I took French in high school, but last summer, when I was researching one of my husband’s line from Alsace, I had access to an avalanche of records – none of which I could read!  Not only because of my incredibly rusty French skills, but also because of the “interesting” handwriting!  However, I found a great tool in Word that helped me tremendously!

I began by typing out the document just as I thought it looked.  I did not take the time to check spelling or format, I just typed what I thought each word looked like.  I left underlines for words that I absolutely could not decipher.

After typing it out, I clicked on the “Review” tab at the top and then on the “Set Language” button in the proofing box.  I have this set to “detect language automatically”, but you can also tell it the specific language to use.

Once Word has detected the language I am writing in, the squiggly lines appear to show which words are misspelled. I can right click on the words that are obviously names and tell the computer to “Add to Dictionary” to eliminate some of the squiggly lines.   When I right click on the remaining words, a list of suggested spellings will appear.  I use those suggestions to compare with the actual documents to see which one looks the most like what I’m seeing.  This often opens my eyes to accent marks or other ways to see letters that I hadn’t considered the first time.

Another tool that helps is the “Translation ScreenTip” tool.  Click on this and select “English”.

Then when I place my cursor over a word, the English translation will appear above the word.  This can be useful when I am deciding which word to go with from the suggested list I saw from my misspelled words.  I can select a word from the list, then place my cursor on it to see the translations.  Often, this immediately tells me that I’ve made the wrong choice.  These dictionary entries often include phrases in the foreign language that can help me with words immediately before or after the word I’m hovering over.

Once I’ve adjusted as many words as I reasonably can, I can tell Word to translate what I’ve typed.  I can translate one sentence at a time, or the entire document.  Sometimes, smaller sections are easier.  To translate my document, I begin by highlighting the section I want to translate.

At the top of the screen is the “Translate” button.  Once that is clicked, a smaller window opens at the right side of the screen.  The translation shows up in the middle of this window.

This translation often shows me words that are definitely wrong so I can try again.  Then, I like to highlight the translation, copy it, and add it to the bottom of my Word document.  Then I have my French version followed by my English version.

The more documents I translate, the more I begin to see patterns in the letters or the wording.  Each document becomes more accurate and I can go back and change earlier documents to reflect what I’ve learned.

Oh, how I love modern technology!  I’m sure that my limited knowledge of French did help me a bit, but I do feel like I could use this with other languages to at least figure out the key words of any document.