Oct 25, 2018

Document Translation Done Right

Document translation is an important element under the umbrella of translation services. If a business wants to enter a new market, it will have to localize for the target audience, and document translation plays a vital role in this regard.

These documents include key corporate, marketing and sales documents that can help the business convey its messaging in a language spoken by the people of that region. Document translation brings immense benefits to the table, and you must be able to leverage its potential.

Here are 9 considerations that will allow you to do so:

Identify the Right Document

Some businesses that might choose to translate all their documents for a given market. They might be making a mistake in this case, as some documents may not work for their target audience. An annual report can be translated verbatim, but a marketing document may not work in its translated form.

Even big brands have got their marketing message wrong while trying to globalize their brand.

Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising report offers great insights into the kind of advertising that works across the world. Keeping this report in mind, let’s take the case of an advertising brochure that a UK-based business has created for the local market.

The brochure has a humorous bent; however, it now wants to target the Latin American market. In this case, advertising that illustrates a real-life situation will work better. Rather than verbatim translation, transcreation will work best here, wherein the material from the source document is creatively used to adapt the translated document to suit the needs of the local market.

Readable Document Text

Businesses that need to translate documents must send the file in a format that is immediately readable. There are cases wherein you might want to send an encrypted file, given the sensitive nature of the information. In such cases, make sure you send the decryption keys to the translation provider. There are also occasions when you may want to translate non-digital assets such as magazines, annual reports, brochures, etc. In such cases, make sure when you send them to the translator, they are scanned properly and aren’t missing any sections.

You don’t want an important document, such as a medico-legal document, translated erroneously because there was important text missing.

Define Project Scope and Scale

Let’s try and understand project scope and scale with the help of an example:

Say, you have identified a newsletter as the document you want to be translated. This document is being sent to spread awareness of the impending arrival of your brand in a particular region (China). So the question to ask here is – Does the newsletter conform to Chinese cultural nuances? Is there a need to transcreate the message? Will this be a one-off newsletter?  Will there be a need for sending successive newsletters every month, before your business finally opens its offices in the country?

These considerations come under the ambit of project scope and scale.The answers to these questions will help you prepare an effective translation brief for your service provider.

Specify the Translation Language

Do you know which language spoken by the most number of people in the world? Mandarin Chinese tops the list, closely followed by English.

There are two things you must keep in mind while zeroing in on the translation language.

  1. The region you are targeting
  2. The number of people speaking a particular language in your target region

Here’s another factoid that will help you understand the importance of identifying the right language for translation. If your business is targeting Switzerland, it’s important to know that German is the native language for 63% of the country’s population, with speakers concentrated in Zurich, Bern, and Basel. Your business must be aware of such stats. So, choose your translation language with care.

Dialect Specific Translation

Most languages have their standard versions, and it usually makes good business sense to target the standard language, but there are occasions when you might want to target a specific target audience with a dialect they can understand better than the standard language.

This map gives you a clear picture of the various dialects of Castillian in Spain. If you are a business that wants to target the Northern regions of Spain, it would be a good idea to ensure your document follows the Northern variants.

Allow Enough Time for Translation

Different translation agencies have different formulations for calculating project delivery timelines. Typically, the delivery date is worked out keeping the number of words, industry domain, number of translators working on your project, and the amount of time required for desktop publishing (formatting).

A larger project will take more days to complete. That is why it’s crucial to work out the project scope and scale, as mentioned earlier. If you have a large translation project and there is a chance the project will increase in volume, work with an agency that has the resources to accommodate your growing needs.

Avoid Machine Translation

According to Global Market Insights, the market for machine translations will be more than USD 1.5 billion by 2024. There is no doubt that machine translation is on the ascendancy, but it comes with its share of problems. There is a very good chance not every word in a given language has an equivalent word in another language. In this case, machine translation cannot be of help.  Sentence structures of different languages are often not the same, with different parts of speech. Such differences cannot be addressed by machine translation and human translators offer a far better service. Another limitation of machine enabled translation is they cannot take care of cultural nuances.

It’s important to work with a translations company that offers human translations wherein a native speaker of the language works on your translation project.

Awareness of Text Expansion Interfering with Existing Formatting

A translation project isn’t limited to translation alone; it also covers the formatting of the document.There are 26 letters in the English alphabet, 23 in the Portuguese alphabet, 28 in the Arabic alphabet and 50 letters in the Japanese alphabet.

What does this tell you? The letter count of translated words will differ. A word might have 5 letters in English, but its translated version in Japanese might have 8 letters. This impacts the layout of the document.

Ideally, the format and file type of the translated and source document should remain the same.  If the original file sent to the service provider was a .docx file, the translated file should be sent back to you as a .docx file and not some other file type.  To limit formatting issues, make sure that you work with translators who have in-depth knowledge of both the source and target language, and also have:

  • Cultural understanding of the language
  • Know formatting expectations of the target readers
  • Domain-specific knowledge of the subject of the translation project
  • Hands-on knowledge of the formatting standards required for the project


As a client, you have a role to play as well. Before you submit a document to the translator, make sure that you format the document so that there is plenty of white space in case the text expands during translation.

Consistent Quality

Maintaining translation accuracy and the format across all your documents is critical for the success of your localization efforts. Work with a certified company that meets all the quality standards set by the translations industry.

Before you finalize the translated document, have a third-party, who is a native speaker of the language, proofread it.  When it comes to translation, it’s about making sure that the document is conceptually correct.

Take for example the case of a legal document. There may be some expressions in the source document that won’t have a perfect equivalent in the target language. A literal translation won’t work, and the translator will have to come up with a term that is the conceptual equivalent of the source term.

While checking the quality of this particular legal document, the person must ensure that the translated term delivers the same message and the document as a whole is the near-perfect translation of the original source document.

Document translation is part and parcel of the translation effort by a business. It is the bread and butter of a translation services provider. However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges associated with this process. But, if you do keep these 9 things in mind, you will be able to maximize its potential.

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Mahi Baid

Mahi Baid

Mahi Baid is the Senior Growth Manager at Translate By Humans. She is also a seasoned project manager, very well versed with every stage of our service cycle, and an expert when it comes to the Financial Translation Industry.

Mahi is an advocate of healthy, organic living. She is a trained chef and can make an absolutely unforgettable Thai curry!

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