Source files are incredibly important resources that ought to be acquired before starting any translation project.
Translation is an industry and job that has experienced incredibly fast change in just the last few years. Technology, a shrinking world, and an increased focus on language in both the academic and business sectors have had several effects on this business: One, it’s allowed folks like me to start my own translation services business, because there’s sufficient demand and volume out there to make going it alone possible. Two, it’s put a lot of stress on the translation industry to become more efficient, to work more quickly and be more accurate. And third, it’s become extremely reliant on computers and software – and this is an industry whose mantra for decades was that only humans could possibly do translation work.
Keeping up with these changes is one thing, but you also have to keep up with the ripple effect that these changes starts in motion. One aspect of translation work that wasn’t much of an issue when I first started out is the question of source files and their importance to the translator. Today, source files can be crucial to the success of your translation project.
Going to the Source
A source file is basically the original format of the work you’re translating. Most often these will come to you as application files (in a program like InDesign) or word processor files (e.g., Word documents), as well as graphic files that have text in them.
On the one hand, you’ll need to be able to access and view (and possibly interact with) these files, which can add a layer of cost and complexity to your work. On the other hand, many can be viewed without investing in expensive software – and it’s often very much worth your effort and your money to have this capability, for a wide variety of reasons.
The Usefulness of Source Files
There are plenty of reasons source files make your job easier and raise the quality overall:
- Source files give you context. Context is crucial when trying to figure out subtleties in language and what the original author, who is usually not consultable, intended. It’s amazing, actually how much seeing text formatted and laid out as intended affects the perceived meaning of the words.
- If you’re using a translation memory system, being able to import the text from the source files gives you the full power of translation memory, which not only speeds up your work but acts as a quality check as well.
In short, source files can be as basic as a reference fall-back for you, or as complicated as being the difference between hitting your deadlines and your quality goals or not hitting them. Source files aren’t always available, but I would urge any translator to make every effort to acquire them for their projects. The benefits are real, and the drawbacks minimal.