Ensuring Effective Translations – Prepare text for translation

Ensuring Effective Translations – Prepare text for translation

Continuing in this series of articles expanding on Ensuring Effective Translations, the next set of tips are to help you make sure that the text you are supplying for translation is prepared in way that allows for a high quality translation. 

      • Prepare before you start

Prior to commencing, you need to prepare the text needing translation.  The source document needs to be clear, concise and jargon free.  The sections to be translated need to be clearly highlighted (or better, remove the sections that are not to be translated).  Glossaries, style guides and technical terminology all need to be provided.  In taking the time to prepare up front, you will ensure a successful execution of the rest of the project.

      • Finalise your text before starting the translation

It is often the mindset that doing translations takes a long time and therefore, it is essential to start as soon as possible.  This can create pressure to commence translation before the source text is finalised.

This creates two issues:

      • By starting translation before finalising the source text, you are guaranteeing that you will not be able to carry out a correct translation the first time around, and hence, will have to edit the translation a number of times as the remaining information is provided.  This results in wasteful extra review cycles and subsequently extends the project timelines.
      • Adding extra content requires careful version control of the documents to make sure that all additional comments are captured and added to the right previous versions.  Missing such edits is a classic cause of error.

It is therefore always preferable to only begin translation once all information is available. In many cases this can actually be faster, but it requires a mindest change to wait until ready to execute.

In some cases, deadlines make this unfeasible and it is necessary to start the translation whilst finalising the source text.  In such cases, version control and time and date stamping must be rigorously applied.

An often overlooked part of creating the source text is the use of previously translated material.  Firstly, in large organisations, is there the chance that someone else in the company could have created this translation?  Secondly, are there parts of the source document that have been previously translated and could be incorporated into the document?  Re-use of previous translations not only saves time and money, it can increase your brand consistency.  To facilitate this, many companies use translation memory tools to store standard translation fragments.  Translation memory (TM) is not to be confused with machine translation. A translation memory system stores the source text and the corresponding translation in segments. This could be in either an electronic tool or paper format, depending upon the complexity of the organisation. 

      • Pay special attention to your source documents

As with many other processes, the phrase ‘garbage in – garbage out’ is applicable to your translation process.  There are a number of things you can do to the source text document to minimise this effect.

      • The first is to think about the translation requirements during the writing process.  This can provide opportunities to re-use sections of already translated content and to be concise to avoid unnecessary content requiring translation.  Also, aim to avoid local colloquialisms that will be difficult to translate.
      • Secondly, stick to standard technical terms from your company glossary.  This allows translation providers to have pre-translated phrases in their library for these terms.
      • Thirdly, thoroughly review the source document to make sure that any errors are eliminated in the source text before you translate.
      • Finally, make sure that the format and layout of the source document makes it easy for the translation provider to produce the translation. 
      • Follow technical writing best practices

There are some recognised best practices that should be followed to ensure effective translations:

      • Write short, clear sentences.
      • Limit dependent clauses. One thought per sentence helps translators and increases savings from translation memory matches.
      • Avoid idiomatic expressions. These are easily misinterpreted.
      • Avoid cultural references — like sports metaphors or quotations from literary or pop icons — as these often do not work across cultures.
      • Make sure symbols are internationally recognized. Don’t assume that a symbol (i.e. a stop sign) has the same meaning in other countries. 
      • Be concise

Consider writing less, as fewer words will mean lighter translation costs.  Also if the text is concise, it should be clear and easier for the translator to render for the intended language. 

      • Think international from the start

When developing your source text, it is important to be thinking about the international impact of the text from the start.

The first thing to consider, is to make sure you are using plain English in your document.  This means using simple and clear statements that minimise the risk of being misunderstood either by the translator or by the audience after translation.  Avoid using jargon or culturally biased language – references to the human body and any anecdotes should also be avoided.  Similarly, local sayings and colloquial terms can cause confusion and may be gibberish when translated.  The objective should be to keep the text simple, concise and clear. 

Secondly, consider what language your readers will be reading your document in.  Languages are not consistent between countries, for example British English or American English, French from France or Canadian French.  Many countries require multi-lingual documentation due to the variety of languages spoken by their citizens.  Therefore, translation requirements between different countries can vary even if it appears to be the same language, and this should influence your choice of translation provider – translators who understand the local subtleties of language are key.

Thirdly, the type of audience you are aiming for will influence the writing style you may want.  The style would be different if you are writing to consumers versus skilled technical people.  Their requirements and expectations will differ.  You therefore need to put yourself in their shoes and prepare your text from their perspective.

Finally, but importantly, you must take into account legal, regulatory and cultural requirements to avoid illegal or offensive text unwittingly.  Translation providers who understand the local requirements and customs will guide you with such issues.

      • Use automation

Modern word-processing tools have many useful features that can help with the preparation of your source text.  Use automation in your documents for Table of Contents, Indices, cross-references, variables and internal/external links. Also, make sure to use style sheets so that any updates or resizing can be automatically applied.

Also, avoid using hard and soft returns in sentences as broken sentences cause problems for the translation teams and their tools.

      • Prepare for text expansion

If English is the language in your source document, remember that it is a relatively concise language and most languages are 20% longer.  Therefore remember to account for text expansion when designing the layouts you propose to use.  Also consider what size of document you want to use (A4, US letter etc.) to make sure that the translated text will fit as you would want. 

      • Carefully prepare your graphics

Graphics are essential to enhance documents and make them easier to understand.  There are a few things you should consider to improve how you work with graphics:

      • Whenever possible, try to link graphics in a document rather than embed them. This simplifies replacement in localized versions and future updates. Linking graphics also reduces file size, which is friendlier to use with translation tools.
      • Keep text out of graphic images, as the graphic will have to be recreated to incorporate translated text.
      • Use screenshots sparingly as they will be in a specific language and would need to be edited for your translated document.
      • Remember that, depending on language, text may expand when translated.  So allow for expansion of the text associated with an image.
      • To ensure you are only translating what needs to be translated, store localizable images separately from non-localizable images.
      • Provide editable source files

Re-creating files takes time and adds to cost, so always try to provide editable source files to your translation provider. As discussed above, this should include editable images.

Also consider compressing files if they are extremely large to help protect corruption-prone fonts and speed transmission during very tight schedules.

In the next article we will look at the fourth step – Choosing your translation provider; tips to ensure that the translation provider you propose to use is fit for purpose.

We hope you find this information useful.  We are always searching for ways to improve our work and would welcome any feedback from you. Please do not hesitate to contact us at enquiries@be4ward.com.

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