Become a tablet translator: guest post by Alexander Drechsel

This is a guest post by Alexander Drechsel. Alexander is a staff interpreter at the European Commission, who works from English, French, and Romanian into his native German. He shares other people’s opinions in the interpreting booth, and his own thoughts and insights on languages and technology on his website or as @adrechsel on Twitter. You can also tune in to LangFM, his storytelling podcast about language and what people do with it, and Troublesome Terps, a conversational podcast about topics that keep interpreters up at night, with Jonathan Downie and Alexander Gansmeier.

Tablet with interpreter microphone

Sometimes, when people talk to me at a conference or meet-up, they’ll just address me as the “tablet guy” or the “tablet interpreter.” This is probably because I have been working with tablets ever since Apple launched its first iPad in 2010. At last count, I have owned five versions of the iPad and three Android tablets. All of those I have used before, during, and after interpreting assignments for all kinds of tasks. And for several years, I have helped fellow interpreters get the most out of their tablet during workshops and presentations.
In the back of my mind, however, there has always been the question: What about tablets and translation? Can these devices be useful for translators? In this article, I will explore the question in more detail.

The CAT-shaped elephant in the room

The easy way to dismiss tablets as work devices for translators is to check whether CAT tools run on them. But in 2017, the answer is not a simple “no,” but rather: it depends. First of all, why aren’t CAT tools widely available on mobile devices? Well, between translation memory, machine translation, terminology, project management and other features, a CAT tool can be a real application heavyweight. But mobile apps tend to be more focused: doing a few things, or just one thing well instead of providing lots of functionality. Let’s take a look at the current situation of CAT tools with regard to tablets:

SDL Trados Studio is not currently available on tablets. You could certainly install it on a Microsoft Surface Pro 4, but that is more of a tablet-laptop hybrid. So for now, your only option to use it on a “real” tablet, would be remote access (see below).
OmegaT is a CAT tool that requires the Java runtime environment to work but Java is not (really) available on iOS or Android tablets. (Again, the Microsoft Surface would be an alternative).
MemoQ: While Kilgray do offer MemoQWeb, you need a memoQ server installation along with web licences to be able to use it. If you do, you get the translation interface, a collaborative terminology management system and some project management and administration features.
Wordfast also provides a web-based solution, called Wordfast Anywhere, and it does not even require a Wordfast licence. Free of charge (for now), it gives you a personal workspace on the company’s server for your translation memories, glossaries and other files. WFA also offers collaboration and sharing features.
Memsource appears to be the leading CAT tool right now when it comes to mobile availability. For starters, it is designed as a cloud-based solution. A desktop editing software is available, but most of the heavy lifting happens online. The recently published apps for iOS and Android are mainly intended for project managers.

Now, while some CAT tools can indeed be used on tablets, the biggest problem is likely to be the limited screen real estate available. My advice would be to use an external keyboard. On Android and Windows devices, you can even connect a mouse.

Getting down to business. And productivity.

With the CAT-sized elephant out of the way, let’s look at some more work-related use-cases. As a matter of fact, most productivity tasks can now easily be carried out with tablets. With office suites from Microsoft, Google and Apple readily available, you can:

– Write and edit text documents. Most applications also support track changes or will even let you draw and doodle on a text.
– Draw up and edit spreadsheets. Yes, they can even contain formulas or conditional formatting, if need be.
– Create and edit presentations. Oh, and did you know you can also give the presentation straight from your device? Wirelessly?

Another obvious use case is managing email. And no need to only do triage – with a little bit of practice on the on-screen keyboard (or, well, an external keyboard), you’ll be writing on the go like a pro in no time. And with tricks like email snoozing, mobile email clients like Airmail or Spark easily out-smart their desktop counterparts.

And yes, in some regards, our mobile companions are real geniuses: Think of the camera in your tablet or smartphone. You cannot only use it for snapshots, but also to turn your device into a smart portable scanner. Apps like Scanbot leverage the device camera to help you scan one or several pages quickly and cleanly, and even offer optical character recognition. And with FreshBooks, you can not only manage clients, projects and invoices, but also “scan” paper receipts that you may need for billing a client.

More than a remote possibility: accessing your home computer

Whether you’re travelling around the globe or are just one floor away from your desk: sometimes it can be handy to be able to access the home computer remotely. Maybe it’s that big old CAT tool that does not run on mobile devices or a file you have placed on the desktop, but not in your favorite cloud storage – once you’ve set up remote access, these moments will not scare you anymore (unless you’ve turned your computer off). And it’s actually quite easy to get started. There are two components to the setup, a “helper app” on your PC and the client app on your tablet or smartphone. The easiest system I know of is Google Remote Desktop, especially if you’re already using the Chrome desktop browser:

1. Install the Chrome Remote Desktop extension on your Mac or PC.
2. Open the newly installed Remote Desktop app and follow the setup instructions.
3. Download the client app for your iOS or Android device and sign in with your Google credentials.
4. Choose your PC or Mac from the list of available devices and log in with the PIN you entered during setup.

Double take: second screen

Image source: Duet Display

Image source: Duet Display

This may sound a little silly at first, but bear with me. With “second screen,” I’m not referring to hanging out on your favorite social network and commenting on a TV show or the game that everybody’s watching right now. Instead, it’s the use of apps to extend your main computer screen to your tablet. It works similarly to remote access: you install the helper app on your computer and the mobile app on your tablet, make sure that both devices are directly connected or on the same network and you’re good to go. If you’re curious, iDisplay is a good place to start, since it’s available for all major platforms. The luxury option for iPad users with a Mac or PC is Duet Display. But even without such an app, you can just use the tablet as a secondary device next to your main computer, say, for research, to control the music that “gets you into the zone” for that dreaded patent translation or as reference when you are localizing an app.


Steve Jobs, the late Apple co-founder, once used a great analogyto describe computers and tablets:

“When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks, because that’s what you needed on the farm. But as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, cars got more popular. Innovations like automatic transmission and power steering and things that you didn’t care about in a truck as much started to become paramount in cars. … PCs are going to be like trucks. They’re still going to be around, they’re still going to have a lot of value, but they’re going to be used by one out of X people.”

So when PCs are trucks and tablets are cars, maybe Microsoft’s Surface devices are SUVs? Whatever you compare them to, tablets have become mature devices that can be useful for translators, too. Why don’t you give it a try? And if you just want to grab your tablet to “Netflix and chill” – go ahead, we won’t judge you!

23 Responses to “Become a tablet translator: guest post by Alexander Drechsel”
  1. Alison Penfold May 9, 2017
    • Corinne McKay May 9, 2017
    • Alexander May 11, 2017
  2. Juliana May 10, 2017
    • Corinne McKay May 10, 2017
    • Alexander May 11, 2017
  3. Jason Willis-Lee MITI May 10, 2017
    • Corinne McKay May 10, 2017
    • Alexander May 11, 2017
  4. Corinne McKay May 11, 2017
    • Alexander May 11, 2017
  5. EP May 13, 2017
  6. TobiW May 18, 2017
    • Corinne McKay May 18, 2017
  7. Kevin Lossner May 24, 2017
    • Corinne McKay May 24, 2017
  8. Paul Filkin May 27, 2017
  9. Josh Goldsmith June 2, 2017
  10. Alex Marsh June 7, 2017
  11. Ekaterina August 28, 2017
  12. TobiW August 31, 2017

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