Content checking in foreign languages, in order to support the proofreading process, sounds like it could take years of study to hone and perfect. In reality all it requires is some common sense, a lot of attention to detail and an excellent understanding of how editorial services work at every stage.
When we talk about content checking, the proofreading work in the language in question has already been done, but the detail of how it’s been laid out needs to be carefully considered, to make sure there aren’t parts missing, or appearing in the wrong place (or wrong language).
The good news is you don’t need to be multilingual to content-check foreign languages, because this is an exercise that usually involves checking a translation original against the final product.
Checking non-Roman languages, however, does require the proofreader’s talent for sustained spot-the-difference. Everyone has different strengths; for instance for Tony, Chinese, Japanese and Korean are relatively easy to check, while Arabic, Georgian and Thai are the hardest.
Knowing a foreign language is useful, as is experience. You soon recognise languages and can spot when spreadsheet confusion causes a chunk of Italian to appear in the middle of some Spanish. You also get used to accented characters and the various punctuation and spacing styles.
Double check everything
In this job we also need to consider the issue of back translation – getting copy translated into English. In 2008, a Welsh local council emailed some English road sign copy to a local translator. The Welsh wording they received back was added to the road sign without being back-translated. It reads “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work required for translation.”
Translation beyond words
Some errors go beyond words. The following is from The Little Book of Transcreation by Mother Tongue, an excellent introduction to the subject. A pharmaceutical company tried to avoid translation pitfalls in a multinational campaign by using images but no wording. The left-hand image depicted a patient looking ill, the next one a patient taking the product, and the final one a patient looking well. It caused amusement in the United Arab Emirates, because Arabic speakers read images from right to left, as well as words.
Another consideration is layout – for example, German takes up more space than English. We at Accuracy Matters had to be well aware of this when checking a series of 20 children’s books written by Cressida Cowell and translated for 53 markets for McDonald’s Happy Meals over the past few years.
We also took on board differing trademark usage and advertising regulations applying in different markets. Despite these complexities, the project was great fun – a voyage of sorts through other lands and cultures.
When checking any project where a designer uses a template to produce multiple documents, we always try to look out for accidents and repetition. Simply think like a designer: if there’s a section where, for an easy life, they might copy and paste material over from a previous book, double check it to make sure the right language has been used.
When it comes to language and symbols there are other tips. A starter sample of what to look out for would be:
- The Greek question mark looks like a semicolon.
- The Spanish question mark and exclamation mark are each accompanied by an upside-down partner at the start of the sentence.
- French has a word space before question marks, exclamation marks, colons, semicolons and quotation marks. But Canadian French doesn’t. Nor does Belgian French, mostly.
- Poles prefer single-letter words at the end of a line to be taken over to the next one.
There are many more examples – a whole world of them to discover – in this fascinating branch of our job.
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash