Five indispensable online conversion tools for translators




  • Greater than 8 minutes, my friend!

    As translators we all need more than our CAT tools every now and then. Although CAT tools can do a lot of tasks for us, they often cannot convert files, values and units properly. They also are not able to make advanced measurements, like converting square feet to square metres. Tools like conversion software and calculators are then quite useful. There was a time when we needed software or advanced mathematical calculators for that but in this time of cloud computing there are many more options. In this article I share five indispensable online conversion tools that can prove very valuable to translators.

    Online file converters

    In order to translate a file quickly and without much hassle it is important to have it in the right file format. Fortunately most customers simply work with MS Office documents like.DOC(X) and.XLS(X). In that case no file conversion whatsoever is needed. It will become somewhat more difficult however if customers send over a PDF file for translation. Although many CAT tools have their own built-in conversion tool for PDF to DOC conversion, that still leaves you with problems. It is known for instance that Trados Studio can convert PDF tools pretty well (as long as they are built up by text lines: image conversion is not possible), but saving a converted PDF file in Trados Studio leaves you with problems that cannot be solved easily.

    File conversion will become even more problematic when you receive files that CAT tools cannot altogether handle. Fortunately CAT tools nowadays support the most common file formats, while you can also add your own extensions and filters. However, if you need to convert a file here are few websites that can help you out. If they are not offered in your country or if their results do not satisfy you, simply use Google to search for ‘File conversion online’. There are some 20 million results to help you out.

    • ZamZar, zamzar.com, is one of the oldest file conversion websites. In four simple steps you can convert your files or URL to more than 1200 file formats. One drawback is that you need to enter an email address to receive a download link to the converted file.
    • Convertio, convertio.co, is an online file converter with a nice user interface. You can drag and drop your files to the screen or upload from Dropbox, Google Drive or an URL. The website also offers advanced tools like OCR, and merging, splitting and compressing PDF files.
    • Online Convert, online-convert.com, is ranking high in Google currently. You can convert files online into the most important file formats. The user experience is not the best on the web, but the website does the trick.

    PDF in Trados Studio

    If you receive a PDF file from a customer, you can simply open it in Trados Studio and MemoQ. The tools will then convert it to an MS Word file. In many cases, saving the translated Word document in Trados results in an error owing to a coding problem in the converted file.

    You can simply overcome this problem by opening the converted DOC file (in the source folder), copying the contents and pasting it in a new Word document. Save the Word document and open it in Trados Studio: that will do the trick. You can now safely work on the translation without fear of saving problems.

    Trados Studio and INDD

    An online file converter of a special order is Kilgray’s Language Terminal. This website was initially built to convert INDD files online to the MemoQ XLIFF format (mqxlz). Customers working with InDesign can send an IDML file for translation by simply saving their INDD file to IDML. If you do not prefer to do it this way, you can sign up free for Language Terminal and convert the INDD file to a bilingual file. However, you need MemoQ to translate that MQXLZ file. But wait, I found a solution to translate INDD files in Trados Studio!

    Online OCR tools

    Receiving PDF files is one thing, but if they are made up of scanned documents you are facing a whole new problem. That applies to receiving images of diplomas, certificates and hand-written medical receipts as well. If you really want (or need) to use a CAT tool then a somewhat different approach is needed: you need to convert the characters to translatable text. That can be done by Optical Character Recognition (OCR), a process for converting uneditable text to editable text.
    Of course you can buy software for that, although it must be noted that many scanners offer software for free as well. In the era of cloud technology there are plenty of tools to use online. Here are a few you can try.

    • Convertio, which was mentioned already, offers online character recognition online at convertio.co/ocr/. There’s one limitation: you can actually only convert ten pages. For longer documents you need to register as member. You can then buy credits to pay for extra page conversions. In contrast to other services however you can also select from multiple output file formats.
    • OnlineOCR, www.onlineocr.net, offers online OCR for free as well. After uploading, the text is converted and displayed in the text field on the home page. You can also download the results as an MS Office file.
    • NewOCR, http://www.newocr.com/, works similarly. The service however offers no additional features compared to its competitors.

    Results of free online OCR tools

    In order to test the online OCR features I uploaded an old English sermon by a minister that lived hundreds of years ago. The PDF document contained scanned text, which was converted on the fly by the three websites above. The results differ greatly, and the original layout is also lost. On the other hand, it should be noted that you can obtain different results with different documents. And with some editing you can nevertheless speed up your translation process. Convertio brought in the best results, and even maintained the original layout of the file. Its OCR was even better than the results I often have had with Readiris Pro 12.

    Please find an overview of the conversion results below. The original page is shown left.

    Online OCR comparison: Convertio

    Online OCR comparison: Convertio

    Online OCR comparison: New OCR

    Online OCR comparison: New OCR

    Online OCR comparison: Online OCR

    Online OCR comparison: Online OCR

    Online OCR comparison: Original PDF document

    Online OCR comparison: Original PDF document

    A hidden gem in Trados Studio is the built-in character conversion feature. Emma Goldsmith has written an extensive explanation of using OCR in Trados Studio here.

    Time conversion

    Time conversion is often of utmost importance to translators. If you have to deal with deadlines in other time zones you cannot live without a time zone converter. Of course you can buy a great clock on the wall, but with all those internet websites looking up time zones is quite easy.

    • World Time Buddy, www.worldtimebuddy.com, is my personal favourite. The website enables you to select your own time zone and different time zones. Next you will see a simple interface with synchronous time display. Simply look-up your actual time or the time of the proposed translation deadline and on the next line you will see the corresponding time in the other time zone.
    • The Time Zone Converter, www.thetimezoneconverter.com, is even more sleek and offers a clean overview in which you can compare the time in two different cities. It does not store the cities so you need to look them up each time you open the website, but it is still very useful.
    • Lovers of graphical overviews and statistical details can check Every Time Zone, www.everytimezone.com, for a detailed overview of times in different cities around the world.

    Currency conversion online

    If you, like me, are involved in marketing, business and financial translations you often need to convert currencies. Unfortunately, none of the popular CAT tools offers an integrated currency conversion option at the moment. Fortunately, there are some websites that do.

    • XE.com is one of the most popular currency conversion websites. It offers real-time currency rates and can convert all currencies you can imagine.
    • Convert My Money, www.convertmymoney.com, does just the same but with an easier to read and cleaner interface.
    • However, did you now that Google can help you as well? Simply search ‘X A to Y B’ and it will yield the right results (where X is amount 1, A is currency 1, Y is amount 2 and B is currency 2). Put simply, if you need to convert 10 euro to dollars, search for ‘Convert 10 euro to dollar’ and you will see instant results. It is important to know that you need to use the right commands. A typo in your search query will yield the conventional search results instead of the instant answer you want to know.

    Convert physical units

    For the conversion of physical units the same applies as for currency conversions: neither Trados nor MemoQ offers a solution. The conversion of physical units however is even more prone to errors than currency conversions. If you need to localize a manual and want to know how much 12,000 sq. ft. is in square metres, you need to have advanced knowledge or a good calculator. And if you make a miscalculation while converting psi to bar, you can leave consumers with burst tires or over-pressurized hoses. It is thus good to have some tools at hand.

    • Once again Google can be your friend. Use ‘12,000 square feet to square metres’ and you will directly see the results. This works for other units as well, like psi to bar or inches to centimetres, and vice versa. Make sure that your query is correct to yield results in a wink.
    • Metric Conversions, www.metric-conversions.org, offers a multitude of conversion tools for many different units. You can convert currencies, temperatures, weight, length, area, volume, speed and much more in the context of a comprehensive overview with many different options.

    Fine print

    So no matter what you are trying to convert, the internet will offer a multitude of options. They are often free, easy to use and save time compared to traditional tools.
    There are some drawbacks however. First of all you need to use common sense to use these tools. Of course they are doing a good job but they are not flawless. So do not trust them blindly but consider checking them in an other tool to see whether it gives the same results. If not, look further and make sure that you do not add unintentional conversion errors to your translations.

    Also take into consideration that websites can go offline. Sometimes it also takes considerable time to see the results. While Google is often quite fast in producing the desired answer, other websites can take time to come up with their conversions. Be patient, but also realize that using the internet does not necessarily save time.

    The most important consideration however is the safety and privacy of your information while uploading files. Of course you can upload files for conversion online, but in many cases you don’t know who is behind the website, where your files are stored and for how long they are kept. Consider what happens when you upload a financial report of a publicly owned company or a press release for a new smartphone and it gets leaked early: the effects cannot be overseen easily.
    So make sure you use your brains. If not for converting units (it is indeed easier to use the internet’s brains) use them when converting your client’s information. Never put your business at risk to win five minutes of time.

    Pieter Beens

    About Pieter Beens

    Freelance translator English-Dutch. Works for high-profile clients worldwide. Professional. Punctual. Passionate.

    8 thoughts on “Five indispensable online conversion tools for translators

    1. Very practical and useful. Thank you. Another thing I read about but have not tried recently is this: if you have a file to be translated that is in the Trados format but you don’t have Trados,
      I think you can upload it to MateCat and convert it to a doc and later reverse the process to put it back in Trados format. Of course, as you wisely reminded us — you can’t do those tricks with a sensitive docent that must be kept private. If the service is free then remember, you are the product. Your information is the price of the free utility.

    2. Thank you for this, Pieter. It is not always easy to distinguish valuable and useful resources in the sea of tools offered by the Internet. If I may suggest: a temporary e-mail service can be used when an e-mail address is required to obtain the converted file. There are plenty around, just googling “temporary email address” is enough

      1. Thank you for your comment Eleonora!
        I am using 10minutemail.com for that, but when services use IP registration or certain cookie technologies they won’t work anymore :)

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