Translators! Let Stephen Hawking help boost your proofreading productivity

Stephen HawkingTranslation can be a wonderfully creative and intellectually stimulating process – but it has its dreary moments too. Pity the poor reviser or proofreader who regularly gets the task of admiring some other translator’s skill after all the inventive fun is over…

Such has been my lot. I’m not complaining – but I’ve always found that the process of flicking my eyes between the original and the translation, checking the meaning sentence by sentence, segment by segment, is very tiring. Especially if the topic is not particularly engaging.

In my younger days, I remember sitting up all night with my business partner and fellow translator revising urgent jobs in an attempt to please our clients and build our business. We would often work as a team – one of us would read the original aloud and the other would follow the translation with his eyes glued to the text. We found the process was always faster than working alone (except, of course, on those occasions when I would look up from the page to find that my colleague had fallen asleep…)

A few years ago I experimented with using Stephen Hawking-style “text-to-speech” software to read the original aloud while I followed the translation. I found it extremely helpful. With the passage of time, somehow I forgot about it and it all got lost.

Today, in the middle of revising a long (and rather dreary) list of Russian software strings, I decided it was time to reinstate the process. So this is what I did:

  • It was all very straightforward: Searching, downloading and installation took not much more than 5 minutes before I had it all up and running.
  • I went to my current job and selected the text of the original in SDLX and copied it (Ctrl + c)…

  • … and then pasted it directly into the text-to-speech reader I had just downloaded.

  • I clicked the play button and a tolerably good synthesized female voice (“Anna”) began to read… I was already back to work!

My desktop looked like this:

I was really happy with the result. It took not much more than 5 minutes to set it all up – from searching Google to getting back to work!

I’m not sure that everyone will like processing one language aurally while reading in another. But it certainly works for me! Given that hearing and reading are processed in different parts of the brain, perhaps it is no accident that this type of parallel language processing is quite efficient. I find that I can better concentrate on the translated text without having to shift my eyes constantly back and forth between the two language versions, (losing my place and finding it again etc). Occasionally, if a sentence is very complex or difficult, I need to hit the stop button and read the text more carefully. (Perhaps if the translation is poor or very difficult, the process of constantly stopping and starting the reader could be a bit annoying.)

The synthesized voice imposes a certain rhythm to the task – I liked that. (You can adjust the reader’s delivery speed – faster or slower.)

The version of NaturalSoft’s NaturalReader I downloaded is completely free. However, you can upgrade for US$ 49.50 and get more voices, a toolbar for use within MS Word and various other benefits. A Mac version also available. I found the free version quite good enough for me.

I haven’t tried them, but text-to-speech readers for languages other than English are also available (check in Google). Microsoft’s synthesized voice (“Anna” in Windows Vista) is perfectly acceptable for the task – far more advanced and natural than poor old Stephen Hawking’s!

I timed myself using a short text (200 words). It took me 2 mins 7 secs to read the English original and to compare each sentence with the Russian translation. Using the text-to-speech reader for the same task, it took me 1 minute 19 secs.

For me, it makes the task less dreary and a lot more efficient… and the reader never falls asleep!

Thanks to Jana MifsudNovomeska (@janatranslation) for reminding me how text-to-speech can help get through those dreary moments more quickly!

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