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Updating translated documents can be expensive and complicated if you or your translation vendor did not use Translation Memory software. We often get requests to update materials that were previously translated by another vendor. This leaves us asking our client to decide how they would like for us to handle these updates.

Updating materials is often an underestimated task. Sometimes we get files from clients that show relatively minor edits, and all we need to do is provide the edited content (strings) in the requested language(s). If the updates are few and easily identified, that process works just fine. But there is a turning point where minor updates in many places need to be approached in a different way.

Updating Translated Documents Manually

Let’s consider this process first of updating a translated document designed in InDesign based on revised source copy:

  1. Compare previous Source Document against New Source Document

Image of document Image of documentComparing files can be easy in Word, but if you only have a PDF, it gets worse. Sure, there are tools to compare these PDFs but if you have a lot of text that moves around, it’s almost easier to rely on the compare report and then do a visual compare to make sense of the markup.

TIP: Keep your source copy in Word for version control

  1. Extract Source Text Changes and apply a unique ID

IDThe text that needs to be updated needs to be extracted for updating. If the updates are just one or two words, you want to reference the previous translation to see how it was translated before. At this time, it is best to mark each update with a unique ID so that you can reference it again in the target document.

  1. Source phrases go through the translation process

Image of table in document side by side with Source and TargetTranslating updates always takes relatively more time than translating new text. You have to keep in mind previous translations and stay consistent. Also, text can be taken out of context easily, so you need to reference the rest of the materials both in English and the target language.

  1. Markup of Translation Changes in the Target Document

Image of document with markup for Updating Translated DocumentsNow it is time to mark up the previously translated document with the changes (if it is in a design file and needs to be updated). This can be a tedious process as you work directly into the target language. You can either mark-up text changes in a separate Word document or in PDF comments. Along with that, you need to make sure that you include instructions to delete or move text, move or change out graphics and any other changes that you can mark up and apply that to the target language.

  1. Format changes and QA of Target Document

Image of magnifying glass over documentWhen formatting those changes, you need to compare the design against the English. If it is a print piece in InDesign, you may need to pull new artwork from the new English file and make sure it is positioned correctly. Then, have the translation team QA the changes in the final artwork.

The Risk of Manual Updates

Each step includes risks that could undermine the quality of the updated materials as well as future updates :

  • Risk of Errors in the Manual Processes to identify, select and mark-up translation changes
  • Risk of Translating materials out of context.
  • Risk of Translating materials inconsistently with the past translations.
  • Risk of Missing design changes (fonts, colors, formatting)

This is why these update processes can be so time intensive. And any problem during the updating process could have long lasting effects as these updates do not go through the review process anymore unless they are part of a new update process. You also do not keep a record of past translations except for updated materials.

This process is good if you just want to do some light patchwork, but is likely not the best way to go if you plan to update documents regularly as manual processes compound without any chance for catching past mistakes. Also, it happens quite often that the translation process skips a few update processes in the Source Language, which complicates matters.

Checks and Balances

The complete other way to go would be to just redo the entire document every time, from preparation to translation to typesetting and QA. This may be the best option for smaller documents, but with large documents, this can be unnecessary. Some of our healthcare clients require us to run everything through State approval, which means that only necessary changes should be implemented.

Technology can help in this process. In cases where patchwork is still required, having a control document that you can rely on throughout the process not only helps to eliminate most of the manual process, it also allow you to uncover any changes that may have not showed up by simply comparing the two English documents.

The problem in this process is that you need to invest in the process that may not seem to fit the job requirements. Previous translations would have to be aligned with the English to start a Translation Memory. But once that start is made, this technology can easily pick up changes to the English, regardless of how many versions have gone by since then. It also allows you to search for past translations, look up terms and add in a glossary as a way to standardize the translation.

Hybrid Solution

So, what can you do to improve the process for updating translated documents? Here are 3 ideas we often consider in these cases:

  1. Create and Review Legacy Content

AlignmentAligning previous translations allows the process to fall back on legacy content that can be reused. By including this data into the review process, you ensure that you are consistent with previous translations and help you build your asset of terms. Consider having a general review of the legacy content to eliminate any errors that were introduced in the past.

  1. Work directly with the new English copy

Translate with TMGet rid of the compare report; it is confusing! By having a Translation Memory with legacy content, you can easily compare past translated content against new English content and determine what translation updates are needed. It’s more accurate and it allows you to analyze differences regardless of your ability to understand the translated language. It helps you to determine whether down the road you want the document completely re-typeset or perhaps come up with an efficient way to patch things.

The translation process is streamlined. The translation team has access to all legacy information and can rely on accessing the entire document for translation.

  1. Decide on a Typesetting Process

Typesetting ProcessIf you have a 100 page document and you are updating perhaps 20 pages, you can choose early on to just process those 20 pages and have that re-typeset. Just make sure that your adjustments match the rest of the document. With smaller documents, you may want to decide to patch the translation.

Consider that it takes time to mark up old translated materials and there is a greater chance for errors in missing design changes or copy changes. With the Translation Memory process, you have a great control document to pick out the translation changes. If you do decide to patch the previous translated document, consider also investing in a control document with design changes or run a visual comparison to pick up any differences in layout.

In conclusion

Manually updating translated documents may seem like a cheap and easy fix, but oftentimes it takes more time than anticipated to get it done right and you are not gaining any efficiency by doing this. Especially when documents are updated regularly, as with anything, it is a matter of investment versus risk.