Process optimization

Solving problems before they occur: how pseudo-translation can help


If it’s suggested to you that a pseudo-translation would be a good idea for your document, it’s nothing to worry about. A pseudo-translation allows problems in the text to be identified and resolved in advance before the translation itself begins, such as issues with the layout or how the text is displayed – so in fact it can be extremely beneficial.

You know the drill: you send a document to your translation agency and ask them to translate it into the language(s) you need. Sometimes, though, the agency may suggest what’s known as a pseudo-translation. Don’t worry, it’s not an attempt to evade our responsibilities as a translation service provider – it’s actually an extremely effective way to draw attention to potential problems before they even occur. But what exactly is a pseudo-translation?

You can think of the pseudo-translation as a kind of “glimpse into the future”, giving you a preview of how your documents, websites or software applications will look once they’ve been translated. Potential layout or display problems are identified before the translation itself begins with the help of a computer-based algorithm which replaces the source text with other characters. Although at first glance the pseudo-translation won’t make much sense, in fact it reveals two key elements of the subsequent translated text:

  1. Character sets that frequently come up in the desired target language can be generated.
  2. Target language characteristics can be simulated to visualize longer or shorter texts in the available space. 

An example of a pseudo-translation

Identify and resolve layout problems

So far so good – but how does this information help? As lots of clients have found, a translated text can either be significantly longer or shorter than the source text. Different languages phrase things differently, so the number of words and characters required to convey the same idea varies: a French translation of an English text can be up to 30% longer than the original, while a Korean translation of the same text will usually have 10-15% fewer characters. If the translations are going to be published in the same format as the source text, this means in one language there might be far too much text to fit in the available space, and in another the page might look too big for the text it contains. That’s where pseudo-translation comes in. It helps identify where text is likely to be longer or shorter, giving you and the agency the chance to resolve layout problems in the source text before the translators begin working on it. Common ways to resolve these problems include adapting the source document by reducing the amount of text or increasing the size of text boxes, and ultimately the result will be a translated document that looks as good as the original.

Filling in the gaps

Pseudo-translation can also help identify problems with the coding used in websites and software applications. If the coding isn’t configured correctly, multibyte characters in Asian languages or certain diacritics (accents like the French ç) might be displayed incorrectly or not displayed at all. These errors or gaps in the translated text are annoying, so pseudo-translation is often used to make developers aware of potential problems before the translators begin working on their texts. The developers can then adjust the backend programming and the CMS to include new alphabets and characters that will allow these texts to be translated correctly.

Essentially, pseudo-translation is a quick and simple way to ensure that all the content of a website or software application that needs to be translated has been imported into the translation tool.

So pseudo-translation can be a very useful option in various situations: after all, identifying and resolving problems before they occur is better than having to fix them at short notice. Ultimately, this “glimpse into the future” is a key tool that helps you and your translation agency convey your message as effectively as possible.