Multilingual Desktop Publishing Basics for Translators

When it comes to post-translation multilingual design of brochures, fact sheets and other marketing collateral, planning is the key. Nowadays, most translators are expected to be equipped with desktop publishing software and be able to use it effectively. Software varies from InDesign to Quark to Publisher but the principles of good design are the same. Knowing DTP is a great way to make yourself more marketable in this competitive translation world of ours so it is worth knowing how to get it right. But this specialised area does come with many pitfalls that can be avoided by applying some very basic and common sense rules.

Whether you are part of the team or are working in just one language combination, challenges are likely to be similar. However, if you are working in right to left or Indic languages, you need to be capable of more than just dropping the translated text in. Today’s translators must invest in technology and knowledge by learning how to add value to their toolkit. DTP is a great way of increasing the suit of services you provide and there are many on line resources that teach you how to do it, from scratch.  Over the years, we have learned that simple is never easy and wish that somebody told us this 13 years ago! Here are some basic tips to get you started. We hope you find them useful.

  1. Read the source text before you do anything. Any issues of concern such as the need to add extra pages, allowing for text expansion and slight variations between languages need to be picked up at this point to avoid discrepancies and formatting nightmares post-translation.
  2. Keep a record of everything. Ensure that the final version of the source is signed off by your client, with changes, if applicable.
  3. Hold a briefing meeting with project participants prior to the commencement. This can be done in person, via email or telephone, and doesn’t have to take long. It is simply an opportunity to discuss possible layout issues such as who is who of the project, fonts and colours (bold, Italic, underline etc).
  4. Make some decisions. What are you going to do with the text that expands or reduces in comparison to the source? Are you able to add pages, reduce font size
  5. Create a bilingual template. This is a document with the source and target language laid out side by side in a table, that makes it easy for the DTP team – or you – to drop the text into the original shell.

Once your translation is done, there are still some more questions to consider:

  1. How are you going to translate proper names? What will go into brackets? What will stay outside?
  2. How will you control all the various versions and name the files? How will you send large files across to your colleagues, project manager or client?
  3. How will you check that you haven’t missed anything? An extra pair of eyes is essential here, and the least you should do is print your work out and compare it side by side with the source text. It’s amazing what you don’t pick up on the screen.
  4. What are the outputs? Do you need to include bleeds? Is the design going to be printed, or is it going on line?

Make sure you can answer all these questions or if you don’t know them, ask someone that does. Most experienced translators are happy to share their knowledge and there are many forums, tutorials and workshops where you can learn all there is to know about multilingual design. Finally, for some definite don’ts:

  • Never make any changes to the original shell (margins, headings, images, colours) or any other elements of the design.
  • Font size, line spacing changes should be kept to minimum but when required, the same formatting needs to be applied to the entire document.

Happy DTPing!