Tips for Multilingual InDesign Projects
Because I work in multilingual publishing, I work with people and documents from around the world each day. Many times, what I see are unstructured documents and unorganized processes, leading to inefficiency. Often, a designer ends up copying and pasting text back and forth between the InDesign document and a Word or Excel file that is exchanged with a translation vendor. Or, on better days, the designer sends an IDML file to the translation vendor. Either way, there are often problems, delays, and errors because the vendor doesn’t know how to handle the graphics, or the documents were not properly structured and formatted for translation. So I’ve developed a few best practices that I thought I’d share here.
Working With Translation Vendors
Translators often find it difficult to work with InDesign files. Instead, they use software which handles the IDML file format. You can generate IDML files easily by choosing File > Export > Format: InDesign Markup (IDML). But what’s most important is how you set up your InDesign file before you export the IDML. If you send your translation vendor files that are badly structured and difficult to work with, they may ask you to send a Word document instead, and then you’re back to the copy-and-paste situation.
Keep in mind that your translation vendor probably doesn’t use InDesign, and if it does, chances are that they don’t know how to use it properly because their work is translating text, not laying out documents. So it’s you who needs to use InDesign correctly and follow a couple of simple rules to structure your document. Also, it helps to send them a PDF file to use as a reference.
Segmentation: What is it and why should you care?
When the translator imports the IDML file, the software divides its text by paragraphs, tabs, and sentences. This process is called segmentation and it’s done automatically. Translated segments are stored in a database (sometimes called a translation memory) that is used to produce the translated text faster and with fewer errors. Proper segmentation is important because badly segmented text will be very tricky (or impossible) for the translator to handle properly.
As any automatic process, segmentation is done by following some basic rules. The most important ones under your direct control involve the use of paragraph returns and tabs. When you have a title that is separated into two paragraphs, or when you have a tab (or a string of spaces) in the middle of a sentence, you are creating bad segmentation, and that will make it much more difficult for a translator to work on your file.
Making translation-friendly InDesign files
The first steps to making your file easier to translate are:
- Use forced-line breaks (soft-returns) or paragraph formatting when you need to break a title in more lines. A hard-return in the middle of a sentence breaks the sentence in two different segments. This might be very tricky for the translators because they might not be able to comprehend or recreate the sense of the two chunks.
- Use tabs correctly. For the same reasons you should use soft returns: typing a tab in the middle of a sentence breaks the text in two different segments.
- Use paragraph styles for bulleted and numbered lists. Not only does this help you format your document quickly and efficiently, it also helps to keep the formatting correct in the language of translation, improves the translation consistency.
- Avoid putting text in linked images. All the text you want to translate should be live in InDesign. Translating the picture itself is not advisable because then you’ll need to create and manage many copies of the same image, which will complicate your workflow going forward.
Keep it simple
If you don’t translate a lot of documents and your translators handle IDML files (and you are fine with sending them the IDML file), it makes no sense to use scripts, plug-ins, or other software to export the text to Word or other formats. Follow the rules listed above. Send your translators both an IDML file and a PDF and let them replace the text in your document.
Translate after the content is final
If possible, make sure the content is final before getting it translated. It’s better to wait and hand off the final content, rather than than having to translate the entire document again from scratch, or having to track and manually update all the different language versions.
Communicate with your vendor
And finally, as with any workflow, clear communication leads to better results. Talk to your translation vendor and ask what else you can do to improve your files and speed up their job.