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Barbara Jungwirth of reliable translations llc writes about language and the business of translation.

Will the Translated Files Be in the Right Format?

Now that you have estimated the time frame and cost of your translation project, and tried to make that process as cost-effective as possible, you may need to deal with the technical side of the project. If you only use MS Word files for your documentation, you can skip this post. However, chances are your technical documents are a little more complicated than that. In which case you may run into compatibility problems when you turn your text over to a translator. Here are some issues to think about and tips for addressing possible problems.

  1. Depends on source format
  2. Ask your translator
  3. Work with your IT or DTP department


1. Depends on source format

Any professional translator should be able to handle standard formats for business documents in the language(s) he or she handles, as well as the file formats that are most common in his or her specialty. Modern CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools can handle a wide variety of formats and will convert the translated (target) file back into the format of the original (source) file. However, if the translator does not have access to the application that produced the source file (for example, InDesign), he or she cannot check that no text was garbled or otherwise distorted in the target file.

Adobe PDF files present a special problem. PDFs were originally designed to allow transfer of formatted text and images among various platforms and to prevent alterations to the original. Newer versions of Adobe Acrobat include some editing functionality and allow conversion of the file to more common formats, such as MS Word. However, these conversions frequently do not work well and may result in garbled, omitted or misaligned text in the source document. It is therefore best to avoid PDFs as source formats if at all possible. Spending a little extra time to hunt down the original document from which the PDF was generated can save many headaches later on.


2. Ask your translator

Different CAT tools can handle different file formats and translators themselves may be familiar with and own, or have access to, other less common software. If your source documents are in an unusual format (perhaps generated in a proprietary format by a help authoring tool), ask your translators whether they can handle this format. If they cannot, you may be able to just export the text to a different format in your application. Solving potential compatibility problems well in advance of deadline-driven translation projects lets you avoid delays due to technical difficulties.


3. Work with your IT or DTP department

If you use proprietary or very uncommon file formats, ask your IT (Information Technology) or DTP (desktop publishing) department for help. Even if no one in these departments is familiar with translation tools or standards in your target market, IT or DTP professionals can probably easily research such technical questions. Put your internal DTP/IT person directly in contact with the translator, so they can discuss the software used by either party and alert you to potential compatibility issues. As always, communication among all parties concerned is the key to avoiding technical difficulties.

A Documentation Manager’s Questions About Translation lists the questions I will answer in this series of posts.

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