2 min read

A shortcut for working across languages

My team builds products for Latin America. We come from 20 countries. Most of us work in Brazil, Mexico and Spain. Others like me work remotely across 8 time zones. English is our lingua franca - it bridges how we speak and write to each other. Spanish or Portuguese is what our local customers, partners and governments speak - some chatter and content naturally come in these languages. I do not speak Spanish or Portuguese, but that hasn’t been a blocker for my work. I mainly need to consume content in multiple languages, and modern machine translation technology helps me with its near-perfect results.

Some of you asked me how I work across languages. For everything on the web - news, government publications, or websites of our industry peers - Chrome and Safari translate everything automatically with their built-in translation feature. They work so well, it’s as if I’m reading native English content.

But what about content beyond the web like Slack messages and PDFs? At first, I started with copying and pasting text into Google Translate. While serviceable, juggling between apps and hunting for the elusive Google Translate tab breaks up my mental flow. Then I remembered Shortcuts, an app that’s built into Apple devices and lets me automate workflows on them. Building a shortcut to translate text to English takes just 5 minutes:

Customizing the translation shortcut ([download it here](https://www.icloud.com/shortcuts/ab79ad92a7c146a59459be6adb010924))

Customizing the translation shortcut (download it here)

Using the shortcut is easy: highlight text in any app then press a keyboard shortcut (I set mine to Ctrl + T) to get an instant translation. The shortcut even smartly detects the source language! Plus, you can customize the output to any language. My Chinese is OK. I sometimes struggle with domain-specific words like “microservices architecture”, so I built another shortcut for translating text to Chinese.

Using the translate shortcut on Spanish text

Using the translate shortcut on Spanish text

Another perk of using Shortcuts is that it will never break because another cloud service like Google Translate is down. I configured the shortcut to use dictionaries built into the operation system. Both Macs and iPhones let me download dictionaries for offline translation. This is perfect for working in the cloud without the cloud - when I fly across the globe to visit my team.

Downloading offline translation languages in macOS

Downloading offline translation languages in macOS

A translation shortcut may saves me just a few seconds each time I read content in a different language. These precious seconds add up into hours of time saved every month. Give this translation shortcut a try, I think you’ll find it useful too.

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