Machine Translation, Translation

Translation Services: Why Even Spaces and Line Breaks Matter in Translation

translation space issues

There are times when just one alignment mistake on an application, contract, or formula could cost you your patent, contract, or reputation!

While a translator with the lowest bid, or even strictly machine translation services, might serve you well for basic text, when dealing with formal government documents, contracts, texts with graphics, projects where page or information alignment is critical, or information projects involving data fields, this choice could come back to haunt you.

Surprisingly, one of the greatest mistakes made by those who are not professional translators is not with the text itself, but with blank spaces.

The Dilemma of Handling Translation Space Issues

Words are rarely translated on a one-to-one basis, especially when translating between languages like English and Japanese. It may take an entire paragraph of Japanese to express what was written in only a few English words. When you have a limitless number of pages, this is not a problem. When filling out forms or adhering to a strict format, however, text expansion and contraction shift from a mere hindrance to a major obstacle or even a critical fail.

It is not just words that offer a challenge, but phrases, too. Many languages, like Dutch, German, and Finnish, replace entire English phrases with one large compound word. Other languages can express a longer thought in a single short word or shorter phrase. Translating a document from English to Thai, Spanish, Polish, or Portuguese may shorten the text by up to 15 percent, while the same document may be lengthened by 20 percent in Korean, 30 percent in Hebrew, 40 percent in Finnish, and up to 60 percent in Japanese.

While you may not run into ‘rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz’, the actual word that replaces “the law for the delegation of monitoring beef labeling”, the challenge should be clear.  “See you tomorrow” in French becomes “à demain”.  These may not seem to be major problems, but consider the following scenarios:

  • You have a graphic that must be on a page opposite a certain set of informational text.
  • You have a graphic which incorporates informational or explanatory text.
  • The alignment of your text is critical to the understanding of your formulas
  • You are working with a minimum or maximum page length.

In these instances, the expansion and contraction of translated text may create serious challenges to your layout and even pose difficulties in the ability of the translator to accurately translate text in the assigned space.

Elements Which Complicate Expansion and Contraction

All text will face expansion and contraction during the translation process, but there are some elements of writing that lead to a greater number of challenges.

  • Certain Target Languages. Some language alphabets and character symbols take up more space than Latin characters. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean scripts are often complicated and have vertical heights that do no fit within allocated spaces designed for Latin lettering.
  • Graphics with tight fitting text. When a page contains complex graphics with text that is closely aligned with graphic or iconic elements, text length, character size, and text position may pose critical issues during translation.

Overcoming Translation Space Issues

There are three primary elements to consider when translating documents that may have critical space issues:

1. Ensure your translator or translation service is an expert in the field in which your documents are written. When space is an issue, a translator must know what can and cannot be re-worded, moved around, or left out. This expertise must include a comprehension of technical vernacular.

Consider this example, originally presented by Michael Sneddon, an expert in foreign patent filings:

Incorrect: “Electrolyte for photoelectric conversion element, photoelectric conversions element using the electrolyte, and dye-sensitized solar cell.”

Correct: “Electrolyte for photoelectric conversion element, and photoelectric conversions element and dye-sensitized solar cell using the electrolyte.”

In the correct description, the electrolyte is used both in the photoelectric conversion element and in the dye-sensitized solar cell.

Since the smallest omission in spelling, grammar, spacing, or content could alter the meaning of the document, a contract might not say what you think it does, the patent might not protect your creation, or your formula or instructions may not work.

2. Competency in the source and target languages — Since language is rarely a word-for-word substitution, your translator must be able to express your intended thoughts in a way that is culturally relevant and best fits the space allocated.

3. Understanding of the legal concepts involved — Make sure your translator knows the legal processes behind contracts, patents, articles of incorporation, copyright, or whatever it is you’re translating. Martin Cross, an expert in patents and law, gives the following warning when it comes to translating spaces and line breaks when working with patents: “Reproduce sentence breaks and carriage returns. A lot of translators like to break longer sentences to the short ones because they feel that it will be easier for the reader. Do not do this! A judge at patent proceedings may sometimes reject a translation without even looking at the content only because the sentence breaks are not in the same place as in the source document.”

Your documents represent you. It is important that they do so with efficacy regardless of the language in which they are presented. When working with forms, graphics, and text that has limited space, it is imperative that your translator has the expertise to overcome these potentially critical obstacles.

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