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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.

What Can I Do to Reduce That Cost?

After I spent two posts (“How Much Will It Cost?” Part I and Part II) explaining how translation services are priced, you will probably wonder how you can lower that cost. Here are my tips on steps you can take to reduce translation expenses.

  1. Handle formatting in-house
  2. Internationalize source text
  3. Re-use text
  4. Handle project management in-house
  5. Tighten source text


1. Handle formatting in-house

Formatting text to match particular specifications takes time, as I explained in a previous post. Translated text usually takes up more space than the original (source) text. (On average 20% more for European languages.) Fitting translated text into templates with tight spacing requirements is therefore difficult and time-consuming. Any other desktop publishing work, such as aligning the images with the translated text, or modifying graphs to include translated legends, also take additional time, which must be compensated. Handling these alignment tasks and other formatting work yourself will therefore lower your translation bill.

A note of caution, though: Unless you, or a staff member, can read the target language (the language into which your text is translated) well, you should have the translator or a proofreader fluent in that language check the final formatted product. This step ensures that the text flows properly from one column or page to the next, captions are paired correctly with images, etc.


2. Internationalize source text

If your text is – or may in the future – be translated into more than one language, it pays to edit the source document for an international audience. This means removing cultural references, expressing dates and measurements in an international format, replacing country-specific information, etc. Such editing tends to shorten the text and often also clarifies ambiguities. A shorter text costs less to translate (see below), and unambiguous text saves you time, which you would otherwise have to spend to answer translators’ questions – likely the same question from several translators, each of whom works into a different language.


3. Re-use text

Assuming that you have more than one document relating to your product or service, or your business as a whole, chances are some part of your content will be repeated in multiple texts. If that content is re-written each time it occurs, it will likely be expressed slightly differently and will therefore need to be translated again. However, if the content is expressed in the exact same way in each of these documents, a previous translation of that paragraph or page can be used. This shortens the text that does need to be translated, and thus saves you money. Such content re-use also ensures a consistent writing style, which benefits your branding.

One way to facilitate the re-use of text is to implement a content management system – software that stores your text in a database so documents can be (partially) assembled from previously written chunks of text. If you are considering purchasing such a program, check that it integrates with the translation-support software (CAT tool or TeNT environment) your translator(s) use(s).


4. Handle project management in-house

When your product or service is sold in multiple markets you may need the accompanying text to be translated into several languages. Someone must assemble a team of translators for all the languages you need, distribute your source text to them, track that translations are returned by the specified deadlines, then send these translations to another team of editors, track editing deadlines, etc. Even if you only require translation into one language, three separate language professionals are likely involved: a translator to provide the initial target text, an editor to fix awkward phrasing, ensure internal consistency, etc., and a proofreader to check for typographical and grammatical errors, text continuity of the final productm etc,. You can save money if you coordinate these teams yourself instead of paying a translation agency or translator to do so.


5. Tighten source text

As I explained in a previous post, translations are usually priced per word or standard line of text (55 characters). The longer the text, the more it costs to have it translated. You may save money in the long run if you have the text edited to express ideas more succinctly. Sometimes a picture can illustrate a concept better than a paragraph of text could. Bullet points may capture some information better than long descriptive sentences. Tightening a technical text in this way may also make it more readable. Of course, don’t go overboard: a list of acronyms that replaces two paragraphs of explanatory text in a manual may save translation costs, but it will also make the text extremely difficult to understand.

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

How Much Time Will It Take?

“How much will it cost?” and “How long will it take?” are the two most common questions anyone who buys a service has. I explained the variables that influence the first question in my previous two posts (“How Much Will It Cost? – Part I and Part II). Here I will explain the issues to consider when you determine how much time to allot for the translation portion of your project plan. The time required for a translation depends on:

  1. How much money you are willing to spend
  2. How many different translators work on your text simultaneously
  3. Whether you have a comprehensive glossary
  4. How difficult the text is to translate
  5. Whether you want the translator to also handle text formatting


1. How much money you are willing to spend

Freelance translators often work on several projects with varying deadlines at the same time. If you need your translation very quickly, the translator has to either get the deadline on another project extended or work very late into the night to accommodate your project. Many translators therefore charge higher fees or assess a surcharge for projects with very short deadlines – typically for a turnaround time of 24 hours or less. This is not so different from paying a higher rate for overtime when an employee works longer hours.


2. How many different translators work on your text simultaneously

One way to have a large amount of text translated in a short period of time is to divide that text up among several translators. Agencies may do this, but individual translators sometimes have colleagues with whom they can share such work. The challenge here is to ensure that the terminology and style of the final translation is still internally consistent. The final edit is likely to be more time-consuming than if only one translator had worked on the entire project. Still, such an approach can significantly reduce the time it takes for your text to be translated.


3. Whether you have a comprehensive glossary

If you can provide a comprehensive, verified bi- (or multi-)lingual glossary, translators do not have to research that terminology. This means they can work faster and thus deliver the translation within a shorter timeframe. Another benefit of such a glossary is that the terminology used for the current project will be consistent with previous translations.


4. How difficult the text is to translate

A general-purpose text, such as a business letter confirming receipt of goods and ordering additional items, does not require translators to research terminology and only needs minimal editing. The legal proceedings in a patent dispute, on the other hand, will likely require a fair amount of research, both for appropriate terminology and the subject matter itself. Such texts also frequently involve long, convoluted sentences and paragraphs, which take more time to read – let alone translate – than short, succinct instructions. Marketing material presents its own challenges, since word choice and sentence structure not only need to convey specific information, but must also appeal to the customer on an emotional level. In general, the more specialized a text is, the longer it is likely to take to have it translated.


5. Whether you want the translator to also handle text formatting

The extra time required to format your text obviously depends on the complexity of your document. Basic formatting, such as boldface for subtitles, is usually taken care of by the computer-aided translation tools many freelancers use. More intricate formatting, such as text captions inset into images or charts that include text in very small fields, must often be handled manually and will therefore add to the time required to complete your project.

The more time it takes to handle your text, the more money you can expect to spend. In my next post I will describe some ways to reduce that cost. Some of the cost-reduction techniques I will discuss can also shorten the time it takes until you receive your translation.

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

How Much Will It Cost? Part II

As I noted in Part I of this post, a number of different variables determine the price a mid-sized company looking to expand into foreign markets may pay for having their materials translated:

  1. The language combination
  2. The type of text
  3. The length of the document(s)
  4. The formatting and file type(s) of the original
  5. The desired quality of the translated text
  6. Whether or not an intermediary (translation agency) is used

I explained items 1.-3. in Part I. This post covers items 4.-6.


4. The formatting and file type(s) of the original

Most technical translators use a type of software called a CAT (computer-aided translation) tool. It helps translators to keep translations consistent and aids their productivity. Most CAT tools can handle standard file formats, such as MS Office files or plain web pages. Less common formats, however, are not always supported. PDFs pose a special challenge. While some CAT tools claim to handle them, the actual results are often problematic: text is dropped or rendered incorrectly, paragraphs are arranged out of sequence, etc. If the translated text requires extensive formatting (e.g., charts with embedded text, space constraints), more time will be required to handle the document. The extra time required to deal with these issues will need to be compensated by charging more than you would pay for having only plain text in an MS Word document translated.


5. The desired quality of the translated text

Leaving aside the question of hiring less-than-qualified translators at extremely low prices, experienced translators can provide different levels of work, depending on your needs. For example:

  • You simply need to know what a particular document is about, or
  • The translated text will only be used for internal training, or
  • The text is part of a worldwide, multi-channel marketing campaign.

In the first instance, the translator only makes a single quick pass through the text, delivering a first. This is called translation for information only. In the second case, the initial translation will be edited so it flows smoothly, but the text does not have to be elegant. Here you want a good, solid translation. In the last case, however, you need more than just an accurate rendition of the text in another language. The text must entice the new audience to buy your product or service. This calls for transcreation, where the message you are conveying is more important than the specific words used to do so. A rough draft takes significantly less time and resources to produce than does honing the translated document to perfection for a new target audience, hence the price will differ.


6. Whether or not an intermediary (translation agency) is used

A translation agency can usually handle multiple languages and may provide desktop publishing and other services, as well. It will also manage large, multi-lingual projects for you. But it will charge a premium for these services. So if you only need one or two languages and have your own art department (or are already outsourcing that word to a designer), you can save money by hiring translators directly. The American Translators Association, the professional organization for translators and interpreters in the U.S., has a searchable database of translators on their website. Its German counterpart, the Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer, has a similar directory.

I will talk about other ways you can save money on translations in an upcoming post.

Read explanations of items 1.-3. above in Part I of this post.

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

How Much Will It Cost? Part I

This may well be one of the first questions our hypothetical documentation manager (see “A Documentation Manager’s Questions About Translation”) asks. After all, he must present upper management with a cost estimate for this portion of the push into the US market. The answer, like that for so many other questions, is: it depends.

A number of different variables determine the price a mid-sized company looking to expand into foreign markets may pay for having their materials translated:

  1. The language combination
  2. The type of text
  3. The length of the document(s)
  4. The formatting and file type(s) of the original
  5. The desired quality of the translated text
  6. Whether or not an intermediary (translation agency) is used

1. The language combination

This is in part a question of supply and demand. In the US, many more translators work with Spanish than work with Azerbaijan, for example. On the other hand, fewer Azerbaijani documents require translation into English than do Spanish documents. Translations from languages that are very different from English may also take more time and effort than translations from a language that is very similar to English. Some industry organizations, such as the research firm Common Sense Advisory, have established average price ranges for specific language combinations.

2. The type of text

A translator must understand the text she is rendering in another language. Highly technical text will therefore require a translator with a technical background or at least experience with technical topics. The more specialized a text, the more specialized the translator needs to be. This means there are fewer translators who can handle that type of text, and they need to spend more time researching uncommon terminology. The translation of technical documents will therefore cost more per word than the translation of a general text.

3. The length of the document(s)

“Of course!” you will say. Three potatoes cost more than one, so translating three pages of text costs more than translating one page. That is true to some extent. While three potatoes provide three times as much nutrition, three pages of text do not necessarily require three times as much effort to translate. Generally, text segments that are repeated in a given document do not need to be translated twice. The translator still needs to check that the translation works properly in the new context, but he may offer a discount for such “exact matches”, as they are called in the industry.

Read explanations of items 4.-6. above in Part II of this post.
A Documentation Manager’s Questions About Translation lists the questions I will answer in this series of posts.

A Documentation Manager’s Questions About Translation

A recent article in the New York Times* got me thinking about questions a documentation manager might have about the translation process. The article profiled Marcus Sheridan, one of the owners of a pool company, who began to write blog posts in response to common questions potential customers posed and saw his business improve as a result.

As with most writing and translation projects, step one is defining the audience who is expected to read the text. The concerns of private persons looking to have their personal documents translated for a specific purpose will be different from those of a small business owner wanting to expand sales  to one or two countries. And the needs of a documentation manager in a large corporation that sells its products around the world are different again.

Let’s assume that a mid-sized company based in a small town in Germany manufactures widgets. Domestic sales have been flat recently because most potential widget customers have already bought the device. Since it is a high-quality product, few widgets need to be replaced. The company is therefore looking for new markets. Reports from the Widget Makers Council, an industry group, suggest that widgets sold in the US are more likely to break. The company decides to try to sell to US widget customers who need to replace their devices, but don’t want to run into the same quality problems again.

To tap that market the company not only needs marketing and sales materials for the US market, but must also provide installation documents and operating instructions in English, and train local personnel to set up the devices. Here are some of the questions the manager in charge of getting the documentation and training materials translated into English might have:

  1. How much will it cost?
  2. How much time will it take?
  3. What can I do to reduce that cost?
  4. Will the translated files be in the right format?
  5. How do I know that the translation is correct?
  6. What can I do to help my translators do a better job?

I will address these questions in future blog posts during the next few months. A final blog post in this series will suggest additional steps documentation managers can take to ensure a smoother translation process that also results in a better end product: well-written and -formatted documentation in the target language (in this example, English).

Do you have other questions about preparing for or managing the translation process? Let me know in the comments section and I will try to answer them on this blog.

* “A Revolutionary Marketing Strategy: Answer Customers’ Questions” in The New York Times, Feb. 27, 2013 – Small Business section

Upselling Translation Services

In a recent post on her blog Words on the Page Lori Widmer lists ways in which writers can sell additional services to existing clients (The Upsell). This had me thinking about the services technical translators could “upsell”.

  1. Editing source documents for internationalization*, so they can be more easily translated
  2. Localizing* target text for a specific country
  3. Proofreading translations for accuracy, spelling and grammar
  4. Writing original documents in Global English* based on information provided by the client
  5. Formatting the final document to match the source text formatting and fit into the allotted space (despite text expansion*)

Translators who offer 1. or 4. need to be familiar with Global English guidelines, as well as the internationalization – translation – localization process. Translators who provide 5. must own (and know how to use) the necessary desktop-publishing (DTP) software, such as InDesign. Item 2. is best performed by translators who live in the country for which they are localizing (i.e., their target language), while 3. can probably be handled by most detail-oriented professional translators.

Many translators may have one or the other of the skills I outlined, but these are often not reflected in their resume or marketing materials. While I list my presentations on writing for global audiences on my website, I don’t specifically state that I will write text in Global English. Similarly, visitors can surmise from my language combination and contact information that I live in my target language country, but this is not spelled out anywhere. And my previous career as an art director and layout person for newsletters is not mentioned at all. This is something I will correct soon, starting with my company page on LinkedIn.

* This list includes some terminology that may be unfamiliar:

  • Internationalization (i18n): removing local references in the original text
  • Localization (l10n): adapting a translation to a specific country
  • Global English: guidelines about vocabulary and grammar to be avoided
  • Text expansion: most translations will be longer than the original text

How to Guard Against Equipment Failure

The last few months have brought a series of weather-related infrastructure problems to the Northeastern US – first Hurricane Sandy severely damaged houses and apartments in New York City, and the snowstorm last weekend left many people in Connecticut and Massachusetts without power or heat. As a result, preparing for equipment or service outages, has become an important topic for many freelancers and small businesses.

The current issue of the American Translator Association’s Chronicle includes an article by Matthew Hayworth about IT for freelancers (“Information Technology for Freelancers: Redundancy Is Key”). He advocates duplicating every piece of technology that a freelance translator uses in his or her business. A second computer with the software a translator uses to complete projects (such as a computer-assisted translation tool, Microsoft Office, etc.) is certainly necessary to safeguard against potential computer problems. Other items, such as internet service, can be relatively easily accessed elsewhere in a city (cafe with WiFi) and some I can do without for a few days – a printer, for example.

A page on my website, How I Safeguard My Work and Prepare for Disasters (based on an April 2010 post on my old blog Backup Procedures & Disaster Preparedness) details my backup procedures and the equipment I have set up to deal with potential power outages, internet connection failures, and the like. Here is the short version:

  • Primary computer: Most software is duplicated on my smaller “travel” laptop (exception: financial software).
  • Printer/fax/scanner: I usually keep hard copies of purchase orders or e-mails that assign specific projects, but I can do without such printouts, at least for a little while. If a printout is really indispensable and my printer stops to work at all, I can have the document printed at a FedEx office.
  • Internet connection: There are several cafes with free WiFi are within easy travel distance, including one that just opened down the block from my house. My smartphone can double as a WiFi hotspot.
  • Telephone: forward landline number to my cell phone; transfer cell phone number to my old phone if my current smartphone breaks/is lost, then get replacement phone through the insurance plan I have for my smartphone
  • Electricity: both my primary computer and the travel computer are laptops, so they can run for several hours each without external power. My phone line and internet connection (cable modem, router) are connected to an uninterruptible power supply that permits orderly shutdown in case of a power failure.

 

Translators Editing Original Content – Why and How?

The term “Globish” was popularized by a French IBM executive, Jean-Paul Nerriere. Nerriere observed interactions at international business meetings and concluded that non-native English speakers used a type of simplified English to communicate with each other. He then created a codified version of basic English, which he termed “Globish”. I learned this from an article Jeana M. Clark and Esma A. Gregor (“Global English (Globish) and Its Impact on the Translator”) published in the November/December 2012 issue of the American Translators Association’s journal, The ATA Chronicle.

Since that coinage English has become, if anything, even more of a lingua franca around the world. This does not bode well for interpreters, who may lose out on assignments if international conferences are simply held in English on the assumption that everyone present speaks that language well enough. Conferences of the various European Green parties, for example, do not use interpreters, I am told. It also means reports and presentations at such events will have been written and disseminated in English, irrespective of the presenter’s native language. No translator required any more, right?

Well, not so fast. If these presentations are to be disseminated in the various countries whose representatives attended the conference or meeting, the presentations will need to be translated into these countries’ languages. I have been asked to translate an article written by a native German speaker in English back into German for publication in an Austrian periodical. The English version of the article had already been distributed, but it could have benefitted from editing by a native English speaker.

This is where translators who work into English come in: not only can we improve the sometimes awkward English text, but if phrases or sentences are unclear, we can retranslate them back into the language in which the writer was probably thinking (in my case German) and deduce the likely intended meaning from there. When editing these types of documents, however, we need to keep in mind that the documents’ audience will be mostly composed of non-native English speakers.

Editing English text written by and/or for non-native English speakers could become an additional service translators can provide. To be successful in this type of work we must educate ourselves about how to write for such an audience. One of the resources I used in preparing my presentations on this topic at last year’s Society for Technical Communication Summit in Chicago and tekom’s tcworld conference was John  R. Kohl’s The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market. This book has become something of a standard reference for people who write for non-native English speakers.

Other resources include “global audience” sections of various style guides, as well as articles about global English. I developed a short resource list, which I will be happy to send to you if you e-mail me your contact details (and are not spamming this blog).

Will new European patent law reduce the need for translations?

Today’s New York Times reports on the uniform patent system just adopted by the European Parliament. In addition to creating “unitary patents” that do not need to be validated separately in each country, it also eliminates the requirement that patents be translated into all local languages. Instead, English, German or French are sufficient. German-English translation of patent applications and accompanying technical documents is therefore no longer needed, right?

Well, yes, but only for UK English. German patent holders who want their inventions protected in the United Kingdom will no longer need to have their documents translated. But if they also want protection in the U.S., they will still need to file a United States patent application and provide supporting documents in US English. I do not specialize in patent translations, but I have occasionally translated technical documents supporting a patent claim into US English. Since these documents appeared to be used in patent disputes between German and US-based companies, the new European law should not affect the need for such translations.

The new law will certainly reduce the number of patent translations required from English, German or French into each of these or various other European languages. But patent applications or claims between some of the other European countries will still need to be translated, at least into German, English or French. So there will be some reduction in translation volume, but mostly the language mix will change.

If, for example, a company holds a patent in Italy and applies for patent protection of its invention in Sweden, it would previously have hired an Italian to Swedish translator. Now it will probably hire an Italian to English translator instead (or Italian to French or Italian to German). Since individual translators cannot simply switch working languages, the new law will certainly affect say, the Italian to Swedish patent translator who would have been hired under the old system. On the other hand, another translator who specializes in Italian to English patent translations will get this job instead.

Patent translation is a highly specialized field, so only a limited number of translators should be affected. According to the New York Times article, these specialists will have at least another year before the uniform patent system actually applies. I assume that my colleagues in this field are aware of the legal changes underway and will use that year to diversify their business, if necessary.

If you are interested in patent translation, you might want to read the Patenttranslator’s Blog (subtitled “Diary of a Mad Patent Translator”), among others.