Multilingual Desktop Publishing (DTP): We Know the Challenges and the Solutions
Updated: Sep 23
There’s more to it than you may have considered
It should be simple, right? Copy text out of a document, translate it and paste it back in. Done.
Except it is not that simple. Take the most obvious consideration that most people without translation experience don’t actually know about: text expansion and contraction. A block of text in German will be up to thirty percent longer than English. And vice-versa. German words and syntax, on average, are longer than English words. Now imagine that your designer has carefully fit that English text into their InDesign document or PowerPoint deck as part of the overall design. Dropping the German translation into the doc breaks all that formatting. They basically have to redesign the entire document. That’s multilingual desktop publishing and it is a specialized skill.
And then there is the PDF issue (and delivery formats in general…)
Someone has taken the content you need translated and created a pdf for convenient delivery. This nice but that pdf is not the final format you require. And it is not editable, at least not in any useful way. If your translation vendor gets that PDF, they are likely to extract the text to send it off to the translator, because they cannot work in the PDF itself. Once extracted, context is lost- what is the picture that this caption belongs with? They translate as best they can, given the circumstances, and you get back the text file of the translation. Now your designer has to rebuild the original document with the new translated text. Except, they don’t read German and it doesn’t look anything like the original blocks of text…
Moving files out of specialized formats to make translations ‘easier’ can actually make things more complex: read Are PDFs Really That Problematic? And Word Doc Survey Translation: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
How come my slide builds are broken? What about languages that read right to left, like Arabic? And character-based text in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese? And Cyrillic alphabets…
This gets complex really fast. It requires extensive experience, not only as a designer, but across formats from documentation to video. It also requires a knowledge of how information is consumed in other cultures, the ‘localization’ specialization you see us referring to throughout our marketing and informational content. This video from a leading UI/UX consultancy shows you what the North American Starbucks websites look like compared to the Japanese version. There is no resemblance because they consume information differently, especially consumer-focused information.
Factoid: Did you know the Korean alphabet (Hangul) consists of 11,172 letters, whereas the English alphabet has 26?
Multilingual DTP may be the most underrated service we offer, but it is critical
We face these challenges everyday and our DTP designers understand them intimately. As an integrated language service provider we strive to deliver your content translations back to you in their original formats, ready for distribution. It requires highly specialized skills that are rare. We are fortunate, after years of being in this business, and seeing new formats emerge, that we have built up this expertise over time and understand the issues and solutions required. It means you don’t get translations that require considerable amounts of design work to be useful.