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How To Translate a PDF Document

Posted by Jamie on August 2, 2018

In the last thirty years, PDF (Portable Document Format) files have gone from being something nobody had ever heard of to being the most popularly used document format in the world. PDFs are self-contained, flexible, cross-platform compatible, and relatively light in footprint; you can display a PDF on even very basic hardware like an inexpensive smartphone. The best part about PDFs are that they read the same no matter where you look at them – a PDF on your phone will look the same as a PDF on your high-end desktop. Even web browsers can read PDF files, making them almost universal in their accessibility.

However, that platform independence doesn’t apply to human languages; a PDF in English can only be read by someone who knows English. If you’re working with or creating documents and need to translate a PDF file into a different language, there are three basic approaches to doing it. You can hire a human translator to convert the document into a new language, you can use commercial software to translate it, or you can use the Google Translate service to do it. In this article, I’ll show you to get started with these different methods of translation.

Translate a PDF file by hand

If you have the source file which was used to create the PDF, you can use a third party translation service to convert the document into the language you need and then save or print as PDF. Depending on what or how many languages you need, this can be the most accurate way of getting an accurate translation. Human translation is still usually better than machine translation, especially for complicated texts. Finding a translator isn’t difficult; there are many professional translation companies on the Internet and you can also look on freelance sites such as Upwork. You can post a translation request and freelancers will bid on the work. I have used Upwork as both a provider and client and can attest to its effectiveness. Some very talented people get work from there so it well worth checking out.

If you need to translate a PDF file for professional use or a presentation, having it done manually may be your best option. This would obviously work best at the creation stage before the document is made into a PDF file but can work afterwards too. It just means a little more work for the translator and a little more expense for you.

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Translate a PDF file using software

If you often need to translate PDF files, you may want to invest in professional translation software or service to do it for you. If you only need it occasionally, a free service might be just what you need.

One such service for occasional use is DocTranslator. It’s a free, web based document management service that can translate a PDF file to and from any of 104 languages. DocTranslator is run by volunteers and requires no payment although a donation to this worthy website is definitely worth giving.

If you have a Microsoft Word source file, you can use Microsoft Translator for Word to translate the document, and then and convert it to PDF. If you don’t have the source file in Word, you can convert your PDF into a Word document and translate it and then convert it back. Word translation tools are pretty good but are not going to do as good a job as human translators would do. However, you have the advantage that if you have the document formatted properly in Word, the translated document should preserve your layout and formatting.

This method can work well for professional documents or presentations but you have to trust software to have gotten the translation right. For internal or personal documents, this should not be an issue.

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Translate a PDF file using Google Translate

Google Translate is a powerful translation service that translates text on the fly online, but you can also use it to upload a document and have it translated for you. The upside is that it is free and fast. The downside is that Google Translate will not honor layout or design, and it can’t work with longer PDFs. If you have the source file and don’t have Word, this would be a very viable option to translate small PDF files. If you have a PDF, you have to decide whether you need to preserve the layout or not before uploading it.

  1. Navigate to Google Translate.
  2. Select the ‘translate a document’ text link under the language input box.
  3. Upload the document and select the existing and desired language.
  4. Hit Translate and wait for the process to complete. It may take a few minutes depending on the size of the file. Watch the progress in the bottom left corner of your browser to make sure it is working.
  5. Download the translated file and use it as you see fit.

You can also access Translate from within Google Docs so if you already have the document in Google Drive, just access it through Docs and select Translate from the top menu.

Google Translate is notoriously hit and miss when it comes to the accuracy of its translation. Considering it is a free app, we shouldn’t complain too loudly but it is a bit of an issue if you are preparing documents for publication or presentation.

Which method of translating PDF files you should use depends on what you’re doing with the document. Manual translation takes time and costs money but should be much more accurate than machine translation – critical documents for business should probably go this route. Using software like Microsoft Translate for Word or Google Translate may not be as accurate but is free (if you have Word 365) and fast which can be just what you need.

Do you have any other methods for getting great translations of PDF documents? Let us know down below!

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