What You Need to Know About Multilingual DTP [Cliff Notes]
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What You Need to Know About Multilingual DTP [Cliff Notes]

What You Need to Know About Multilingual DTP [Cliff Notes]

If you are new to localization, or if you consider yourself a non-technical localization professional, then this blog series is for you. Here we explain the basic concepts behind multilingual desktop publishing (DTP), or creating the layout and formatting of a document and graphics using DTP software.

Desktop publishing software and skills allow someone to produce a wide variety of materials, from presentations, user manuals, menus, magazines or books. Multilingual DTP, then, is the art of creating a translated document that is faithful to the original in terms of layout and design aesthetic.

Getting Started

It’s possible that your source template will not survive the translation process and emerge unscathed in your target languages. The very first step is to have a DTP specialist review your source file to identify issues that will cause trouble in the localized versions. Having one template that can handle all languages equally well will help save money and time.

This is a critical step, not unlike priming the walls in your house to accept any color. For example, the average word length in German and Finnish is much longer than English, and a crowded template won’t accommodate the extra text. Double-byte character sets and languages that read right-to-left might also require some changes to the design template. This step is called document internationalization, after which localization can happen quickly, efficiently, and at a controlled, predictable cost. After the template review, a typical documentation project typically follows the process below.

1. Text Preparation

The DTP specialist pulls the text out of the native source file into a format that is friendly for localization. This is automated in most cases.

2. Translation

The linguist translates the text using assets such as Translation Memory, terminology bases and style guides. These assets are critical for quality, consistency and conformance to branding.

Now, are you wondering why you can’t just type inside the document file (xls whatever)? A translator can certainly do this, but it’s a bad idea for two reasons.

First and foremost, the translator is probably not a DTP specialist who intimately knows the chosen DTP tool (FrameMaker, InDesign, to name a few). An untrained person may not be able to, for example, fix the formatting after translated text has pushed text onto the next page or messed up the look of the text box or graphic.

Second, if you type directly into the source file, then you can’t make use of a Translation Memory. This means that you are translating everything as a unique instance, instead of making use of past translations or repeated content within the document.  

3. Edit and proof

A linguist other than the original takes a look at the translated text to make sure there are no typos or mistranslations.

4. Text import

The DTP specialist imports the translation text back into the source file format so it replaces the original text in the new layout.

5. Final design

Now the DTP specialist works on the new layout, using the original tool. In some cases, the localized version may look a little different from the original source. While the template prevents major issues, some things – text boxes, fonts, graphics, margins, page numbers – may need to be tweaked in order to accommodate the translations.

6. Linguistic QA

Next, the resource completes post-translation quality assurance. Some checks can be automated, such as spell-check in-language, checks for punctuation, inconsistency in terminology (terminology compliance against glossary), untranslated text, date and time formats, among others.

7. Design QA

Lastly, a linguist performs a page by page layout comparison with source, just to make sure the translated version conforms to the original as much as possible.

8. Client review

At this stage, some clients like to do a review before the piece is finalized.  After that, any tweaks are made.

9. Delivery

The result is a translated deliverable, in the original file format, with some minor changes in look/feel depending on the language(s) you needed.

No matter how good the translation quality may be, even small layout or formatting problems may impact how users perceive the product or the brand. This is even more so on high-profile materials such as marketing communications, advertising or packaging. Don’t underestimate the value of a DTP specialist in your documentation projects.