Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Does a Translation Agency Do?

I am editing the (British) translations for a large project - partly construction-related, partly business/legal documents. So far, so good. I have British translators edit my (American-inflected) translations for the British market and I'm happy to return the favor by "Americanizing" British translations. But this case doesn't just encompass various MS Word documents that have to be checked against the German originals and modified for a U.S.-based end client. This time, much of the original documents consists of scanned-in contracts, invoices, schedules, etc. -- some with handwritten annotations and crossed-out sections, some even with post-it notes containing handwritten comments still attached to printed matter when it was scanned. The scans were then converted to PDFs.

All the agency's technical department did, apparently, to convert these documents to something from which translators could work is to use "Save As Word document" in Acrobat. The resulting "originals" are of extremely poor quality, with much gibberish, missing sections and strange text boxes where items have been initialed or annotated.

This seems to me begs the question as to what exactly an agency's role is. Of course, part of a translation agency's job is to get end clients -- in particular, end clients who need translations into more than one or two languages -- and to match them with translators who will handle the end client's projects. But beyond that basic function, it seems to me agencies also should be educating end clients and evaluating the documents they receive for translation.

In this particular case, for example, I would have expected the agency to tell the end client that the quality of the "originals" they were sending (which included scans of entirely hand-written documents, by the way) was insufficient to provide a reasonable translation within a very tight time frame. I would also have expected the agency's "technical department" to assess the quality of the converted PDFs and, when it was insufficient, to use methods beyond "Save As" for producing decent-quality documents in the original language.

One such method might be to convert the PDF to image files (such as jpgs), then run these files through a multi-lingual OCR (character-recognition) program. For my own end clients, I use ABBY ScanToOffice and find that the quality (and translatability) of the Word documents generated by this process far surpasses that generated by simply using Adobe Acrobat. Any other process that produces originals which can be easily processed with standard CAT tools, such as Wordfast or Trados, would be equally welcome.

How do you handle low-quality "original" documents?


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