Let us start by saying that each translator has their own process, which means document translation doesn’t look the same from one agency to another. However, there are some rules and good practices that help the translator understand the format and design of the document in a different language.
For instance, several key aspects to take under consideration are the length of the final text and reading direction. Some languages are naturally wordier than others while some use lengthier words (translation into German is the perfect example). As such, the final document can be up to 30 – 40% longer than the original, which affects the format (margins, page numbering, and spacing).
Translation into Japanese and translation into Arabic are also challenging because these languages change the reading direction. This means that the translated document will look nothing like the original, and the translator must fully recreate the logic of the written text.
The Secret to Doing Document Translation Right: Plan Ahead
From the outside, it may not look like a big deal, but for someone with years of experience in the translation industry, the planning phase is crucial.
Disclaimer: Small documents or the ones that already have a predefined format in all the languages (Birth Certificates, Education Diploma, and more) don’t need any planning.
Planning mostly applies to bigger texts that don’t follow a specific structure (literary works, notes, corporate websites, advertising materials, and so on). It is important because it helps the translator save time, energy, and improve productivity, which also means the customer will be saving money.
So, here are a few tricks to help you speed up the process:
Watch Out for Graphic Elements
Graphic elements include items such as tables, sidebars, images, sketches, drawings, and so on.
Start by assessing the text length difference and adjust the size of table columns and rows, the width of sidebars, and space required for text around images. Keep in mind that the text position will change, so the graphic elements will also need to change.
Furthermore, keep in mind that images with text on them and/or around them are tricky because they never look the same. You may have to consider inserting some addendums for extra explanations if the available space won’t cut it.
Web texts (well, most of them) got the idea of ‘white space’ right. This is simply space, introduced in the text, to create some breathing room for the reader’s eye.
If the document is structured as several blocks of text, placed in the immediate vicinity of other blocks of texts, the first thing that pops into a reader’s mind is that this is going to be a boring, difficult read. And most people simply skip it.
So, if you truly want the audience to get the information conveyed by the document, you need to think about white space.
As a translator, you should always include white space in the original document, to get an idea of how the translated one should look in terms of length and page formatting.
Is This Truly Necessary?
In a nutshell, no. Not every translator needs to follow these guidelines and not every agency has a well-drawn work process. However, in years of working in the document translation field, we learned that planning and organisation are crucial factors when it comes to productivity.