Custom Searches for Translators

After seeing a few references to to IntelliWebSearch recently, I decided to have a look at their website and see how it could help me with custom searches. After all, I’m always looking for ways to improve my productivity and streamline my workflows. Needless to say, I was disappointed to learn that IntelliWebSearch isn’t available for Mac users.

While at first I was disappointed that I couldn’t take advantage of the custom search features that IntelliWebSearch offered, I knew that there had to be a Mac-based solution to my problem. A few days later, I came across Alfred. I had heard a lot about Alfred over the past few years, but I never really took the time to explore its functionality. This time, however, was different. I noticed the multi-search functions—and the low, low price tag of $0—and was immediately hooked. I downloaded the file from the Alfred website, unzipped it and moved the application to the Applications folder. I double-clicked on the Alfred icon and started exploring the settings.

Note: Although there is a paid version of Alfred with additional features for power users, all of the features outlined below are available in the free version.

5 Ways Translators Can Use Custom Searches

1. Searching with Google

After setting up the Alfred shortcut to something suitable for me (Control + Space), I got to work. I started by testing out the Google search function:

An example Google search with Alfred for “French medical glossary”

To perform a search with Google using Alfred, all you have to do is type “google” followed by your search terms and then hit Enter. Alfred will open a search for the selected term in a new tab of your default browser (Chrome, in my case).

The results of my example search for "french medical glossary" with Alfred.

The results of my example search for “french medical glossary” with Alfred.

While sometimes a simple Google search is really all I need, I often use sites like Wikipedia or Linguee to look up more information or to get a list of alternative translation candidates, as I described in an earlier post on resources for translators.

2. Opening Wikipedia Articles

Alfred also makes it incredibly easy to open Wikipedia articles with only a few keystrokes. Open the Alfred search box with the default hotkey (Cmd + Space) or whatever you defined in the settings and type “wiki” followed by the name of the article you want.

An example of a Wikipedia lookup for "drug development"

An example of a Wikipedia lookup for “drug development”

And in just a few short seconds, the Wikipedia page on drug development opens!

And voilà, the Wikipedia page on drug development!

3. How to Add Your Own Linguee Searches

I’m also a fan of Linguee, and I use it constantly (with a few caveats). Linguee searches aren’t part of Alfred by default, but the process to add an easy-to-use search feature for any language pair (and direction!) is a relatively straightforward process. I’ll show you how to add your own language pair, but if you happen to translate between French and English or Spanish and English, you can download my custom searches here and install them using the instructions below.

To install my custom searches, just copy my custom search URLs into a new custom web search in Alfred.

To add a new custom web search, open Alfred’s Preferences, go to the Features pane and click on Web Search in the sidebar. At the bottom of the window, you should see a button that says “Add custom search”.

My Custom Linguee Searches

English to Spanish


Spanish to English


4. Making Your Own Custom Linguee Search

To start, go to Linguee and start a search in the language pair (and direction) of your choice. It doesn’t really matter what you look for, but make sure to include more than one word to see how Linguee translates the space.

An example search in Linguee from English to Spanish for "serotonin agonist"

An example search in Linguee from English to Spanish for “serotonin agonist”

Next, copy the URL and paste it into the search URL setting in Alfred.

As you might have noticed, Linguee interprets the space in your search as the + symbol. Many websites, however, use %20, which is what Alfred gives as the default. This means that you’ll have to enter the + symbol in the “Encode spaces as” box.

Here's what your Alfred settings should look like for your custom Linguee search.

Here’s what your Alfred settings should look like for your custom Linguee search.

Next, highlight last part of the URL you copied and pasted, except for the .html file extension, and replace it with {query}. Set a title and a keyword (what you type to launch the search) and click save.

Now test the search function by opening Alfred and start typing your keyword. As you might have noticed, particularly if your keyword is relatively long, that your search will appear below as you start typing the keyword. For this example, I’ve set the keyword to “engspanlinguee”. As soon as I’ve typed the first three letters, my custom search pops up below.

When I start typing my search keyword, my custom search shows up below the search bar.

When I start typing my search keyword, my custom search shows up below the search bar.

You can simply press Enter at this point and start typing your search terms, like below:

An example of a Linguee search with Alfred for "drug development"

An example of a Linguee search with Alfred for “drug development”

Click Enter one last time, and your search will open in Linguee in just a few seconds!

Advanced Tip:

While you were going through the custom search settings, you might have noticed the “Copy URL for Sharing” button.

If you want to share your custom search, you can click this button to have a link copied to your clipboard. The resulting URL will look a lot like this.

5. Creating Your Own Dictionary Searches

I have to admit that I rarely ever use the dictionaries built into Mac OS. If I’m going to use an online, monolingual dictionary, I usually turn to Wiktionary or the Oxford Dictionary Online. Wiktionary in French, for example, is particularly good, largely because many articles are originally extracted from le Dictionnaire de l’Académie française.

While Alfred will allow you search Apple’s built-in dictionaries with the keyword “define”, you may want to add Wiktionary shortcuts instead (or even to other dictionaries!).

If you want to add my custom Wiktionary searches, just follow the same process as for the Linguee searches with my custom Wiktionary searches.

In fact, if you want to add your own, the process is incredibly simple. Copy one of the URLs below and look for the language code that Wiktionary uses (for French, it’s FR). Replace the two letters for the language code in the URL with the language you want, update the title and keyword to whatever you like, and you can search Wiktionary in whatever language you like!

My Custom Dictionary Searches

French Wiktionary


English Wiktionary


English Oxford Dictionary Online



The possibilities for custom searches with Alfred are incredible. Not only can you perform simple searches with Google, like the ones I’ve described above, but also advanced Google searches, using search operators and limiting your searches to specific sites, languages or countries.

Using the Powerpack addon, which costs £17 for a single-user, two-computer licence, you can have a “clipboard history”, use pre-defined text snippets (if you use certain set expressions very frequently) and add “workflows” that allow you to perform multiple searches simultaneously. And for the truly tech-savvy, the Alfred Powerpack will also let you execute shell commands and scripts in a variety of languages (including AppleScript, Bash, PHP, Ruby, Perl and Python).

If you found this post helpful, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear what you have to think, especially if you find my custom searches useful or have suggestions on how to improve them. Do you use another search engine all the time and aren’t sure how to add it to Alfred? Let me know and I’ll see if I can figure it out for you!

Sources and Additional Information

First 5 Minutes with Alfred

How Alfred Changed (Ruined?) My Life

5 Tips on Searching the Web Efficiently with Alfred

2 comments on “Custom Searches for Translators

Leave a Reply