14 September 2020
DTP in allen Sprachen

What is foreign language typesetting? Foreign language typesetting is the process of transferring texts in different languages into a page layout for printed material. This is typically performed in the scope of desktop publishing (DTP) by a foreign language typesetter. 

The challenge arises when a text doesn’t flow the way it should, such as on a website. Instead, it has to look good in a pre-defined layout grid. Further difficulty arises when texts in different languages are of different lengths – in other words, when they take up more or less space in the layout after translation

Special features of foreign language typesetting

Foreign language typesetting entails a whole slew of details and peculiarities, which an experienced translation agency must take into consideration to ensure a satisfactory result:

  • The use of appropriate typesetting (fonts) with the respective special characters and accents
  • Consideration of country-specific separation rules, quotation marks, punctuation, numbers and units of measurement
  • Inspection of layouts for RTL languages (right to left scripts) such as Arabic or Hebrew.
  • Necessary language knowledge by the graphic designer when it comes to structuring layouts
  • Consideration of varying text lengths (language expansion) for different languages

Printing companies or agencies don’t usually possess a detailed command of DTP foreign language typesetting. Your safest bet is to enlist the services of a specialised translation agency. 

Not every font is suitable for every language

Many languages have very distinct special characters that are only found in that language.

Anyone trying to type such texts, such as in Swedish or Polish, on a German keyboard, will quickly realise that it is not easy at all to find the required special characters.

This becomes all the more difficult with languages such as Chinese or Thai.

But keyboards are not the only problem. Even fonts – in other words, script that is supposed to appear in a final printed format, might not contain all the necessary special characters.

One main task of a foreign language typesetter therefore also includes selecting fonts that correspond to the intended layout specifications of the designer and that contain the necessary special characters. 

Knowledge of languages is essential for a graphic designer

Most of the time, a master layout is created for a master language, often in German or English.

If copies of this layout are to be filled with other language versions, it is then necessary that the graphic designer possess rudimentary knowledge of the language. Otherwise, it becomes very difficult for him or her to recognise what exactly belongs in what paragraph.

While it may, for the most part, be easier to take an educated guess when it comes to Latin-based languages, as our power of pattern recognition in this respect can still help us to a certain extent, languages with foreign script characters, such as Chinese, will most certainly result in serious mistakes.

Sometimes the case may be that sections of sentences or even entire paragraphs appear in the wrong place. Special characters also get lost in translation, which is often overlooked by layout specialists who are insufficiently versed in the language. 

Language expansion should be figured in to the equation

Language expansion describes the phenomenon where the same text in different languages has different lengths. If you take the English language as a point of reference, texts in most other languages are longer. The term language expansion therefore always refers to English as the source language.

If we take German as the source language, on the other hand, we have to perform a sort of “language contraction” in some cases.

German -> English: approx. 15 to 20 % shorter
German -> French: approx. 25 % longer
German -> Italian: approx. 30 % longer

Contrary to what many of us might assume of complex script characters, Chinese or Arabic translations are actually considerably shorter than German. You can find further information in this overview of text lengths for translations.

There are different techniques used to deal with varying text lengths of translations and text alignment:

First of all, it’s a good idea to pay attention to language expansion already during the translation. A translator tends rather to express himself in a way that’s short and sweet when translating a long-running language, while a translator can be a bit more generous with the length of the text with a short-running language. For this purpose, the translator must be informed in advance that the different language versions should fit into a uniform layout.

Graphic designers, on the other hand, have a little more wiggle room and can play around with fonts and font sizes. Using a somewhat more compressed font and smaller font size ensures that even a longer text fits in the same amount of space. This makes it possible to compensate for differences in line height, which can be higher for Asian or Arabic fonts than for Latin fonts.

Finally, there is also the possibility of shortening or supplementing the content.

It is important that none of these measures be implemented arbitrarily during foreign language typesetting by a design frame design specialist or graphic designer. Any change necessarily requires consultation with the client. We therefore provide information in advance about possible critical languages with regard to language expansion and provide solutions. In this way, the time required for translations can be minimised, as intermediate queries are largely eliminated. 

Foreign language typesetting made to measure

Our DTP specialists provide you support with your foreign language typesetting needs, no matter how extensive.

The minimum option is sentence editing. This involves us checking the documents or files supplied by you with regard to the foreign language typesetting to avoid mistakes going into print.

It makes more sense to involve our translation agency right from the very beginning. This gives us the opportunity to address issues such as language expansion, even when the necessary adjustments are still relatively straightforward.

We process your foreign language typesetting in these formats, for which we have interfaces to our CAT software (Computer aided translation):

  • QuarkXpress
  • InDesign
  • FrameMaker
  • PageMaker
  • Word
  • PDF
  • PowerPoint

Our translation agency has specialists in foreign language typesetting who will be happy to advise and support you.


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