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Ten things a translator needs – number 9

Our penultimate post in this series addresses spatial awareness.

That might sound a bit strange in relation to someone sitting at a desk, but in almost all translation contexts there are space constraints of one kind or another that make spatial awareness surprisingly important. Lack of it on the part of many translators can cause real frustration among DTP operators, web designers and document owners.

All too often, a focus on choosing the right words leads translators to overlook the fact that those words need to fit into a more or less fixed amount of space. Think of text labels for on-screen icons, for example, or words that appear on buttons and switches – there just isn’t enough room to accommodate a translation that is significantly longer.

Advertising is another case in point. A campaign slogan will usually have been chosen for brevity and maximum impact, so a translation that is appreciably longer risks diluting the impact and disrupting the carefully chosen design of the ads.

Similarly, headings in a brochure or magazine are particularly important. The chosen font size often means that only two or three short words will fit. Clearly, the cleverest translation in the world is no use if it cannot physically be accommodated within the layout of the page.

The overall length of a text is also an issue. Depending on the language involved, translations can end up being significantly longer or shorter than the original text, which results in either too much white space or the need to cut excess content.

Note that these various points can only really be addressed if the translator has access to the final, laid-out version of the source document, rather than just an unformatted version. If translators are just given a lump of words, they will be flying blind.

As the above examples show, spatial awareness is an important asset for any translator and can help to avoid frustration and extra work further down the line.

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