Multilingual design and translation documents

Multilingual design

Working with a single language is relatively straightforward so long as you are familiar with its nuances & rules. When dealing with multiple languages though, great care and attention to detail must be employed to ensure that each language is given its due. Every Language has its own unique combination of factors in style, script or reading direction.

Whenever undertaking any kind of multilingual design, a clear understanding of what typesetting a foreign language involves is imperative. If you were to compare Chinese and German to English for example, you would see that German words appear much longer and the Chinese, much, much shorter.  Even at this basic level, text length alone can have a dramatic effect on a translated documents’ design.

Text length is just one basic aspect of many which has to be considered while designing a multilingual document. The next thing to take into account is the direction of which a language is read. In Latin based languages, sentences are read from left to right where as other languages like Arabic, Hebrew and Urdu are read from right to left. This variation has a significant impact on a documents layout, which generally needs to be completely flipped. For a multipage document, this can mean the back becomes the front and vice versa.

Another factor that designers need to be aware of is that not all languages use a standard font. For instance, Western European languages generally employ Latin or Roman script whereas Greek, Russian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian languages use completely different character sets.  These are just some of the fundamental differences designers need to consider when working with foreign languages…

  • Text length
  • Word order
  • Reading direction
  • Character sets

Aside from just the technical implications, designers also need to be sympathetic to several cultural concerns. Colours and images may have significantly different connotations when viewed in different regions, which can range from benign to severe depending on the target audience. Depending on the document, this can require a significant redesign to ensure any potential culture shock is avoided.


5 Reasons Multilingual Typesetting Is Harder Than You Think

You’ve no doubt heard the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But how does that apply to translation? To put it simply, words aren’t the only thing that can get lost in translation. Without special precautions, the visual impact of your content can easily get lost in the shuffle.

For example, international typesetting is trickier than it might initially seem to the uninitiated. However, ignoring its complexities can make your translations look unprofessional or even unreadable.  Here are 5 reasons multilingual typesetting is harder than you think:

Multilingual Typesetting Pitfall #1: Formatting

Text formatting conventions can vary between languages, even languages that are closely related. Here are some of the most common pitfalls:

  • Hyphenation and line breaks: Different languages have different rules about if, when and where you can use hyphens. For example, there are no hyphens in Arabic.  English allows them in a variety of circumstances, although grammar experts and organisations disagree on the particulars. German, on the other hand, allows hyphens, but only in certain locations. And then there are languages like Thai, which don’t have spaces in between words but do have rules about where the next line can begin.
  • Text Direction: In English, of course, we read from left to right. But that’s not true for all languages. In Arabic, Hebrew and Persian, text is written (and read) from right to left. This might mean you need to reverse the entire layout of your document. And what if there is some Latin text embedded in the document and left untranslated? That can get really interesting!
  • Numbers: Different countries write numbers in different ways, too. For example, some countries use a comma where we would use a decimal point, and vice versa.
  • Alignment: Standards for how to align text also vary from language to language. For example, in Chinese, it’s important that text is aligned precisely and justified on both sides, if possible. Meanwhile, Arabic is almost never aligned to the left.

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