I find the prominence given to tags by some tools amazing. In the example that I am showing, there are 4 words to be translated in the entire window. Almost all of the rest is irrelevant chaff for a translator, which only serves to distract from the real content, displacing what might be useful context above and below the bit that you are currently translating. This is obviously a tool designed by software engineers who were not provided with a sensible specification of what the planned product should do.

In the 1980s I was working in a research centre in London, where they had an incredibly expensive Canadian word processing system, where the secretaries needed 6 weeks of training to produce correctly formatted letters. Then we bought some Macs with WYSIWYG editors and overnight anyone could do it. 25 years later on we get tags.

Big screen

On the big screen today ... On the left, your favourite translation tool and on the right, the unadulterated original document that you are supposed to translate with all of its formatting, pictures and other useful context. This is the only solution that I know of to the irritating characteristic of most translation tools, that they seemingly deliberately strip off every possible bit of context that they can find. One agency that I worked for instructed you to print out every single page to resolve the problem. My screen is 1920 pixels wide and I don’t print anything. Wayhay! (See synchronise PDF)

Terminology database temptation

Sometimes, it is hard to resist the Terminology database, as in this example:
Die Referenzpunktfahrt wird nach dem Start der Maschine ausgeführt.

Failure to resist the temptation may result in something splendid like this
  • The reference point travel will be executed after the start of the machine.
Don’t you think that this version is better?
  • When the machine starts, it will move to the reference point
Well I do. I suppose the real problem is that the entry in the database ought to read “move to the reference point” but, stripped of all context, it’s a brave translator who enters that as a translation for Referenzpunktfahrt.


Serving the world's largest community of translators, ProZ.com delivers a comprehensive network of essential services, resources and experiences that enhance the lives of its members.

For years I thought that this was pronounced Protz, which Leo entertainingly translates as "swank" or "show-off". It was only recently that an American friend pointed out that it should be pronounced "prose". Giggle.

Google research 1

Google is very clever about working out where you are and offering search results to match. This can produce misleading impressions and is sometimes hard to control. This is why I have forced Kim's little helper II to use the UK Google when looking for English words and the German Google when looking for German words.

Favourite online German English dictionaries

There are quite a few online German English dictionaries. None of them has all of the answers. I quite like webtranslate, for European Community stuff IATE is OK and both dict.cc and Leo have a lot of entries. Just search for „englisch deutsch Wörterbuch“ and you will find a long list of online dictionaries, or dictionary applications, some free, some not. In daily work, I use Kim's little helper II which uses all four of the above at the same time.

See the weaknesses of online dictionaries.

Weakness of online dictionaries

These days, many online dictionaries are built up by user contributions. You have to recognise that a lot of German-speakers speak English and comparitively few English-speakers speak German, and that if they do, they do not make so many contributions.

This means that online German-English dictionaries are often "polluted" by well-meaning but over-enthusiastic non-native speakers. I take a large pinch of salt with the English translations.