Translation tips: Tags in translation

May 13, 2016

Everything evolves. 30 years ago the translators worked on typewriters, now we work on computers with special translation applications that offer a lot more than delivery of translated text. Today, the delivery includes almost ready-to-publish text that hardly need any reformatting. This is becuase in modern translation, text from source documents is imported into special translation memory applications (for example, we use our in-house developed tool iQube at idioma, which we offer for free to all the translators and linguists that work with us). And besides importing the source text, a translation memory product also imports text formatting. This formatting includes standard commands such as font and font size changes, variables, cross-references for e.g. indexes and pictures, etc. The formatting commands are referred to as tags, and when placed correctly they decide how the translated text will look like in final format.

In most cases, the translator places the tags in the corresponding places in his translation so they more or less match the tag placement in the original. For standard text, this is a process that does not take much time – in fact, the process is highly automated and in many cases tags are put where they should be without human intervention.

Too many tags = loss of concentration

While convoluted formatting commands get compressed to dense, single tags, they can still cause a lot of frustration and make the translation work extremely tedious. There are cases where text in an original can contain so many tags that the text segments can hardly be translated, while trying to simply understand the text can be a challenge (as seen on the screenshot below).

Extreme tag example: Pink tags represent Bold On and Bold Off. Blue tags are redundant with letter spacing info, which is not an issue in translation.

In some cases, especially with OCR text or text that has been edited a lot (in e.g. Word or originate from RTF files), such tags can’t even be seen with the naked eye. This issue can therefore be easilly missed by clients submitting text for translation. However, the tags show up in the translation environment – and they can create such a mess that translators lose their concentration and make mistakes they would normally not make (just try to read the text on the picture :) ).

Cutting down on tags improves translation

So especially with these kinds of files that allow you to get (sometimes excessively) creative in terms of formatting, it is a good habit to apply a general font, style or neutral text format to the texts before submitting the document for translation. This will remove most unnecessary tags and only keep those that are relevant.

The translator can then focus on his translation, choosing the right words in the context and making sure the message in the original is passed on to the foreign reader.

At idioma, it is a habit of ours to inform clients when they submit documents with tag clutter. We inform how tags can be reduced and we see it as a way to ensure quality is consistently high and the translator can do what s/he is actually tasked with: translate instead of doubling as a layout person.