How to Become a Freelance Translator – Part 4: CAT tools, email, and more

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CAT tools, email, and useful tools for translators

Today I’d like to write about an aspect of translation that is key to our profession: technology. In times of yore, translators used typewriters, sat long hours doing research in the library and waited for manuscripts – aka source texts – to hit their mailbox. These days even those veterans must embrace technology in order to stay active in our business. Ready to dive in? Follow me!


I’ve always thought of myself as someone who doesn’t get along with technology. I favour paper books over e-books, and face-to-face conversation over Skype. Yet, my first year as a freelance translator has proved that I am actually not that bad at all. Most translators are pretty computer-savvy, and some are real IT experts, and although it’s true that you don’t have to be an IT guru to become a translator in the 21st century,  you’d be better off with decent knowledge of computers and some key tools.

Part of what I’ve learned this first year –  a valuable lesson indeed – is that every IT problem can be solved, so there’s no reason to panic. Everything is in the bottomless box called the Internet, so whatever you need to solve or ask, you’ll find it there because, as a matter of fact, someone else has probably already asked it. There is a plethora of available tools out there. It’s impossible to tackle them all, but these are some I’ve become friends with on my journey to freelance translation:                                                        


CAT tools

This is an obvious one for translators. I chose mine – SDL Trados Studio – because, supposedly, it’s the preferred software for most agencies. Whichever you choose, take advantage of the free trial version most providers offer, usually 30 days. During my trial period I fed it every possible text I could find to play with it and see how I liked it. Also, I took a one-day course at UCL before I bought it. By the time I spent the big chunk it costs (ouch!), I had learned the ropes. I am still very far from making the best of it, like 50% of users according to a survey conducted by SDL Trados themselves. That’s why I sign up for webinars and workshops every now and then. Their customer service and free training are both pretty good, so that’s a plus. I’ve also heard colleagues swear by memomQ, and what I’ve experienced of Memsource web editor is also good, although I can imagine the desktop editor being more powerful. They all look quite similar, really.

It’s true that such a tool is most effective with source texts where repetitions abound, e.g. technical manuals or patents, but it doesn’t mean more creative content can’t reap the benefits of termbases and translation memories. It’s still helpful in terms of consistency, even if the big matches shown in many tutorials happen way less often in the types of texts I work with.


A website isn’t a must for translators given the variety of social networks that can give you presence online, but it’s true that it makes for a great shop window and you can refer potential clients there. I decided to build my own because I wanted to make sure things look the way I like. Also, this allows me to add and remove content at will. I guess I could have found a web designer to build the site and then learn how to add or modify content, but I have always been more of a Little Red Riding Hood than of a Big Bad Wolf, so I took the long, windy path.

I haven’t kept tabs of the hours I’ve invested in my website, but they have all been worthwhile. WordPress is really not that difficult, for all is based on templates, but there is a steep learning curve, at least in my case. Some people think a webmaster is absolutely necessary if you want your site to look professional. It’s a personal choice. Think of how high your time, energy and patience levels are before you embark on this journey – you’ll need them all. If you don’t feel committed enough, then look at it as an investment that will pay off in X number of translated words and delegate this to a professional.

A website can obviously increase your online presence, although it’s not a panacea. Search engines favour dynamic websites over static ones. Note that a static website is less likely to index high in search engines; this means you’ll be giving your site better chances to be found if you’ve got a blog – and if people can comment, much the better – or update your content often.

Web hosting and domain name

No website can exist without a web host. After doing some research, I opted for SiteGround because their customer service is exceptional. I was rather lost at the beginning, and it was useful to be able to discuss some of my questions  live with them (differences between their plans, parked domains, etc.). This service also includes an email address with your domain name, but I’ll talk about this in the next point.

Image of a mail box with flying envelopes


If you want to be regarded as a professional, you need to behave like one, and that means no free email accounts. Forget Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo. Yes, I do love Gmail, but you need an address with your domain name. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your favourite interface. I added my business account to my Gmail, which means I receive all my emails there (only one window open) but I can choose which account I reply from. I foresaw the confusion: ‘Oops! I sent a business email from my Gmail account.’ This is why I have it set to reply automatically from the same account where an email is received. Also, I have slightly different signatures set for each account, which I’ve learned to watch out for before I click Send.

My latest addition is the Chrome extension Notifier for Gmail. A magical window pops up as soon as my inbox welcomes a new email (you can set it to check for emails as often as you want) so you can be on it! I’ve found out this is faster than my phone’s notifications, which are usually a bit delayed. There are times when one minute can make a huge difference. 


This helps you create an avatar so when you comment on blogs, for example, your name, pic and website show up. I haven’t dug any further, but if you have and want to share it, by all means comment below!


This free tool allows you to create infographics, images for social networks, CVs, brochures and more. I’ve used it for my CV, my CPD record, my rate card, and even for images for my portfolio. It’s based on templates you can tweak, so you start by choosing the one that fits your purpose and then you change the colour, font, insert your own images, add links, etc. You can download your creations in pdf and png, among others. This is an example of a Canva creation:

Two cats wearing glassesBuffer

Like Gravatar, I haven’t dug deep into it, but I use it occasionally to schedule posts for LinkedIn. Like Hootsuite, which I haven’t used, is a platform to manage your social networks. If you foresee busy times coming ahead and don’t want to fall behind with your posts, create them in advance and schedule them using Buffer.  If you get a free account, you can only use it for one social network.

IntelliWebSearch (IWS)

This would make the top five in a productivity tools list. It was created by translator Michael Farrell to help speed up terminological searches. Instead of trying to compress the usefulness of this very affordable tool (€25 for 12 months) in one paragraph, you can read about it in this article I wrote about a workshop I attended.


This free programme is one of my very favourites. Basically, I have developed a secret code that only my PC and I understand to fly to folders, apps, and websites via shortcuts. This saves me from typing long recurring strings like my email address, my full name or sentences like ‘I look forward to hearing from you.’ If I made you curious, you can do your own research. There is no shortage of information online.

Pixabay, Pexels, Unsplash

Visual cues, whether photos or videos, are king in social media and it’s clear that written content isn’t enough anymore to draw attention. However, sharing pictures can get you in trouble if you don’t have the right to do so. You can refine your Google search and find images with a specific copyright, but that can be time-consuming. This is where sites like Pixabay, Pexels, or Unsplash can help you: the images and videos you find here can be copied, modified and shared without crediting the author, even for commercial purposes, provided you use them responsibly.

And this is where I stop, although it’s not really the end of the tools translators can benefit from. I’d love to hear about the ones you use: do you have a favourite? Put on your sharing hat and let us know in the comments below!

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6 thoughts on “How to Become a Freelance Translator – Part 4: CAT tools, email, and more

  1. Hi Carolina! Thanks for such a comprehensive list of tools. I use most of them but there are definitely a couple to check out. A very simple one I could add for Mac users is Magnet which quickly and easily resizes your windows for you – a dream for comparing two, three or even four documents on the same screen.

  2. Thank you, Carolina, for the 6 posts, very interesting. Is there easy way to navigate in order to find all 6 posts as a list, so I could pick any one?

  3. Thank you for the information. Whould be interesting to know what equipment to use, laptop, PC, key board, printer…. what else?

  4. Hi Jenya,

    I’m glad you find the posts useful.

    You can navigate between them by clicking the links to the previous and next posts that appear after the tags. You have to scroll all the wat down.

    Hope it helps,

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