A behind-the-scenes peek: What happens to your document once you send it off for translation?

Do you ever wonder exactly what happens to your document once you send it off for translation? Do the magical language wizards wave their wands to instantly create your files in the target language? Well, even though we like to think we're magical, there's nothing instant about it. A lot goes on behind the scenes once you hit "send".

Document Review The Project Manager (PM) who receives your documents must review the source files for any kind of errors or meanings that could be misconstrued in the translation step. She may warn you that certain expressions or idioms don't "translate well" and that a similar one will be used in the target text. You also have the option of making changes to avoid something like this if you wish. If any terms or images require localization for the target audience, the PM will let you know this, too. This is often the case in marketing materials and other files in which an image holds a specific meaning in a culture.

If you are sending scanned documents, the PM may let you know about portions of text that appear to be illegible and may create a problem for the linguists working on it. If possible, try to enlarge any blurred text or make a clearer copy for reference.

Whenever units of measurement are used in a text, the PM will ask you if you wish to convert the non-metric units to metric. Most of the time, product names and proper names are maintained in the source language, unless a translation is requested. If your products will be sold overseas and you don't plan to translate the product's label for the consumer, it's best to maintain the original product name if possible. After all, you want your product to sell and the consumer to recognize it easily.

Translation Memory (TM) If you've never had any files translated, your PM will create a TM for your files. George Rimalower described a TM as "a database of words or phrases that have been previously translated" in his article "Essential Steps for Preparing a Document for Translation" in the August 2013 issue of the ATA Chronicle. This explanation is perfect, as the process is quite complicated and many times involves converting your files into a different format in order to create a TM. The TM will build over time as more and more files are translated and the memory recognizes repeated words and phrases. The translator, proofreader, editor and PM will all use the TM associated with your files. This allows linguists to complete future projects more quickly, consistently and efficiently, and it will save you money over time.

Document Output Once the files make their rounds through the linguists involved in your project, your PM will review them again. This step is crucial to maintaining quality in the translation process. It involves much more than simply checking for any missing text, misspelled words or incorrect punctuation in the target language. The PM will also ensure that any images are recreated in the files and that any client-specific instructions have been followed with precision. She will then deliver the files to you in the format requested before starting the project.

This is just a peek into the process that takes place behind the scenes when you send off a file for translation. There are more intricate details involved in each phase, in addition to the translation, editing and proofing steps. As Rimalower adds, "Constant communication and close collaboration are critical to success during each phase of the process." If your PM is asking you a lot of questions, consider this a good thing.