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Multilingual layout done right

Multilingual desktop publishing done wrongDespite the advent of XML and HTML, much of the work translated by device and drug companies still gets formatted and printed using traditional tools. The choice of desktop publishing (DTP) or formatting application has far-reaching consequences when working in multiple languages. For one, some tools lend themselves better to foreign-language publishing than others. For another, different applications have various strengths and weaknesses, making them more or less applicable to certain types of documents.

Consider some of the following challenges:

  • Manuals vs. MarCom: Technical documentation sets require the ability to manage chapters and indices. The design of marketing pieces requires the ability to handle graphics, special effects, and various print formats.
  • Multi-language vs. single language: Pieces that contain multiple languages have different formatting needs than single-language documents.
  • Single-sourcing: An increasing number of companies are switching to a write-once-publish-many process to support web, PDF and print publishing.
  • Language-specific issues: Double-byte, right-to-left... 'nuff said.
  • CAT tools: Computer-aided translation tools are increasingly common in the translation process. CAT tools do not support all DTP applications equally. This can have a significant impact on price and turnaround times.

Production times
Commonly used DTP/formatting applications include QuarkXPress, InDesign, FrameMaker, and MS Word. They are all available under MacOS and Windows. Each of these applications has been around long enough to attract its share of users and supporters (as well as detractors).

These four common applications differ widely in features, benefits, and optimal use. They also vary in their usability and the speed with which layouts can be created "from scratch."

The following is a comparison of the time required to format a typical page:
  • Word: 6 minutes per page
  • FrameMaker: 10 minutes
  • InDesign: 15 minutes
  • QuarkXPress: 20 minutes
So while QuarkXPress may be the tool of choice for design work, it is also the least productive when it comes to formatting translated texts. (These times are general estimates that include the time to cut-and-paste or import translated text into an existing template and to format that text using existing styles. The times also consider the level of translator familiarity and tool support available.)

One tools does not fit all
Before rushing to switch all of your layouts to Word or Frame, bear in mind the following six questions.

1. Which application is best for English documents?
FrameMaker is designed from the ground up to write and maintain multi-chapter books. InDesign, on the other hand, is intended as a mid-level desktop publishing application and is much for suitable to the production of brochures and short pieces. Choose the right application for your source documents.

2. Will you use translation memories?
TRADOS, the industry-standard translation-memory (TM) tool, provides filters to InDesign, Word, and FrameMaker. The difference is that the Word and FrameMaker filters work while the ones for InDesign and Quark do not.

As more and more companies use TMs, this distinction becomes important. You want to work with a supplier that will maintain a TM on your behalf. This TM will reduce the time required for future updates, improve consistency across translated documents, and provide you with (potentially significant) cost savings on your translation work.

3. What tools do your translators use?
Few translators and translation companies are "expert" users of any DTP application. Having said that, you will find more vendors that are comfortable with InDesign and Word than with FrameMaker and Quark. Sure, everybody will claim to know everything but once you kick the tires, you'll notice that many translators do not know a pixel from a pica.

4. Will you publish in double-byte languages?
Recent editions of FrameMaker, InDesign, and Word come with support for Japanese, Chinese, and Korean built in. If you want to produce Quark documents in these languages, you (or your translators) need to purchase three different versions of QuarkXPress.

5. Is turnaround time important?
Per-page production times in FrameMaker run between 25% and 50% of those in page-layout applications. There are significant time savings to be had!

A note on MS Word: While Word shows the fastest layout times in the list above, the production time very much depends on the type of document being formatted. Word does not do well with long, graphic-intensive documents. For these kinds of pieces, production times quickly double and triple.

6. How tight is your budget?
As always, time equals money. Most translation vendors charge for formatting work on an hourly basis. If it takes fewer hours to complete, it will cost the client less money.

And the winner is...
There is no single correct DTP application that will fit every situation. However, if you are working with single-language manuals and work in Asian and/or Middle Eastern languages, then FrameMaker and InDesign should come out on top of your list.

Take a look at ForeignExchange's desktop publishing and multimedia services and request a detailed proposal for your next multilingual desktop publishing project.


  1. Caroline de Hartogh said...
    DTP tools and Trados: as you stated some tools, like InDesign, can only be processed in Trados when they have been converted in a tagged version.
    Question: I am looking for a tool to convert InDesign into this tagged version and, after translation, convert it back. Would anyone know one?
    best regards,
    Caroline de Hartogh (NL)
    Carolyn said...
    Medical translation needs to be done carefully by a professional. Professional translation services will use the right software for the job, making sure the translation itself is typeset correctly and they will also make sure that you have the whole document checked by a proof-reader to check that the typesetting is correct.
    Jose Montero said...
    Don't know if I can post here this but I will try:
    Check this website, they make Trados tools for many and different programs: http://www.ecm-engineering.de/
    Hope thsi helps
    Oscar Llorente said...
    @ Caroline:

    We use CopyFlow gold - http://www.napsys.com.

    CopyFlow Gold is often used to quickly extract formatted text from an InDesign document for translation purposes and to return the content after translation.
    CopyFlow Gold for Adobe InDesign CS3 batch exports and batch imports text in separate or single RTF, XLIFF, Adobe tag, or plain text files. In short, the textual contents of an entire document are easily round-tripped.

    After installation, CopyFlow Gold adds a menu to the InDesign menu bar. The CFG Tool is a floating palette which contains the buttons to begin exports, imports and access to CFG settings. The export file can easily be used with TagEditor.
    Timothy Rosa said...
    Your post has many nuggets of useful information. For example, I found the bulleted list with the number of minutes to format a page in different DTP applications helpful. Can you provide a source?
    Agaetis said...
    Caroline, You can save indd to inx to open it with TagEditor. It is very important which InDesign and Trados versions do You have. Besides if You can obtain old indd files and old InDesign then You can use Story Collector for InDesign (privided with Trados). If You have Synergy You need InDesign CS or CS2 to prepare inx files for translation. If You have only CS3 or CS4 inx files then You have to downgrade them but to do so You need to have all available updates from adobe installed. I am not sure if it's possible to downgrade CS4 files to CS3. Here is the fix for Trados 2007 to convert CS3 inx files: http://talisma.sdl.com/utility/getfile.aspx?rid=239
    Hope You can handle the process.

    Kindest Regards,
    Rafal Kwiatkowski
    amaxson said...
    Times have changed since this comment was last commented on!
    Trados 2007 now supports InDesign CS4 .inx files directly. This is great news for translation service providers as well as their clients, as this streamlines the process. It also provides less room for errors that can occur when downsaving a file.
    Amanda Cropper (USA) said...
    I beg to differ with the assertion that InDesign does not work well with Trados. If you are running CS4 and above, you export IDML files to run through Trados to develop a package in 2009 or just a two-column file for 2007. It works beautifully in *most* cases, but there are exceptions (multilingual files, right-to-left).

    I would advise you to avoid INX if you can...they can be troublesome. Of course, if you are using CS3, INX is your option.

    CopyFlow has mixed results...it does not work well with files with lots of tables.
    Adriatico said...
    Medical translations need to be carried out by a profesional clearly, due to the sensitivity of the subject. Only professionals can carry this through without the risk of mis-interpretations which is crussial in medical related issues.

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