Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tip for Translating Books

Slowly, I'm working on translating the Nalbinding book from the Nordiska museet.  The wealth of help out there is amazing!  There are really cool online tools and wonderful, wonderful people that have volunteered to help.  

Here are the steps I've been using to do the translation work.
  1. Take a photo or scan of the text.  If you're using a camera - get directly over head of the book and make sure you have plenty of light.  Make sure your book is flat.  I hold up the side of the book that I'm not photographing.  This allows the page I'm photographing to be flat.
  2. Edit your photos so only the text is showing.  Get rid of distortions from the camera lens if you can.  Maximize the contrast on the page.  The text should stand out and be black like it is in the book.  I use Lightroom for this - because I already have it and I can edit quickly.  But you could use other editing programs, even a free online one like PicMonkey.   I usually make my photos black and white too - to help with the contrast.
  3. Then I resize my image to meet the requirements for Free OCR online, and put the image into there.  When I get the text output, I check for errors and copy it.
  4. Next I paste the text into Google Translate and get a translation.  This will likely not be a perfect translation.  Try breaking up long words that may be compound words into separate words.  For example "Ridjackans" can be split like this "Rid jackans" and it will then translate to "riding jacket".  (I keep two Google translate windows open - one for the main text and one to try splitting compound words.)  Sometimes words that don't translate well can be guessed - i.e. technical should be technique.
  5. When I hit words that Google just can't handle, then I go to a regular dictionary.  There are several for Swedish to English that can be accessed at LexiLogos.  My favorite is Tyda.  It's a bit slow - but it's helped the most with words like "hemslöjd" which is "handcraft".  I edit the Google translation and put in the word from the dictionary.
  6. Then I copy the translated text (even if it's not complete yet).  And paste it into Evernote.  I have a note in Evernote for each page of translation with the original text and the translated text.  This way I have a copy of all the work and can easily search the book later on.
  7. Then if I need to I ask people for help.  If you ask people to help, please don't make it difficult on them.   I try to really limit what I ask of people so they don't wish they hadn't volunteered to help.  So far I've asked for help with 2 words (kavelfransar and slitryor) in 20 pages.  And the people that helped me with these words were so kind.  (Thank you saltstorm and Maria J. )   To those of you who volunteered to help - I'll be asking soon, I'm sure!  (Maria L.H. you're up next now that you're back!  *wink*)
To those of you reading this post that are starting out on your own translation endeavors - I wish you the best of luck and cleverness in the moments when it's trickiest!


  1. Hi Amy,
    very good description how to translate from a language which you don't know ;-) ...
    gave me inspiration how to translate for my reenactment-research-results from Polish to German :-))
    Greetz from Germany

  2. Yay! Good luck to you in your translations! (knowing you - you'll have it done quickly and very well.)