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How To Translate a PDF Document

Posted by Jamie on June 4, 2019

In the last thirty years, PDF (Portable Document Format) files have gone from being something nobody had ever heard of to being the most popular document format in the world. PDF documents 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 PDF documents is that they look the same no matter on the device you use to view the document – 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 from web-enabled devices. The PDF format is pretty close to being the universal format.

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 TechJunkie article, I’ll show you to get started with these different methods of translating a PDF document from one language to another language.

Translate a PDF file with the help of a professional translator

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 at 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 is well worth looking into hiring a freelance translator.

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 afterward 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 multilingual translation service offered by Google through a web interface, an iPhone and iPad app, an Android app, and an API that enables web developers to integrate translation services into their web pages and web apps. Google Translate uses powerful machine learning algorithms to continually improve its translation capabilities.

Google Translate is free and fast. The downside is that Google Translate will not honor layout or design, and it can’t work with long PDF files. 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.

Here are the instructions for translating a PDF using Google Translate’s web app:

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  1. Navigate to Google Translate
  2. Click on the Documents tab
  3. Next, Choose a Document to upload from your computer
  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 you’re done!

You can also access Google 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. That said, Google Translate has made massive improvements in recent years and continues to improve.

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.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also find How to Translate a Google Sheets Spreadsheet with Google Translate useful as well,

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

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