How To Translate a PDF Document

Posted by Jamie on May 8, 2017

If you’re working with or creating documents and need to translate a PDF file into a different language, how do you do it? You could hire a translator to do it by hand. You could use automated software to translate or you can use Google translate.

Despite having been with us for nearly thirty years, the Portable Document Format invented by Adobe is still immensely popular. It is self-contained, flexible and allows most devices to read it regardless of operating system and installed software. Even web browsers can read PDF files, making them almost universal in their accessibility.

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.

There are professional translation companies on the internet or freelance sites such as Upwork can help. 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 seriously 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 into one of 104 languages. It is run by volunteers and requires no payment although a donation to this worthy website is definitely worth giving.

If you don’t have the source file, an effective but convoluted way to translate a PDF file is to convert the file into Word format, use Word to translate and convert it back into PDF. Word translation tools are pretty good but I would have no idea whether they are to a professional standard or not.

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

I didn’t even know you could translate documents using Google Translate until I was researching this piece. As well as translating bulk text on the web you can also upload a document and have it translated for you online.

The upside is that it is free and fast. The downside is that Google Translate will not honor layout or design. Neither can it 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. 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 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. Using software or Google Docs may not be as accurate but is free and fast which can be just what you need.

Got any other ways to translate a PDF file accurately? Tell us about it below if you do!

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