Open Translation Tools

Preparing Content for Translation

An attempt can be made to translate almost anything into another language.  But if the source text is difficult to understand and translate then it will have impacts that content producers should be aware of.  These include, taking longer to translate, the message being lost in translation or not being translated at all.

The translation industry employs a few strategies to help ensure that content can be well translated.  These include:

  • Constraining language - by limiting the terminology, complexity and style of technical manuals it is possible to ensure that they remain translatable.
  • Pretranslation - in this process an editor, who understands the issues of translation into the target languages, makes changes to the source text to ensure that it is translatable.

Common Problems and Solutions

The following are a list of the most common issues and how they might be addressed.


The source content may be in various styles, some of which might not work in the target language.  A simple example would be where content is in a very personal style while the target language employs a very impersonal style in this type of content.

The source content needs to be adapted to address the issue or the translation brief should specifically state the change in register is allowed in the target languages.  In the long term it might be worth establishing a style guide for the source documents.

Complex Sentence

The creator of the source document might make use of a style that creates sentences with more then one key point.  A pretranslation editor would break these into two sentences.

Consistent Use of Terminology and New Terms

It is always good to build a terminology list for the domain, this helps the translators when they are translating.  In the same way the source document should consistently use that terminology.  A pretranslation editor would adjust the use of terms to align with the terminology list.

Any new terms that are found that need definition and that will need to be developed in the target language are added to the terminology list.

Logical Flow of Arguments

In the heat of a blog post an author might make an argument that is poorly developed, that makes a leap of faith or that neads a minor tweak.  A pretranslation editor would help to clarify this logic either by correcting it or adjusting it with the author.  This ensures that translators are not faced with the issue of having to build the arguments themselves.

Repetition of Logic

An author may repeat the same idea a number of times using different examples or arguing from different directions to arrive at the same conclusion.  A pretranslation editor would either merge these arguments into one, ensure that they are each logical or write something to the translators explaining that there are two ponts being developed.

Foreign Language in the Source Text

Content creators may include foreign phrases, borrowed words, slang and other words or expressions that the translator may not be familiar with.  An English author writing in South Afrca might borrow Afrikaans or Xhosa words and expressions.  The pretranslation editor might remove these or explain their meaning in a general way so that translators can translate them.  The editor could build the explanation into the source text so that it is easily translated and give instructions not to translate the original.

Content creators might want to avoid using terms that might be specific to their locale or to always explain words and phrases that could causes confusion.  There is of course a balance in that a personal piece full of colour and expresion should not become academic or plain.

Idioms, Examples and Cultural References

Idioms can be some of hardest things to translate as they have many levels of meaning.  A translator would need to understand those meanings to be able to find equivalents in their language.  This is one reasons why many people insist that translation is towards a translators primary language as it is only in this language that the translator has full access to equivalents.  A pretranslator can explain the idiom to the translator or even highlight the key part of the idiom that is being used in the context.

Examples are the easier of this group to adjust.  Its often easy to find examples from the target languages locale.  Thus the pretranslation editor can either find general examples or allow translators to adjust the example to their locale as needed.

Cultural references would include quotes, movie dialogue, etc.  "Play it again Sam", "Open the podbay door Hal", "Beam me up Mr Spock" are all reference to popular culture which may or may not be a part of popular culture in the target language.  However, the target language might have a rich parrallel popular culture for example science fiction culture in Hungarian is very rich thus offering alternatives.  The pretranslation editor will choose their approach based on the target languages, these would include asking for a similar reference, explaining the context of the reference or eliminating the reference.