Translation Challenges in Desktop Publishing

The Definition: What Is Desktop Publishing?

Have you ever come across the acronym “DTP” and wondered what it was all about? Desktop publishing refers to the process of text composition, carried out with the help of specialised software on a personal computer. In the translation industry, we are very close friends with desktop publishers, and many translation agencies offer DTP services in conjunction with their language ones. But why do you think DTP services are involved when getting a text translated? Let’s find out together.

The Challenges: What Can Go Wrong?

So many things can change and go wrong in the process of translating a text into a different language. Good, experienced translators are key, of course, but there are matters that go beyond the linguistic choices which can also affect the end-result. There is more to it than extracting the original words, translating them and pasting them back in that same space. The text can get longer, the images might need adjustment, the layout might need to change. These are some of the challenges in desktop publishing.

1.       Length

Languages are very complex systems, which is why there is no one-to-one correspondence when translating a text. Often times, concepts which can be conveyed through only one word in one language need to be unpacked in another. When translating from English into Romance languages, the result tends to be between 15% and 20% longer. Translating from Finnish into English renders a text that can be up to 40% longer. You can imagine the nightmares this represents for desktop publishers!

2.       Words

Beyond translation techniques and text expansion, there might be challenges within the words themselves. Different languages use different scripts, and with more than a dozen scripts in use today, it is unsurprising that this might lead to some headaches. That font looks great! Does it include all Cyrillic characters so that we can use it to write the translation in Russian? What about those accents in French? Or the Spanish “ñ”? Desktop publishing takes all of these situations into account and finds a solution around them.

3.       Images

DTP is also relevant when dealing with a text’s imagery. Some pictures or graphs might have embedded text that is often not properly extracted by translation software. DTP is then needed in order to recreate the original picture once the text has been translated. Depending on the purpose of the document, the quality of the images might need to be taken into account. Traditionally, images in high resolution are crucial if the document is going to print, and desktop publisher might need to contact the client to acquire these. Working with PDFs might be tricky, for example, as all images tend to be downsampled and compressed, resulting in a much lower image resolution.

4.       Layout

Due to a combination of the challenges mentioned earlier, layouts might need to be entirely altered. If the text is now longer, how can it possibly fit in the same space of the original? Moreover, the text might need to comply with formatting standards if it is to be uploaded to certain platforms, such as Facebook or Google Ads. Another factor directly affecting layout is the direction of the script itself. In the Western world, many tend to forget that some languages are written using right-to-left or top-to-bottom scripts. Some might even be bi-directional! Arabic, for example, the native language of some 310 million people, is written from right to left, but then switches to left to right when including numbers or brand names which are not translated.

5.       Cultural Background

Finally, a very important factor to be taken into account when translating a text is the localisation process. Localisation involves adapting a text so that it complies with the cultural understanding that a community has of whatever concept is being addressed. This directly affects desktop publishers, who need to carry out any modification. Examples include switching around images conveying a particular process when the language is read from right to left as opposed to from left to right, or changing colours which might be associated with certain concepts in a different culture. Moreover, some imagery which is seen as totally appropriate and harmless in one culture, can be considered rude or offensive in another.

Translation is complex, therefore, desktop publishing is necessary. Skipping this step in the process can render unreadable or uncomfortable texts whose quality is way below that of the original.

Learn more about On Global’s desktop publishing services here.

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