Just a Plain Hamburger on a Bun

Did you know that years ago, a hamburger was just a cooked ground beef patty on a plain bun? When it arrived at your table, you could put mustard and ketchup on it if you wanted to. Some people even ordered it with cheese—particularly in the dairy belt. And then the California burger swept the nation. They put lettuce and tomato on top of the patty! Scandalous! But delicious!

Today, hamburger toppings are an ever-evolving topic: lettuce, tomato, and pickles, of course, but also onions (fried or not), various cheeses, coleslaw, eggs, peppers, hoisin sauce, chutney, bacon, olives, cucumbers, salsa, corn chips, and many other things. Our tastes have changed, and our expectations have grown. Today, a plain burger on a plain bun would puzzle an American consumer—who might ask the wait staff, “Did you forget to finish my burger?” The same growth of expectations has happened in many industries, including linguistic services. Capabilities expand, often driven by technology, and clients want more.

When I began translating decades ago, a project might arrive as an electronic file, but often it came as a hard copy, folded into an envelope. The requested deliverable would be a simple MS Word document, text only. Some clients also wanted a hard copy returned. The files I received rarely contained images—the client took care of those—and I did no layout work.

Today, we rarely have a request for the hard copy. (The exception would be documents that are certified, signed, sealed, and notarized, which require the paper version for legal reasons.) In general, our clients want an electronic file returned by email, FTP, or a browser-based file transfer service.

So that the electronic file that left our office displays correctly wherever it’s viewed, our clients always receive a PDF with fonts embedded. This matters because some languages use fonts that may not be installed on all computers. Some letters might be missing glyphs, a part of a letter. This can change the meaning of the word or it might not display at all.

Expectations have grown for every step of the translation process. Qualified linguists should be able to handle accessible images in any of the MS Office programs. Savvy clients lay out their files with sufficient white space to accommodate potential language expansion. Project managers should be able to review a file and determine if the linguists will handle images and tables—that’s the lettuce, tomato, and onions. If desktop publishing is required, that’s the bacon, salsa, and peppers. And if transcription and voice-over are needed for an embedded video, that’s the hoisin sauce, chutney, corn chips, and olives. We are no longer a plain hamburger industry!

In general, the service required is obvious from the files our client sends. We may receive normal-looking Word documents or database dumps laid out in Excel. A project may be a PDF from which we extract the text and translate. Or it may be a PDF that the client wants the translations to reproduce perfectly. Then we ask for the DTP files, fonts, and images and gladly handle them.

Some requests, however, give us pause. Yesterday, one of our clients in marketing asked us to prepare a quote. Their client had sent an English document laid out in Word, complete with beautiful graphics and tables. They also provided translations into seven languages and then asked our client to somehow insert their translations into the Word document.

We were puzzled at first. If the translations were already done and the document was in Word, what was their request? Then we looked at the files our client had sent.

Whoever did the translation work for our client’s client had delivered a document that looked like 1990: the translations were complete, but each graphic was listed as “[graphic].” The company received a useless document. Their beautiful graphics, tables, and diagrams were simply not there. What they had was a plain hamburger, when they’d expected the double cheeseburger with bacon and coleslaw.

Tembua will spend the time necessary to make the plain Word documents we received yesterday look like the original. We’ll review the translations because, if the document was returned like this, what else is wrong? Clear communication would have told the client what kind of deliverable to expect.

How do you like your hamburgers? Sometimes a plain burger is great, but there are times I want bacon and fried onions and olives, along with lettuce and tomatoes and lots of cheese.

Would you like a checklist of questions to ask when ordering translation? See below!

Patricia May
Tembua: The Precision Language Solution