR company doing subtitling for a network TV show that had all sorts of foreign guests, and they apparently couldn’t get a native Chinese speaker who could understand all the different guest accents (not to mention the moderator’s at times somewhat, er, original English)…and they knew I wasn’t native and knew that any post-editing was going to be their responsibility.

What was your hardest speaking translation job?

I specialize in industrial/technical, medical and legal stuff, so my hardest stuff is actually what most people find easiest: economics and politics. I tend not to accept those jobs because of the very real possibility, no, let’s be honest, the fact that I will make a fool of myself and damage what professional reputation I have.

Is there any kind of job you hesitate to take?
See above. I also avoid any kind of handwritten job from HK like the plague (actually, I tend to avoid most HK jobs as the language is not familiar to me). I almost never accept traditional Chinese medicine because I don’t know enough about it and it’s difficult to educate yourself quickly to the necessary level.

Where can I get the palm device with the dictionary you use? Do they have a website?

Palm PDAs are sold widely in Taiwan – try any electronics store, or many computer stores carry them, too. You can get the Oxford dictionary on their own web site –, I think – or buy it through (I usually urge people to buy directly from the developer as PalmGear takes a commission and does NOT pay developers quickly or sometimes at all!)

Finally, do you find you can support yourself well as a translator?
I do just fine. I certainly make more than I would working in a fixed office job 8 hours a day, and I can plan my own hours. But you do need hours of uninterrupted concentration to do good work, so having small children would, I imagine, be a problem. Maybe you could get some sort of visiting nanny arrangement, or if they’re big enough they could go to an “an qin ban” or kindergarten or something.

could I theoretically make a decent living just translating on my computer and emailing the final copies to clients???
Sure. That’s what most translators in Taiwan do now. I haven’t actually SEEN any of my translation clients in about 5 years!! The trick is getting enough clients to live on (most have only sporadic needs) and getting high quality clients (i.e., they will pay, pay the full amount, pay on time, not quarrel or think their English is better than yours, etc. Naturally you have to be flexible and make corrections when you do make a mistake, but some clients are so convinced they know better than you that they should probably have done the whole job themselves to begin with!) Also you don’t want to be working for the ridiculously low rates that Taiwan translation agencies routinely offer – I could name names but it wouldn’t be appropriate here, just suffice it to say that the majority of them are boasting about their high quality and native speaking translators, but trying to cut their translation rates to the translator to the bone. (I’m NOT talking about Pristine, although I haven’t worked for them lately I had good experiences with them in the past.)

The basic question is, do you have enough “concentration time” and can you translate fast and accurately enough to make money? The usual rates in Taiwan seem to be somewhere in the neighborhood of NT$1.5 to 3 per word (usually counted on English words of the final product, but some clients will count on original characters, especially if you sell it to them that they will then know the exact cost up front), with most around NT$2 or 2.5 or so. Be aware of deadline problems, any lack of really good dictionaries you might experience (the ones used for beginning Chinese study won’t last long when you are faced with some of the terms you’ll hit in translation work), your Internet access or problems therewith, and don’t ever promise anything you are not SURE you can deliver. Tell them a day longer than you think and then if you deliver early you’re a heroine, right??

Most professionals working from Chinese to English won’t commit to more than 3,000 words per day, some less than that. Any agency that asks that you do more than that is not concerned at all about quality (of the translation or of your life!)

Well, enough bandwidth taken up for one day on one of my favorite topics…besides, I’ve got an article to finish translating!


There are a number of links to free translation software programs, English to Chinese, on this page:

One online resource for this sort of thing is Jisyo:
You can cut and paste a fairly lengthy e-text and have it come back with pop-up anotation (make sure you set it to C}E). It’s worthless for the annotation, but can be worthwhile for the instant pinyin. Of course you could also use the Lin Yutang dictionary ( and just find out what the word means. I usually have both windows open and a regular dictionary nearby.

Here are some good software programs I have found lately. All Free.

Champollion Wordfast Ltd.

Wordfast is a Translation Memory engine available for Microsoft Word on PC and Mac (see our platform compatibility chart). It offers real-time terminology & typography control, compatibility with TMX, Trados, IBM Translation Manager etc.

ForeignDesk - Integrated Translation Environment
5.7.1 Suite
Used to be a Lionbridge program. Still is, but is now open source. Here is a link that gives you more details.

Hope these help. The Wordfast is a macro with Microsoft word. Very impressive.


PS. Anyone know where to find Glossaries/Dictionaries, etc. that are public use?

Wordfast has some long-standing problems operating on Chinese Windows. There’s a very useful and active Wordfast dicussion group that will help sort out problems (find it through but the Chinese OS one seems intractable.

that said, if it does work (and it’s a very small, free download - about 250kb) Wordfast can do most of the important stuff that Trados can while hogging a lot less of your memory.

For Glossaries, try

Some news from, translation courtesy of the following web site. The great fight between Hu Jintao, his new beard and, aparrently, abalone.


Abalone thus meets Hu Jintao. Urge bring down Taiwan Straits is nervous Secretary Of State’s of America abalone thus thirty meet to arrive at CPC Vice-chairperson Hu Jintao who inquire of country, US State Department official said, abalone thus urges and demands beard to adopt effective countermeasure to bring down the nervous posture of Taiwan Straits.

Demanding a beard, eh? This sounds like a job for Dan Jacobson!

Originally posted by Grizzly: One online resource for this sort of thing is Jisyo: [url=][/url]

Readers might be interested that this is the online version of the program “CquickTrans”. It is quite a nice tool for intermediate level Chinese. The PC version has the advantage that you can use it offline.