PDF Files

Many documents are today stored and transmitted in Adobe’s Portable Document Format, abbreviated PDF.  PDFs present some challenges for translators. There are several things to understand about them and their relationship with the translation process.

In the old days, the process of translation involved the translator manually rewriting or retyping the text from a handwritten or typed original.  This may still be required in some cases, but since it requires manually reworking the text it is slow and inefficient and incurs additional costs.

Computer Aided Translation software

Most translation now requires CAT (Computer Aided Translation) software to handle the text in an orderly fashion.  While the software doesn’t actually translate, it organizes the translator’s work in an orderly fashion, helps keep terminology consistent and provides an efficient workspace for the translator.  All of this requires that the text is available in digital form and in a normal sequence.

PDF files lack this.  The text in a PDF file is not necessarily in any particular order, although it may appear so on the screen.  In fact the text may actually be an image, like a photo of the text, but with no digital text content at all.  This is frequently the case for PDF files that result from scanning a document on a photocopier.  Translating from a scan will incur an additional typing charge.

Creating PDF files

It is important to understand that PDF files are not created directly.  There is an underlying format that was used to create the PDF file in the first place.  Most people would be familiar with the ability of Microsoft Word to save a file as a PDF.  However, to edit or change the PDF, it is necessary to change the original Word document and resave it as a new PDF file.

For professional use most PDF files are generated by professional desktop publishing software such as Adobe InDesign, QuarkXpress or Frame Maker.  These are professional programs that require skilled people to operate, but translating their files directly is possible by a skilled translator.

Therefore, when a translator is presented with a PDF file to be translated, there is a problem.  PDF files are not intended to be edited, including rendering in another language.  In a few limited cases editing may be possible but usually the PDF file will need to be converted into a Word document that has a similar appearance to the PDF, but is not completely the same.

Original source files needed

The better solution is to provide the translator with the original source files that were used to create the PDF file to begin with.  This will enable the translation to result in file that is translated consistently.  In some cases the translation will be a different size on the page than the original, and some DeskTop Publishing work will be needed to correct the format and positioning.