The Art of Multilingual Desktop Publishing (DTP)

woman working at computerPeople often think that multilingual desktop publishing is an easy task. Usually all the design work has been done in the English version and the foreign language DTP only requires placement of the translated text. In fact, today, there are a number of tools that make it possible to automatically extract the text from a design document in XML, XLIFF, RTF or other formats that retain all of the formatting. And, after this file is translated, the text can be imported into the document automatically. So what is there for the DTP person to do? The answer: “Plenty.”

The first thing that the multilingual DTP professional often has to deal with is the text expansion that often occurs when English text is translated into many languages, especially European languages. Text is often 20-30% longer in translation. Text expansion can cause various problems including, breaking pages in strange places, wrecking the alignment and balance between text and graphics, and causing tables to enlarge. A good foreign-language DTP professional is adept at moving around text, adjusting white space, and making other changes to accommodate this expansion.

Other languages also have different rules for things like punctuation and hyphenation that foreign-language DTP professionals needs to be aware of. Otherwise, in the course of “fixing” a layout problem, they can introduce new errors.

In the case of Middle Eastern and Asian languages there are many other considerations. Of course, where the language reads right-to-left such as Arabic and Hebrew, the entire layout will have to be reversed, something that is not always a simple matter. Bold and italic letter may not be used, so differences in emphasis have to be expressed in other ways such as larger fonts.

In some cases, the foreign-language DTP professional may be called upon to make bigger changes to suit the culture of the foreign audience. For instance, they may have to locate new graphics to substitute for those that are not suitable for the other culture.

Although foreign-language DTP is best left to a professional in that language, there are many things that the original designer can do to make the process go more smoothly. Our white paper, “Tips on Graphic Design for Translation,” will tell you much more.

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