Using XLIFF For International Documentation

Using XLIFF For International Documentation

When submitting their translation requirements to me, I often get asked by my clients if our translators can handle multiple file types. In many cases these files are simply multiple versions of MS word based documents, although sometimes they can be more complex formats such as xml or FM (FrameMaker files), and often there will be a number of variants in terms of the output required (a technical manual in.FM, web based material in XML, for example).

One solution that negates the need to use multiple file formats is the use of a special XML based format standard called XML Localization Interchange File Format (XLIFF).

Using the XLIFF standard, translators can translate text from multiple file formats and focus wholly on the textual content of what is being translated and not the layout of the specific document. By using specific XML tags the XLIFF standard acts as an intermediary format, identifying the specific elements of a document that require attention from the translator.

Beginning as a collaboration between a number of companies in the late 1990s, the first joint committee specification for the XLIFF standard was brought under the management of the OASIS Technical Committee in 2002. It was again reviewed in 2008, and its current specification is v1.2.

In its most basic form the process for using this format follows a simple process. Firstly, the source documents that require translation are taken through a “filter” process, which separates text and layout information from the documents. For example, formatting tags in an HTML document are vital to the browser for instructing how to display the information correctly, but are of little importance to the translator who’s function it is to translate the text contained within the file. By using filters (commonly found in computer-aided translation tools), formatting elements are removed (and stored for later use) and the text that is required to be translated is identified. Filters generate the essence of the XLIFF standard. Once extracted the translator is able to begin to process the translation. Typically, before the translator is presented with the text that requires translation, any pre-existing translated text stored in the translation memory database will be added to the XLIFF file.

It is then the job of the translator to process the required translation. Easy to use text based applications can be used to manipulate the XLIFF file and often text is presented in a split panel view with the source language on the left and target language on the right.

Once the translation has been processed the elements that relate to the formatting of the document (that were previously removed by the filter) are then combined with the existing text to create the completed translated document. Textual elements from this newly created file can then be added to the existing translation memory database (should there be one).

This is a very basic example of how the process of using the XLIFF standard can work, and often further complexity is added by the use of special coding tags within the XLIFF file.

Benefits of using this format:

In our experience we have found that some of the best translators who have a vast array of knowledge and expertise in a specific area (chemical, biological, aerospace etc.) may be more than proficient in standard text editing applications such as MS Office, but do not have extensive experience in post formatting applications, usually performed by a typesetting operative or computer programmer. This then leads to one of the biggest befits of using the XLIF format, as it frees the translator from having to understand complex document formats that they may not otherwise have been able to use, and thus allowing the very best translators to work on assignments.

Although gaining credence in the industry, in our experience the format at present is not that extensively used. Although fairly common in the software localisation industry the translation industry has been slow to adapt to this standard. However, I feel this may change. As more of our clients (many of whom do not require software localisation) use a variety of file formats, the need for a system that not only helps translators to focus on their own aspect of the assignment, but also allows the document producers to retain control over how those documents are formatted, is great. The uptake of the standard should also be aided by a number of tools that incorporate XLIFF into their architecture, such as Adobe Flash which, since version 8, has allowed for the import and export of XLIFF files. We feel at PS that XLIFF is a very useful tool for assisting the translation and localisation process and, at the very least, agencies and translators should be aware of the standard.

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Using XLIFF For International Documentation

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