News and Events


31 May 2012

Text Expansion + Contraction

Molly O C Rowan

When translating a document from one language to another, it’s important to remember that languages will not necessarily use the same amount of space on the page to communicate the same ideas. Text expansion or contraction is an essential consideration in designing, estimating, and executing your translation project.

Text expansion or contraction happens for many reasons:

  1. The scripts that the languages use may be different, and the fonts used for these different scripts may vary.
  2. The grammars of the languages may require more or fewer words to express the same thing.
  3. The content of the document may affect translation length as well; technical documents where a translator must refer to very specific ideas (probably using more words) will be more affected than informal content.

When designing a document that will be translated, it’s important to account for the expansion or contraction of the translated text. The best way to do this is by having a well-designed, dynamic template for your document. Let text wrap naturally as much as possible, and minimize the use of text boxes and hard breaks in your source document.

If you’re translating from English and a flexible design is not possible, leave extra space on the page to accommodate the text expansion. It’s also a good idea to leave extra space when there are graphics with call-outs or tables with text. You can assume about a 30% text expansion for most languages if your source document is in English – except when translating into Chinese and Japanese, where there’s typically a text contraction.

Finally, when you’re ready to translate, text expansion/contraction also plays a role in estimating the cost of your project. Simple ratios based on previous projects help Project Managers provide you with accurate estimates for each of the languages you’ll be translating into.

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