When preparing a document for translation, every detail counts, from the font you choose to the spacing of the text.
But redesigning the entire document’s format and layout after translation into another language wastes time and money.
Especially for documents being translated into multiple languages, there are steps you can take ahead of time to make the original text’s layout more amenable to the translation process.
Changes in Length and Direction of Translated Texts
Text expansion is especially common when translating English documents into other languages, many of which simply have longer words, or use several words to convey a concept.
The translation process can often increase the length of a text block by as much as 35 percent — or even more, in some cases — depending on the source and target languages. That’s why it’s important to factor this in ahead of time.
German is a notable example, thanks to its easily-created compound words. This feature of the German language results in such lengthy monstrosities as Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften — “legal protection insurance companies” — and Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, or “Danube steamship company captain.” Such text expansion has a significant effect on key characteristics of a document, including text margins, spacing and paging.
It’s also important to anticipate changes in reading direction. Certain languages, like Arabic and Hebrew, for instance, read right-to-left, while some Asian languages, like Japanese, are traditionally read top-to-bottom. As a result, translating into such languages will require modification in text alignment and layout (i.e. right-to-left alignment rather than left-to-right).
Tricks to Preparing Documents for Translation
To avoid the hassle of suddenly seeing a translated page that looks like a Picasso painting — all the features in all the wrong places and directions — it’s important to plan for text manipulation.
In addition to simply writing translation-friendly content, there are certain tricks you can use to minimize the amount of reformatting that will be needed for translated documents.
First of all, try to avoid extremely narrow sidebars and tables — if they’re just the right size in the original document, they probably won’t be big enough to fit translated copy. Fixing them after the fact will involve losing important information or redesigning the layout, which either short-changes your audience or makes extra work for you.
Whenever possible, include some white space in the original document to accommodate the inevitable expansion that comes from translation. Similar to the sidebar situation above, if you don’t allow your text a little breathing room, you’ll end up with too many words and not enough space to fit them all!
It’s also useful to keep text that overlaps images separate from the image itself, allowing for easier reformatting. When appropriate, designing graphics and tables in ways that accommodate multiple reading directions can also save time.
How Preparing Documents for Translation Benefits You
Ideally, you will have the opportunity to consult with your translation company about multilingual documents before they are created. The linguistic experts at a translation company can advise you about a language’s idiosyncrasies (including how much it’s likely to expand) and translation concerns you can anticipate, thereby allowing you to address these issues in the initial process of document creation and design.
So why bother preparing a document for translation? In a nutshell, it saves you time and money. The more flexible the layout of the original document, the less time and money you’ll have to spend on reformatting it — in each language — after translation.