Rescribe: Translation FAQ

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Translation FAQ

If you would like clarification on any of the topics below, or if the answers do not make sense, please contact us.



Computer related issues:



(Please click here for more information on languages)


What is the difference between an interpreter and a translator?

Interpreters speak and provide oral interpreting. Translators write and provide written translations. Clearly, there are some people who do both but they are, in fact, very different skills. If you are interested in interpreters or interpreting, please do contact our sister company, Interpreters Unlimited.



Please describe the translation process?

All translations must be carried out by more than one person. The world's best translator is capable of overlooking or missing some piece of information. So a standard practice in the translation industry is to use both a translator and a proofreader, sometimes called an editor. Every word must be read by at least two people. Our basic, fundamental task is to move words before the eyes of the most qualified translator and proofreader. Specialties vary: a legal translator would not be a good choice for an automotive manual.

Additional complexity enters the process as a result of the form of the material and the nature of the content.

Form—if the translation must match the form of the original, as with a brochure or flyer or poster, then the translated text will need to be manipulated to ensure it fits within its bounds. Partly this is because translated text is never the same size as the source text. Flow, hyphenation, layout, white space, tabulation—these all change when the text is translated. So part of the translation process is manipulating the target text until it matches the source.

Content—for a translator content is everything. Rather than contemplating the zen of translation we would like to mention, briefly, the necessity for consistency. Whenever you are translating, whether one document or a sequence of documents, it is essential that the content is consistent. It is wrong to translate, unknowingly, an identical phrase in different ways. There are a number of techniques for ensuring consistency but the most reliable is to use memory software. So, another significant part of the process is to develop, use, monitor, and refine glossaries to ensure consistency.

There are many other aspects to the translation process that can become tortuous and intricate on large projects. However, the base process is that all documents go through a translator and editor, using techniques for ensuring consistency, and are then formatted to account for differences between the source and target languages.



What is memory software?

Memory software is a generic term for a kind of software that stores lists of translated terms and prompts the translator with those terms when they are repeated. This is a very crude description for some fairly sophisticated software. The variety we favor is called Trados. Extensive information about its capabilities can be found on the Trados web site.

The purpose of the software is to ensure that words, phrases, and terms are translated consistently, both within a document and from document to document.

When we work on a client's project, we develop glossaries in Trados that allow us to track consistency within that project as well as for all future work.



What is language expansion?

When you translate from English to another language, there are almost always more words in the other language. English is extremely compact. For example, a sentence translated into Spanish will expand by perhaps 25%, Vietnamese by perhaps 35%. Of course, these figures are educated guesses: the subject and style of the material has a profound effect upon its expandability. There are also a few languages which expand when going into English (German sometimes, Hebrew and Finnish, for example).

Why does this matter? If you have a certain layout in the English document you want to duplicate, you will have to account for the expansion factor. One good approach is to start with a generous amount of white space in English, which will be correspondingly diminished in the translated version. Other approaches are to reduce margins and font sizes, steal white space from column gutters and graphical elements, or, as a last resort, expand the amount of paper used.

Expansion is also a factor in pricing. Translations are always priced per target word—that is, by the output unit. Expansion therefore has an effect upon the total cost of the translation.

Most of the statements above are true in relation to Roman languages. With non Roman languages (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Laotian, Thai) it is hard to determine expansion because in many of these languages there are no "words" in the Roman sense. These languages tend to be character based rather than word based.



What is Internationalization?

Internationalization, in the context of translation, is a jargon word normally used for an approach to creating software that is mindful of multiple linguistic markets. The elements of the program—mostly strings, string lists, prompts, menu items and so on—that would change from country to country are isolated programmatically (e.g. in resource files) so that they can be easily translated without a translator getting anywhere near the program code. There is a good discussion of this in the context of Unicode on the Unicode site. Please look here.



How to translate numbers and measurements?

Try these sites if you need a metric measurement converter or a currency converter.

When translating out of US English, the standard way to handle US measurements is to convert them to metric and to put the US measures in parenthesis. For example, "blah blah 3.7 inches" should become "blah blah 94.0 millimeters (3.7 inches)" or "blah blah 9.4 centimeters (3.7 inches)." Of course, this reverses when translating into English.

One important consideration is conversion rounding and imprecision caused by changes in scale. In the above example, 0.1 of an inch is equivalent to 0.25 of a centimeter or 2.54 millimeters. Therefore, if you keep the same number of decimal points the precision of the measurement alters by approximately 250% or 2500% depending upon which conversion is used.

This can be a problem in many ways—legal, technical, and, with currency, financial—and we suggest that you may wish to incorporate a statement into the translated material stating which measurement prevails in the case of inconsistency or differences of precision. You may also wish to alter the rules for rounding: for example, if you are specifying inches to one decimal point you should probably round to the nearest centimeter and certainly round to the nearest millimeter.

One final note—if you are translating into English, it is important to know that American and British (Imperial) fluid measures are not identical. A British pint (20 oz.) is bigger than an American pint (16 oz.), and so gallons are also different. Fortunately, the UK is now firmly committed to metric units so this anomaly is becoming far less relevant—unless you are a brewer!



For exporting products to Canada, what are the labelling requirements?

There is a very clear description of the requirements on the web site of the Canadian Competition Bureau.



How do I send you a file using FTP?

If you are unfamiliar with FTP, please click here.

You can send us a file by anonymous ftp but you must contact us for the settings. We do not place instructions here for security reasons. The ftp server is unpublished and the incoming directory is hidden. You will need the IP address of the ftp server and the directory path to upload files. Once you have these two pieces of information you can use anonymous ftp to send us files.

Once you have uploaded the file, please email us the filename(s) you uploaded.

Note: once you have uploaded your file it will not be visible on the remote server. This is for security reasons. If you want to check whether the transfer was truly successful you can try uploading the file again. You will get a "permission denied" error if the file is already on the remote server, which tells you that your upload did succeed.



What is FTP?

FTP is an abbreviation for "File Transfer Protocol." Using FTP you can send files without worrying about size limits that may restrict you when using email. (Many email servers reject attachments larger than 5 megabytes, some reject those larger than 2 megabytes).

FTP is not complicated, but you do need to obtain some basic software. You also need the specifications for the remote server.

A special kind of FTP is called "Anonymous FTP." Using the User ID "Anonymous" and your email address as a password you can log into a wide variety of servers, including ours.



Where can I get FTP software?

For a Mac:

For a PC:



What is PDF?

PDF is an abbreviation for "Portable Document Format." PDF allows you to view documents in any language even if you do not have the fonts for that language. For more information please see the Adobe web site.



How can I view or print a PDF file?

You need the free Acrobat® Reader. Click here to download it from Adobe's website.



How can I send you a huge file?

You have four choices:

Put the file on a zip disk, a jaz drive, or burn a writable CD. To send big files electronically, please use FTP.

If you send us a zip disk or a jaz drive, we will return the medium once we have processed your request.



Can I view Asian languages using Word?

For some general information about multilingual capabilities in Word 2000 please click here. In general, if you are using Word 2000 you should be able at least to view and print Word documents in any language. If you want to install Far East support for Office 97, please follow these directions. Note all these links are for the PC not for the Mac.



How can I install Cyrillic fonts?

There is a comprehensive site dedicated to this question here. Also, if you are having trouble viewing Cyrillic in Word 97 please look here.



Where can I get fonts?

There is a large archive of non Roman fonts at the Yamada web site. Please click here.


How do I get a certified translation?

It is important to be precise about the concept of "certified" translations and "certified" translators. In the US there is no mechanism or procedure for certifying either translations or translators. There are certified interpreters at the Federal level and in some states, but they are beasts of a different color. (Interpreters work with spoken language, translators with written language.)

The de facto mechanism that is used is for the translation agency to "certify" a document as a true and accurate translation based upon our professional judgment. Please note that when we do this we seal and number both the source and translation so that there is no possibility of substitution or alteration, and therefore "certified" documents cannot be faxed.

If necessary, this certification can be notarized (sometimes this is a requirement for RFPs for foreign governments).

This "certification" mechanism is appropriate for documents required by the INS or other government agencies and also for documents that are part of litigation.



Can you certify a document for the INS or the court?

The short answer is "yes" but please see the certification topic for details about what "certify" really means.



How do I get a notarized translation?

You probably do not want a "notarized" translation. If somebody asks for this they are probably looking for a "certified" translation. There are rare occasions when the certification letter which accompanies a certified translation must be notarized, but this is a rather different issue.

Please note that notaries are not empowered to certify that a translation is a true and accurate translation—the role of the notary is to act as an impartial witness during the execution of legal and commercial transactions, not to evaluate the contents of documents.

So if you have been asked to obtain a "notarized" document the request is probably for a "certified" document.



Do you translate Ethiopian?

Nobody does, because there is no Ethiopian language. People from Ethiopia speak one of 82 possible languages. About 30% speak Amharic, which is the standard language used in government and lower education. There are media in Amharic including radio, television and newspapers. Tigrinya, English, and Oromo account for somewhat more than an additional 20% of language users in Ethiopia and the rest of the population speaks one or more of the other 78 languages. English is used in higher education.

So, to reach the widest audience the appropriate language would be Amharic, while English would be used for educated Ethiopians.

However, it is important to note that although someone is from Ethiopia they do not necessarily speak Amharic.



What is special about Hmong and Mien?

Hmong is primarily an oral language and there are disagreements about how it should be written. This is hard to believe for English speakers who cannot imagine a language that is not automatically a written language. There are similar issues with Mien.

Therefore, translations into either of these languages represent a serious compromise. There is absolutely no guarantee that a Hmong or Mien speaker will be able to understand a document written in the scripts used to represent the sounds of these languages.

Please see here for more details about Hmong and Mien.



Can I get a Mandarin or Cantonese translation?

No. Cantonese and Mandarin are spoken dialects of Chinese. Written Chinese is written using either simplified or traditional Chinese characters. Details.



How can I incorporate Asian text into Quark?

QuarkXPress® on an English language operating system will not allow the use of double byte character sets, like Japanese or Chinese. Therefore there are two options if you need to use such a language with QuarkXPress®. Option one is to purchase a double byte version of QuarkXPress® and run it on an Asian operating system, or, with the Macintosh, on an English Mac with the correct language kit.

Option two, which is some thousands of dollars cheaper and far more appropriate for limited use, is to turn the Asian language into a graphic and import the graphic into QuarkXPress®. The best approach is to convert the text into an Illustrator® Outline EPS, because then you can scale and manipulate the text—Illustrator® Outline EPS turns each character into an individual graphical unit that can be moved around or formatted separately in English language QuarkXPress®.



What is a Semitic language?

This is a group of languages spoken in northern Africa and the Middle East, including Arabic and Hebrew. Semitic language script is written from right to left.

These alphabets use symbols to represent only the consonants and long vowels. Short vowels are typically not written even though they often determine grammatical and morphological meaning. Special diacritical marks were developed in the 8th century AD to represent short vowels. Such marks are included in text that is geared toward language learning. In Hebrew they are also used for printed literary text.

Words are formed from a root (composed of consonants) which represents the core meaning, and a vowel pattern. All languages of the Semitic group have masculine and feminine gender.



What is a Roman language?

"Roman language" is a term for a language that uses the Roman alphabet. The Roman alphabet, also called the Latin alphabet, is essentially the alphabet familiar to English speakers.

The Roman alphabet derives 21 of its characters from Etruscan. The Romans added two more to make 23, and the modern English alphabet has added J, U and W to make 26. Other languages add diacritical marks to the characters, or combine some characters (ligatures).

English, French, Spanish, and most European languages are written using the Roman alphabet, as are Tagalog, Hmong and Vietnamese. Major language groups that do not use the Roman alphabet include Semitic languages (e.g. Arabic, Hebrew), Cyrillic languages (e.g. Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Russian), Asian languages (e.g. Japanese, Chinese, Thai) and Indian languages (e.g. Hindi, Urdu).

Note that a Roman language is not the same as a Romance language, which is, loosely speaking, a language derived from Latin. Spanish and Italian are both Roman and Romance languages. English and German use the Roman alphabet but are not Romance languages.


Which languages are most common in California?

The short answer is Spanish. The long answer is much more complicated and some pertinent information is here.

Note that there are many varieties of Spanish spoken in California, and "border Spanish" is quite different from the Spanish spoken in Central Mexico. For some information on the different varieties of Spanish please see here.


Translations in Farsi, Hebrew, Arabic, Italian, Dutch, French, German and many other languages
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