How to Save a Translation Project before It Needs Saving

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‘Just translate it, it’s your job’. This is a sentence in a video on things that can go wrong in translations. Imagine you’re a project manager working on translation projects for clients who, like in the video, don’t understand the translation process. While a good project manager endeavors to educate their clients, good project management means being aware of all aspects of a translation project that can go wrong. The video focuses on common issues of unclarity of the target audience and terminology, but there are other aspects commonly seen in kicking off a translation process that might become stumbling blocks later on. Interested in how to avoid some of these before they become stumbling blocks? Please keep reading!

1. Translation Expands

Translation expands or, sometimes, in case of Asian languages, it will be shorter. Though this is not a problem in your very straight up Word file, this is important to consider if your copy is linked to a design, for instance, in a PPT with a lot of formatting, InDesign or App translation. In these cases, effort and resources are allotted to how the content looks. Since the translated copy needs to look great as well, it is advisable to think about this early on. This could mean that, as a project manager, you consult with both your client and your engineers when you see content where this might be an issue. You could discuss if different font sizes are acceptable, or if a design might be slightly changed.

2. Use of Language

This is the case especially for when you’re localizing into more than one language. If the meaning of a sentence or phrase is unclear, the linguists of language A might choose one translation and the linguists of language B another. This might lead to problems along the way (not to mention if there’s language C, D, etc.). Similar to this, is the use of proverbs. They might have counterparts in other languages, but often there will not be. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’, ‘actions speak louder than words’, ‘curiosity killed the cat’, will make a translator’s life difficult, but nothing is impossible! The key is for each project to think about what unique approach it needs. If there is ambiguous language, maybe the client could provide a style guide. Or maybe you want a native of the source language to check the file first and have them make a list of how to interpret ambiguous terms, ideally after having checked these with the client. If there are a lot of proverbs in a file, maybe the project actually needs to be transcreated so that it is not an exact match of the source, but a reflection of the source’s tone and intention. 

3. Translation Software Considerations

Using a translation software makes translation easier, but it has its limitations.

  • Editable vs Uneditable Content

An important aspect to keep in mind before you kick off a project is that CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools prefer editable text. This is the case for most Word files, although even those might have images that are not editable, so it needs to be clarified in the beginning if these need to be translated or not.

If you have a PDF that needs translating, and you want to convert this quickly to a MSWord format so that the software can read it, this can cause issues along the way. Although a converted file might look good at first glance, remember that it might not look good after translation. Common conversion machines will often add things like page breaks and section breaks, textboxes and wrong characters.

If sentences are broken up, the software won’t recognize them as sentences. This might cause logical sentences being divided over several segments, possibly over the whole file, making it harder to translate, impacting the quality. In addition, wrong characters might lead to mistranslations.

It is therefore ideal to ask your client for the original file from the beginning. If this isn’t available, it is highly advisable to do a source file optimization check on the converted file before using it for translation. During this check, you need to make sure that unnecessary breaks are deleted, that sentences aren’t broken up and that the text matches the source file.




  • Embedded Content

Another note on formatting and translation software, text embedded in images will often not be recognized by the translation software. If you do embed text, this must be manually extracted, translated and embedded again, increasing the cost of your project.

A great advantage of using translation software for both scenarios, is that you can get a rough idea of what your translated file will look like by using pseudotranslation. This tool will allow you to “translate’’ a file using gibberish based on how much the translation is expected to expand due to the language pair. It is advisable to use this tool before kicking off any project that looks like it might have formatting issues.

As you’ve seen from just a few examples, translation isn’t as straightforward as it is often assumed to be. As a project manager, being aware of translation intricacies will save you a lot of time and effort in the long run. The final product, and ultimately your clients and end users will benefit from this greatly.