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Adding Value to Translation with DTP Partnership


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José Henrique Lamensdorf photo A search in any translators' discussion forum will reveal that now and then some less-informed clients expect the 'translation' of a rather complex publication will be no less than an exact replica of the original in a different language.

Some translators simply say 'no' and deliver plain text as usual. Others, having once stated that their clients rule, decide to face the challenge... and get frustrated at first, and desperate later, when the deadline comes nigh. Here are some ideas to emerge a winner from such situations.

The case is about a translator's client who has a publication in language "A," and needs to have the same in language "B." It may be a product catalog, a spec sheet, some user or service manual, a company newsletter, whatever that has both text and illustrations.


How it was done in the old days

I'm referring to the mainframe age, when computers were behemoths, usually just one or a few per company, all enclosed in permanently air-conditioned rooms. No unauthorized personnel inside such premises.

Then, as well as for several years thereafter, the translators' output was typewritten. In the case of the aforesaid publications, such output had to be re-typed into a composer machine, which produced strips of phototypeset text. These strips had to be proofread, and eventually reprinted if any typos were found.

The illustrations, obtained by various silver-based photographic methods, met these text strips at a place named the paste-up studio, where pages were assembled by carefully sticking the elements onto a pasteboard, one per page. These paste-up artists were so skilful and accurate, that they could cut and paste the upper dot of a semicolon in place if it was missing. This final artwork was then photographed on actual-size film, used to engrave offset printing plates, often one film per color.

Though I strongly oversimplified the process here, it is a rough description of the old paradigm.


The current paradigm

you will outsource the DTP work whenever it's not practical, economical, or feasible to provide the final desired output from your word processor.

Nowadays, the very same microcomputer an average translator uses every day is definitely capable of building the whole publication virtually, without pasteboards, creating a PDF file, and sending it over the Internet to a POD (= print-on-demand) printer, who will make as many copies as desired, neatly printed in B&W or color, and stapled or bound as needed.

A most interesting aspect is the presence of actual paper only at the beginning-the original-and at the end-the fully-featured translated print. But the key point is the translator's computer being able to do the whole job. What some clients fail to realize is that the translator, him or herself might not have been trained to do it economically.

Translators already do a lot, using mostly a word processor, CAT tools and their translation memories, glossary managers, both on-disk and on-line dictionaries, web searches, e-mail, etc. To require them to work with graphic arts might be pushing the envelope.

So the client is misled into thinking that any translator will be able to eke out a completed publication, worst of all... at no additional cost! This is what often leads translators willing to take the extra step to offer good service to discover that this step will require them to cross a wide, and often deep, river.


It's not so bad, but sometimes it's bad enough

I am not asserting that each and every publication has to undergo desktop publishing. Many sizeable books have been properly rendered in their final form with a word processor. If it's just text, maybe one or another loose illustration here and there, there is no problem in doing it this way. The translator should be familiar with the WP program, and most CAT tools even preserve the original text formatting.

However when one sees text giving way to illustrations, some of them irregularly shaped; when the text, regardless of its meaning, is an expression of art (I mean 3-D gradient or otherwise colored letters), when text interacts with images or is part of them, it's time for DTP.

Of course, a translator can learn to do DTP with the proper software, but many colleagues have agreed with me that it is just like learning another language. Is it worth it? If it is, in other words, if you have enough demand for this kind of work, get started! If you get such requests only now and then, and every time it's with a different computer program, simply find ways to outsource it.

Tip: Though most word processors can import/export common file formats (such as *.doc, *.rtf, and, of course, *.txt), this does not apply to DTP programs: each one has its proprietary, exclusive, file format. Though Adobe offers a file converter "from QuarkXpress to PageMaker," they warn it doesn't work on the Macintosh, and I'm yet to see it work successfully in Windows.


Getting started

Let's assume that your intent is to go on translating, but you will outsource the DTP work whenever it's not practical, economical, or feasible to provide the final desired output from your word processor.

Yes, you may think that this is your client's problem: you just have to deliver the translated text. First, ascertain with your client that this is really what they expect from you. If it is, by all means, do it! But depending on the circumstances, maybe you should get ready for a surprise much later: a request to proofread the final DTP-ed publication. Some clients might candidly expect you to do it for free, as you have already been paid for the translation. Though in these times of electronic files there are less things that can go wrong, you may find: improperly hyphenated words; misplaced, missing, or wrongly formatted text (in terms of bolds, italics & underscores); untranslated text (they didn't find yours, so they left the original in place) and, worst of all, if it's the case, that some or all diacritics were replaced with outlandish characters.

The best option is to find a bilingual, or even a sesquilingual DTP artist, physically not too far away from you. He or she doesn't have to be a translator, but it's really good if the the DTP person has at least basic knowledge of both your source and destination languages.

Distance is an issue, as you might have to exchange hardcopy and files of a few hundred megabytes, which may be impractical to handle via e-mail or FTP. If you have to rely on couriers, this is expensive; if you depend on snail-mail, this is time-consuming.

The linguistic savvy of your DTP person is not for proofreading. As a matter of fact, he shouldn't be expected or allowed to change one single comma in your text. But this will spare you from a very tedious job: marking text cross-references.

Text X-ref is a two-step process. First, on a copy of the original, preferably using a bright-colored felt tip pen, you circle each block of text and number it. Then, while translating, you have to do it one block at a time, and mention the appropriate reference number in each. This is the means for the translator to communicate to the DTP artist what goes where, and how (font, size, spacing, alignment, etc), like it was done in the typewriter days. If the DTP artist can understand enough of the source and destination texts, all this extra work won't be necessary.


Team-building 101

Assuming you have found an adequate person or organization to meet your needs; it's time to build the team.

Get to know your partner "technically": What hardware/software do they use? What are their acceptable input and possible output formats (so you can tell your clients). What can they do better/faster than you in the process, and what work you should keep to yourself?

At this time, you can't give them much information about the specific job, unless you already have one at hand. However you can enlighten them a bit about your language pair, for instance how much in average the text expands or shrinks in the process. If it expands, you can discuss hyphenation issues, so that they can get the proper dictionaries installed.

Above all, you should discuss pricing because, if Murphy's Law applies, your first translation + DTP job will require an estimate. Get to know what are the parameters on which they base their price calculations, to be ready to ask or determine them when the time comes. And then negotiate payment terms, especially to check if they are flexible enough to accommodate different clients' policies.

This should give you both a general idea on how much to charge and how to divide tasks when there is a job to be done.


Original for translation received!

The "original" that was formerly a wad of paper, neatly bound or loosely held together with a rubber band, now can have varied shapes.

Obviously, it's still possible that it will be a printed booklet or folder, which will require scanning for extracting the illustrations, as well as for OCR-ing the text, so you can use your preferred CAT tool. Which of you is better equipped for each of these operations? Chances are that the DTP-er has a better and faster scanner. If they don't handle OCR, just ask them to provide you with page scans that your OCR software will handle. They will need at least 300 dpi, and though many OCR programs work well at 150 dpi (fax resolution), your scanned text will have fewer errors.

However the most popular format nowadays is the Adobe Acrobat PDF. It stands for Portable Document Format, because these files can be opened by the freeware Acrobat Reader program, which exists in various versions, one for each operating system: all versions of Microsoft Windows since 3.*, Macintosh, Linux, and even DOS, if anyone remembers it.

First of all, don't even think of translating directly into a PDF file. The results, if any, are not worth the effort it will take. The only sensible way is to re-create the file in some other program and distill (that's how Adobe names the process) its output to a PDF file.

Another problem with PDF files is that there are too many ways to create them, and these can yield different levels of quality. Let's analyze three cases:

a) The best... is a hi-res PDF file generated from a some word processing or DTP program. It is possible to copy & paste the text into your word processor, and the DTP artist will be able to extract the pictures directly.

b) The worst... a PDF file generated by scanning the printed original directly. It can get really bad when carried out by people who don't know what it's all about. They will probably select a low resolution, like 72-96 dpi, enjoy the high speed so offered by a possibly cheap scanner, and feel they have done a good job from what they see on the monitor's screen. Most likely OCR won't work, and the illustrations will not be good enough to be used.

c) The unfortunately common average... a hi-res file generated by adequately set scanning, 300 dpi, but each page is "graphic." The letter "O" is a circle; the letter "I" is a straight segment, and so on. OCR will be a must, but feasible. Illustrations will have to be individually extracted, but will come out sharp.

In any case, it's good to discuss with your DTP-er who will do what, how, and when. The objective is to keep them busy preparing the illustrations and assembling the publication while you translate. Bear in mind that, unlike word processors, DTP programs allow the user to assemble a whole publication, just leaving the proper empty spaces reserved for later text placement.

There is also a chance that the client will provide you with a DTP file as the original. In this case, first check with your DTP-er if they can handle this kind of file. It will usually be named after the program used to create it. The most popular ones are (in no particular order): InDesign, PageMaker, QuarkXpress, and FrameMaker. The less common ones are Serif PagePlus, Microsoft Publisher, and the upcoming open source Scribus.

If your DTP-er doesn't work with the client-chosen software, there are two possible routes.

a) If the client, for whatever reason, needs the file translated in that same program, either you'll have to find another DTP artist who uses it and set up a new partnership, or you'll hand this problem to the client, request a printed or PDF copy of the original, and make it very clear that you'll only deliver plain translated text. If the client wants clearly cross-referenced text for their DTP artist, don't forget to charge for the additional work involved.

b) If all the client needs is a PDF, and doesn't care how it was obtained (nobody will/should notice the difference) get a bureau to make a PDF file from the original file, and work from it with your partnered DTP artist as usual.


What you need for both of you to get started

While all a translator needs is text, a complex publication requires more. You, the translator, will be the interface between the DTP-er and the client, so it's better for you to know beforehand what you should ask for.

a) First, the original, of course. No matter what format it comes in, you won't be able to make a cost estimate without it, not even for your part of the job. The two of you will hopefully be able to extract the material for you to translate.

b) Illustrations. This includes all drawings, pictures, logos, schematics, photographs, whatever. The DTP-er will have to scan or extract them (from a PDF file); however if they are available in computer graphic files, it will be easier, cheaper, and faster to use these, especially if such files don't have any text in the images. And the quality will probably be better, too. Don't bother about the file format-bmp, jpg, eps, tif...-DTP artists convert all these with just a couple of clicks. Common graphic elements, such as lines, frames, boxes, squares, circles, are easy to create, and come out sharper in DTP programs.

c) Fonts! This is an often overlooked item. If the publication uses the omnipresent standard pack-Arial, Times, Courier-never mind. If the client will accept "something similar," it's okay. Every DTP artist has a few thousand fonts available, and many can be downloaded for free. But if the client's corporate identity manual mandates the use of a specific, often hard-to-find or expensive font, the client should provide that. If your target language is not English, it probably uses diacritics. Be aware that there are too many fonts around that have little more than the unaccented uppercase/lowercase alphabets, numbers, and punctuation marks. If the DTP-er has to draw one or two diacritics for a big title using a barebones font, it's not such a big deal. But if they have to do it all over your text, don't even think about it! It won't work.


Doing the job

You, the translator, will translate as usual. Discuss with your DTP partner how they want to receive your text, and be ready for a surprise.

Though this is my personal point of view, I always prefer plain *.txt. No fonts, no sizes, no bolds, no italics... just plain text. I find it more difficult to remove the other formatting that comes together in a, say, *.doc or *.rtf file than to implement these from scratch. Quite often I copy & paste formatted text via the Windows Notepad, instead of individually removing each line and letter spacing, width, and tab setting.

While you are translating, it is possible to gain some time by having the DTP-er working in parallel, preparing all the illustrations and assembling the publication to eventually receive your text.

Try to work sequentially. Though in DTP all pages will be there all the time, and it's easy to place a text on, say, page 50, then on page 12, and afterwards on page 32, it's a waste of time to go back and forth within the file.


Special considerations I - Tables

If your publication contains tables, a few tips to make the DTP job easier, faster, and possibly cheaper:

a) If the top cells (titles) contain more than one line, write the contents of each cell in one line. Don't follow the line breaks in the original table. Depending on the language pair, long and short words may switch places.

b) If all the rows are one-liners, separate the cells with [Tab], and don't forget to add an initial tab preceding the leftmost/first cell in a row.

c) If a table contains text spanning more than one row, translate it row by row (instead of column by column), using a separate paragraph for each cell. This will make it easier for the DTP-er to adjust each row's height on-the-fly if the translated text expands or shrinks in the translation.


Special considerations II - Fitting expanded text

Depending on the language pair you are working with, text might shrink or expand. (Its size might remain roughly the same as well, which is good for you two.) As an EN<>PT translator, I see this problem most of the time. According to those who researched the issue, a text in English may have its character count increased by up to 20% when translated into Portuguese.

If the text shrinks, e.g. PT>EN, the DTP-er will just have to be extra careful in rebuilding the background upon removing the original text in the pictures.

On the other hand, if the text expands and the publication layout is "crammed," some tricks of the trade will have to be used in DTP. I'll stick to the EN-PT example to illustrate; you should check how these issues apply to your language pair.

In English, it is most common to left-justify text, and not to use hyphenation. This is because syllables are longer, and any other way might look bad. In Portuguese most syllables are short, and justified text with hyphenation looks neater. In many cases this change is enough to squeeze in a few overflowing lines. But such changes must be agreed on in advance with the client, to avoid rework.

If that is not enough to solve the problem, DTP programs usually allow to play with tracking (the space between the letters), letter width (nobody will notice if letters in one paragraph are 2-4% narrower than in the others), and even line spacing, so that a longer text can inconspicuously fit into the same space.

Finally, if all these resources are not enough, in most cases there is the possibility of varying font size by half a point. This won't go unnoticed if done in one single paragraph, but if done on a whole text-filled page, it will make it look just more crammed than the others.


Special considerations III - Text inside pictures

It might be my personal preference, but I have sound reasons for not liking to graphically embed text inside pictures.

First, graphic editors 'paint' the letters on what some of them call the 'canvas', which renders them less sharp than if treated as text by a printer.

Second, if anything is to be changed later, even a minor shift in text position, unless several successive files have been saved and properly identified, it will require starting from square one: erasing the "wrong" text, rebuilding the background, and typing the text again.

Of course there are multi-layered graphic files, such as PhotoShop's *.psd and PhotoImpact's *.ufo. But these are not usually accepted by DTP programs, and have to be "flattened" (PS) or "merged" (PI), to be saved as a single-layer file (like jpg or bmp). If the graphic file is too large, this is an open invitation for Murphy's Law to act.

Finally, if some day the same publication is to be translated into yet another language, it will be a piece of cake to change the text on the DTP file pages.

But do negotiate all this with your client and your DTP partner in advance.


Finalizing the job

Regardless of the output requested, the DTP-er should provide you with a PDF file for you to review the job. Partials are okay; they are easy to make by specifying "from page X to page Y." If they did a good job, you should pay special attention to two things: a) missing text; and b) misplaced text. These are the most prone to happen in DTP.

You may find, hopefully just a few, errors in your own translation. Maybe only then will that better word choice come to your mind. This is your last good opportunity to fix them; by all means, ask your DTP partner to do it!

Once everything is ready, it will be time to prepare the output requested by the client. If it's printed hardcopy, either the DTP-er can do it, or it should be sent to a bureau.

If the final output desired is a PDF, it's not such a big deal, I always do it twice. I distill and deliver the publication at two resolutions. One at 72 dpi using all compression resources Acrobat offers, for quick download; and another uncompressed at 300 dpi for professional printing. I just checked the last job I did to give you actual figures: for a 30-page, A4 publication, file sizes were respectively 2.5 MB and 140 MB.

By the way, the 140 MB file that I delivered on a CD-ROM, emphasizes what I said at the outset about finding a DTP partner physically close.


Conclusion

Though I might have oversimplified a few things, I hope to have offered some sensible guidelines for a translator partnering up with a sesquilingual DTP artist, to offer value-added service to the final client.

 










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