If you're planning to grow your business internationally, sooner or later you may need to have documents translated. That could be your business, legal, or technical documentation, or something else.
ATL has been supporting businesses and their global success for the last 15 years. Clients like you have a lot of questions regarding document translation.
We understand that it can be challenging and may cause some initial objections to launching the localization project, but as soon as you are aware of the possible challenges, you can be ready to face them.
This article is for you, so that you can learn about the 10 most common challenges in document translation and avoid surprises after launching the translation project.
There are various formats that you can use to create your company documentation.
You may wish to use Microsoft Word or Adobe for document creation. You may also want to use more advanced solutions like Windward Core, Legito, Precisely, Docxpresso, DocuSign, or any other.
Your documents may be created in .doc, .pdf, .docx, .rtf, .txt, .html, .indd, tiff, or many more formats.
In general, the most common document file extensions are:
.doc and .docx
.html and .htm
.xls and .xlsx
.ppt and .pptx
There are no better or worse, they are all perfectly manageable by professional translation companies.
Don't worry about the format, simply ask the translation company how they can optimize your document localization process.
It would be great if you could avoid sending documents as separate files. In order to skip the file-sending part, the translation company can integrate with your Content Repository or directly with the systems in which you generate the documentation.
By allowing translation integration with your system, you can easily transfer your content for translation and receive the translated content without any unnecessary email attachments.
Related content: 3 Documentation Authoring Tool Integrations with Translation Systems: An Honest Review
There are situations where there is no editable format available. There's no way for you to know how many words there are in the document.
In this case, an optical character recognition (OCR) tool can be very helpful. These tools convert an image of a typed, handwritten, or printed text into a text that is easily editable by computers. It means that you can convert a photo of a text into a file that can be opened in a text editor.
Related content: File Formats vs. Technical Translation Turnaround Time: What's the Catch?
The most widely used OCR solutions convert original photos of the text into a plain searchable and editable text, but the more advanced ones can also maintain the formatting.
They can be used for documents like invoices, bank statements, or any other printouts of static-data. Using OCR is a common means of digitizing printed text so that it can be electronically edited, searched, and also translated.
Text formatting includes document characteristics such as font color, type, and size, as well as changes within the text presentation, like bold or italics.
Formatting can be summed up as the overall visual representation of the document. The way the text is formatted has a huge impact on the reader, so it is necessary to maintain correct formatting after translation. But does correct formatting mean exactly the same formatting as the original?
Related content: 6 Tips on Preparing Your Content for Translation
In most cases, the answer is yes. The aim is for the document to resemble the original, while being appropriate for the end user. For example, when the document is translated into the Arabic language, the text alignment should be correct for the right-to-left writing.
Also, key information that is highlighted or in bold in the original text may be represented differently in the translated version. Take a one-word term in English and its translation, represented in a two-word term. In the original document, one word will be in bold and in the translated version two words will need to be in bold.
These are differences in formatting that are not only acceptable but also necessary for the document to be suitable for the target audience. However, the general idea is to represent the same formatting and layout as the original in order to present the same data and the same level of user experience to all users world-wide.
How do you get to the point where the translated text is both correctly formatted for the target audience and still similar to the original?
The translation definitely needs to be done by a translation professional using a special translation software. The software imports the original text and "remembers" the formatting.
Related content: Top 10 Translation Tools That You Should Know About: A Complete Review
It shows formatting like bolds or italics to the translator so that it is clearly visible which concept or key term needs to stand out from the rest of the text. The translator highlights the translated information by inserting appropriate formatting or using formatting tags. The translated content exits the translation software with the appropriate formatting.
All formatting that is supposed to remain like that of the original document, like font type and size, will be unchanged.
Document layout refers to the way the document is visually organized. Spacing, page margins, columns, and lists are all elements of document layout. Sizing and graphic placement are also included in the scope of document layout.
Layout, similarly to formatting, should be maintained but should also meet the needs of your target audience.
There are differences in word length between languages and a lot of languages are longer than English when it comes to the number of characters used in words.
On average, a Spanish document will be 25% - 30% longer than the English source. The translated text is expected to have a count of between 15% and 25% more words in French than in English.
Related content: 15 Languages for Translation That You Should Know About
In Finnish the text will end up about 30% shorter. Also, Estonian has a much lower word count, about 30% less compared to English.
How can the layout be maintained when dealing with shorter or longer sentences or words?
It all depends on the actual document. Sometimes the font needs to be resized. There will be times when some graphics will need to be moved here and there to allow more space for the text.
For example, in the original English leaflet there are small graphics placed one under the other. The leaflet needs to be folded and to not take up too much space since the packaging has limited space.
The leaflet is translated into three languages: Japanese, French and German. All the languages need to be placed on the same page, one version after another. No more space is available.
There is a solution to this issue.
Put the graphics horizontally instead of placing them vertically as in the original and also skip pasting the graphics for each language version. Insert the text written in all 4 languages (English, French, Japanese and German) under the graphics and save space.
The type and size of the font has already been mentioned under the formatting section, but there is another challenge when it comes to fonts.
There are languages that use diacritic marks under or above characters: Portuguese, French, German, Swedish, Polish and many more. These languages use diacritic marks attached to letters, which are often called special characters.
If you have online documents attached to your website, make sure that all browsers can easily handle the font used in the document. Not being able to read the document because of the font may be frustrating for the user.
If you are working on a custom-made font, remember to let the artist know about all the languages this font will be used for so that the special characters are included.
You can always go for a regular, widely accessible font or let the DTP (desktop publishing) specialists suggest alternative fonts that can be used in localized documents.
Graphics play an important role in conveying information to users. They can illustrate certain concepts or supplement the text with a chart displaying data or other visualizations.
So, since graphics convey meaning and bring information, they also need to be properly handled during the localization process.
Related content: 4 Main Aspects of the Localization Process [infographic]
Graphic designers that work on localizing your visuals for the document translation project take care of this step and can work magic. If we can swap faces in pictures between a cat and a human then we can also localize text on your graphics.
There are some best practices for preparing graphics for localization:
There will be cases where graphics may need to be replaced with something more acceptable in a given culture. This may be the case if they refer to religious symbols or people, places, and any other aspects used in pictures.
For example, the Grand Canyon may not be the best representation of a weekend holiday destination for a French family. In this case a picture of Honfleur, Reims, or Avignon would be a better fit.
That's not a problem, because you can save money thanks to the repetitive content.
Translation companies use translation software, also called CAT tools (Computer-Assisted Translation), which may generate lower translation cost for you.
CAT tools analyze the text and can clearly determine which parts of the document are repeated within the document as well as in the collection of documents. If the documents are prepared while taking that into consideration, you can reach a high level of content repetitiveness.
Related content: How to Really Save on Translation and Localization
Thanks to CAT tools, working on repetitive content is faster and easer and therefore translation companies can offer a considerable discount for these repetitions.
Just one important note.
Repetitions are not calculated based on an individual word repeated throughout the document. The CAT tool divides the whole content into smaller chunks, called segments. The whole segment needs to be identical in order for the words included in that segment to be called repetitions.
Another way of reducing the cost of translation is by using Translation Memory (TM). A TM is a database attached to every CAT in which all your translated segments are stored.
The translated segments from one document are used to speed up the translation and consequently reduce the translation cost.
You may think that numbers should not be translated as they are simply numbers and should be represented in the same way all over the world.
The first challenge that you can face when localizing documents with a lot of numerical data is the decimal separator (the symbol used to separate the integer part from the fractional part of a number written in decimal form). It can be represented either by a comma or a period.
Another challenge is that for ease of reading, numbers with many digits may be divided into groups. In order to do so, a delimiter is used (e.g.: comma, period, space, underbar, apostrophe or half-space).
Luckily, translation companies can handle the different ways of presenting numerical data and make it clear for your clients in all the languages you choose, may it be Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Portuguese or Dutch.
"How do you know that the translator knows my product?"
"Will the translators know the terminology?"
These are very common questions when it comes to innovative, breakthrough ideas and products.
Finding the best way to talk about your innovative solution in various languages is challenging, but this is what translators do on a daily basis. If the text or the concept needs a more creative approach, the more creative form of translation, called transcreation, is applied.
Professional translators are not only bilingual, native speakers of the language you want to translate your document into. They are also specialists of your product field.
Related content: 15 Myths About Style Guides and Glossaries for Translation
Translation companies assign the best suitable specialists with proven experience and educational background to all projects. This is what ISO 17100:2015 standards for translation services require.
The requirements are strict and there is a whole process associated with sourcing, onboarding and assigning linguists, providing them with feedback and encouraging them to develop and learn.
Translating product documentation is often a legal requirement before the product can cross a country boarder.
It may be that the product is waiting for the translated documentation and the deadlines become really challenging.
All translation companies know that deadlines can be really short and they already have processes in place for turning around translated documents within a very short period of time.
Related content: How to Reduce Turnaround Time for Content Translation
You may need a legal document to be translated immediately and with no time for formatting or keeping the layout intact.
Make sure that you communicate the urgency to the translation team and they will prioritize this piece of text over other assignments.
You have updated your documentation but you worry that the updated content will take as long to translate as the original version?
No such thing will happen if your translation company uses TM and focuses only on translating the updates. The remaining, already-translated parts, will be pulled from the TM.
Do you need to point the updated parts to them? No, do not waste your time, just ask them to analyze the files against the TM and the CAT tool will find everything that has been changed.
The most common challenges in document translation addressed in this article are easy to overcome by having the right translation partner by your side. A professional translation company will be able to handle the layout, formatting, graphics, numbers, and deadline for you without you having to worry.
They will also ensure the best quality for your document translation and implement innovative solutions to smooth out your localization process and help you avoid overspending.
What challenges are you facing with regard to document translation? Are there any questions that have not been covered in this article? Let us know. We are always happy to help.
The Critical Role That Reference Materials Play in Translation Quality
How Much Does Document Translation Cost?
How to Boost the Translation Into Multiple Languages at Once
+1 857 777 5741 ext. 203 (business inquiries)
+1 857 777 5741 ext. 205 (career inquiries)
Trylinskiego 16, 10-683
Copyright ATL 2023. All Rights Reserved.