I'm always reading English, but I'm a Spanish native speaker (I'm working on my thesis). Sometimes I need to translate a word into Spanish, and what I do now is to open a new tab and go to Google Translate and then put the word into the input field. Just a quick translation, one word or a small phrase.

I'm a Mac and Firefox user. Is there a better way to achieve this? I was thinking that maybe a dashboard widget would do the trick and I was looking for one. The other option is to install the Google Toolbar, but I really hate toolbars. I don't know, a good Firefox extension maybe?


You could look for additional dictionaries for use in Dictionary.app (included with OS X). Just like my Wikipedia dictionary (don't know if it came with the vanilla OS X installation) loads data from the web, so could your translation service. It seems to be not possible to enhance the Cmd-Ctrl-D "quick dictionary" with such a custom dictionary, though.

You can enable debugging/developer mode for Dashboard which allows you to drag widgets out of the "Dashboard view" onto the normal desktop, so you always have the widget visible.

You can look into creating a custom Text service for the Services menu (select a word in the browser and look under Application -> Services -> Text. In System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Keyboard Shortcuts -> Services you can even set keyboard shortcuts for such commands.

The custom service can be easily created using Automator.app, I just tried:

  • Create a new Automator document based on the "Service" workflow
  • Add a single action: Run Shell Script with the input passed as arguments, and the command open http://dict.cc/?s=$1 (or whatever website you use for translating)
  • Save as Translate to German (in my case it's German)
  • (Optionally) Assign a keyboard shortcut in System Preferences
  • Use it
  • I want to use translate.google.com/#en|es|$1 with Automator.app but I don't know how to encode the # character. You also need to set Pass input: as arguments to Automator. So I did: open "translate.google.com/#en|es|$1" but it didn't work. I also tried escaping the pipes | and the #, and used %23 instead, but didn't work either. – licorna Aug 18 '10 at 0:02
  • I didn't use any of the solutions you presented to me, but thanks, your ideas made me wanted to do it right. What I did was to create a widget in dashcode that does exactly what I wanted: send a request to google and display the result. It behaves like translate.google.com but inside the dashboard. – licorna Aug 18 '10 at 5:04

There is a translate dashboard widget that comes with Mac OS X, since version 10.4 I believe. It includes spanish translations.

  • I tried the dashboard widget but translation quality is not really good – licorna Aug 18 '10 at 18:11

Babelfish has a Firefox add-on.


One word: Bookmarklets

Why? Firefox addons eat your RAM.

Description: Create a new bookmark in your bookmarks-toolbar in Firefox with the code in this post or visit the following link and drag 'n drop the "Spanish" into your bookmarks-toolbar. When you want to translate something, highlight it with the mouse as if you wantet to copy it but just click in the bookmarklet. A new Tab is opened with the tranlated word.

Google Translate bookmarklet for Spanisch from http://translate.google.com/translate_buttons:


I've assigned a shortcut to this script:

    set old to the clipboard as record
end try
    tell application "System Events" to keystroke "c" using command down
    do shell script "open \"http://translate.google.com/#auto/auto/$(LC_CTYPE=UTF-8 pbpaste | ruby -KUe 'require \"cgi\"; print CGI.escape(STDIN.read.strip)')\""
end try
    set the clipboard to old
end try

I also have search shortcuts for pairs of languages like http://translate.google.com/#en/ja/.

  • I created a Service in Automator.app with the script above (use Library » Utilities » Run Applescript). Afterwards I assigned it a shortcut in System Preferences » Keyboard » Shortcuts » Services. Worked great! – neu242 Oct 25 '16 at 14:08

This is an ancient post. At the time it was written, there weren't a lot of good choices. The need still exists, and for people with the same problem landing here, there are now good solutions available as Firefox extensions. Entering "translate" into the extensions search window returns almost 600 choices for translation in some form as of this time.

The specific requirement here is the ability to quickly translate a selected word or phrase without the need to open another tab or app, and copy and paste to get the translation. There are now many extensions that provide this ability. Most seem to be front-ends for Google Translate, since that generally does a good job with the translation, and auto-detects a huge number of languages.

The general way these work falls into several categories:

  • Activation method: some use a right-click context menu entry to trigger translation, and some use a toolbar icon. The toolbar icon is a single mouse click, where the context menu requires several clicks. However, the context menu flows directly from the selection while the toolbar icon requires going somewhere away from the selection. What's best is a matter of personal preference.
  • Results location: some open a new tab and take you there for the result, and some pop up a result window on the same page. Either style requires a mouse click to close it (which, in the first case, also returns you to the original page). Again, a matter of personal preference.

Many of the choices are widely used and highly rated by users, so you aren't likely to go too far wrong with any extension you choose if you check the user ratings. It's also a trivial task to load an extension and remove it if you don't like it. So try a number of different offerings and pick the one you like best.

Extensions come and go, so there's no way to know what will be around at the time you read this. A few of the current offerings (not an endorsement, just illustration to get you started):

Context menu to new tab:

Context menu to on-page popup:

  • Selection Translate - For AltKey by dfromytb. Not a context menu entry, but you hold down the Alt key while making the selection and a popup window presents the results. On my system, holding the Alt key while making a selection drags the Firefox window around the screen, so using or testing this would require changing key assignments. Test for yourself.

Toolbar Icon to new tab:

  • Google Translate (In Page Translate). Icon only. Claims to translate without leaving the page (on-page popup), but my test opened the selection on a new tab and took me there, so YMMV.
  • See Translate Now by Geoffrey De Belie, above.

Toolbar icon to on-page pop-up:


You can always open Safari once, then select File ⇨ Open in Dashboard… to select http://translate.google.com, and then “cut” out the page snippet that does the translation. You’ll have an instant widget without any coding whatsoever.

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