Today Tembua is talking with Jennifer Kambas, an expert on foreign language desktop publishing.
For those readers who aren’t familiar with the term, please define DTP:
DTP is the abbreviation for desktop publishing and involves using specific software for the layout and production of high quality print and digital materials using only a personal computer. Before DTP came into its own, the only way to produce such materials was through a commercial print shop.
How long have you been involved in DTP and how did you get into this interesting field?
I’ve been working in DTP for almost 20 years (wow! that went fast!). You could say that I got into the field through necessity — my husband was a Greek translator and 20 years ago almost all translation was done on a PC (Windows), but the DTP work was almost exclusively done on a Mac. Back then, fonts were not cross-platform compatible, meaning you couldn’t take a Windows-generated Greek translation and open it on a Mac. In order to solve a problem that kept cropping up, and to make my husband more marketable, I bought a small Mac laptop and experimented until I found a way to convert files for his clients.
One of his clients asked me if I’d like to learn how for format Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean for him. He’d train me and buy the expensive software needed if I gave him discounted rates for a certain period of time. There weren’t many in the DTP field who were willing to format these languages so I agreed. The rest, as they say, is history.
How has the technology changed?
That’s an interesting question because the basics are the same (layout and production steps), but advances in hardware, software and fonts have eliminated many of the problems that are inherent in foreign-language DTP.
Fonts have seen the greatest technological leap because most fonts are now created with the Open Type format. These fonts may be used on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, Unix) and in multiple languages with press-quality print performance. In the old days, a document with French, Russian and Greek required three separate fonts to render the characters correctly.
What languages are currently most requested and which are the most challenging?
I tend to format Chinese, Korean, Spanish and French Canadian the most, although I typically work in 15 or more languages each week.
Khmer and Lao are the most challenging. These languages tend to corrupt easily if the fonts and DTP software are not set up properly. They also have very few spaces within a sentence, specific rules for making a line break, and completely different punctuation marks.
What issues are there that aren’t obvious to readers of a typeset document?
Space is the number one issue. All other problems pale in comparison, but some of them include: culturally appropriate graphics, weeding out forced English punctuation and structure, and creating right-to-left documents for Arabic and other Semitic languages.
Space becomes an issue because many languages expand with translation, but most documents are designed only for English. It doesn’t take any special skill to just cut and paste text from one document to another but it takes a good deal of time and creativity to recreate a foreign-language document that looks like it was made just for that language. Consistency in font sizing, the spacing of paragraphs, the placement of graphics and the flow of the narrative all come into play. It’s a good thing that these aren’t obvious or I wouldn’t be doing my job right!
It’s a rare day when I see a document that has been designed for multilingual DTP. If I may make a comment for any of your readers that might be thinking of using DTP after translation: the amount of money and time that could be saved if clients would only spend the time upfront to create a document that was DTP ready — checking that the main fonts in the document were capable of supporting the different accent marks of an intended language(s), making sure to allow for adequate language expansion, having graphics that work across a number of target cultures, and removing excess double-spacing, soft returns, and other punctuation issues that cause translation software to corrupt the flow of text. I’ve seen some beautiful pieces look terrible at the end because no one thought ahead.
Do you see any advances on the horizon that will change the way you work?
Nothing that will be a radical change. DTP software is always being updated and improved, but these are incremental advances.
What is the most interesting aspect of desktop publishing?
The variety and complexity that happens on almost every project. Each project is unique and I love the detail and concentration that’s required to produce a great product. There are always opportunities to solve unforeseen problems and that gives me the challenge I need to keep learning and growing in my profession. I guess I really am a DTP geek :).