Adobe PDF is by far the most popular document format in the world. At GTS Translation Services, more than 80% of the requests we receive for document translation services are submitted in PDF file format. Why is this? Well, first of all, almost all DTP and text editing applications provide the option to generate documents in PDF format. And viewing PDF files does not require any software license, which means it is free to view PDF files. Viewing documents in applications like MS Office, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Illustrator requires you to have a software license that costs money.
But as most people know, PDF files are read-only and not editable. This means that it is not possible, using the free PDF viewer, to make changes to a PDF file or to translate it into another language. There are several tools that allow you to edit PDF files, but these tools are not free. The most common PDF editing tool is the Adobe PDF Editor, which starts at $12.99 per month.
Converting PDF files to editable format
One of the best ways to edit or translate a PDF document is to convert it to an editable file format like MS Word. Then it is a simple matter to edit or translate the texts. Translation of a converted PDF file can be done using any of the available online machine translation tools.
There are numerous ways to convert PDF files to an editable format. But here too, the best solutions are not free. There are several online options for converting PDF files and some of them give you a few pages for free. But some of the “free” options do not preserve the format of the PDF file well. Also, some of the “free” options do not support converting PDF files to languages other than English. High-end tools, which are not free, are bundled with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software that recognizes foreign language texts and converts them error-free.
Here are some of the best tools to convert PDF files to an editable format.
- Convertio is a great option that is available online. It converts PDF files to multiple file formats and has strong OCR capabilities. Paid plans start at $7.99 per 100 pages (8 cents per page), and subscriptions are also available.
- Adobe PDF to Word Converter is Adobe’s own tool. There is an online version, or you can request it as an add-on for your Adobe Acrobat Reader. There is an option for a free trial version.
- ABBYY FineReader is a high-end tool for PDF conversion and editing. ABBYY is one of the pioneers in the field and has its origins in Russia. They have a number of tools that are great, but owning and maintaining a license isn’t cheap.
Each of these tools has its advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes you will find that one of the tools does a poor job of converting a PDF file and another tool does a good job. Sometimes it varies from one file to another.
Scanned PDF files
One of the most challenging problems one faces when translating PDF files is dealing with scanned PDF files. A scanned PDF file is a printed document that is scanned and then converted to the PDF file format. Scanned PDF files are often of poor quality, making OCR very difficult. But certain documents are only available as scanned PDF files. This includes medical reports, hospital lab reports, academic records, and other official documents that are only available in print.
Free PDF translation
Google Translate offers free translation of PDF files. This feature is very easy to use: just drag and drop the PDF file, select the languages and Google does the rest.
If the PDF file is clean, Google does a good job of preserving the file format. But if the quality of the PDF file is not good, you may get the following message.
Microsoft Word offers an excellent option for the translation of PDF files. And it also supports scanned PDF files. This is truly a hidden gem! However, strictly speaking, this option is not free as you will need an MS Office license. Here is the workflow:
- Open MS Word and drag the PDF file into the application window. Before doing this, make sure there are no Word files open.
- Wait a few moments while Word converts the PDF to an editable format. Once the conversion is complete, the file will open in an editable format in Word with the original page layout preserved.
- Save the file in DOCX format.
- In the main menu, select Review–Translate–translate document.
- Select the translation languages. After processing, the converted PDF file will open in a new window.
Professional translation of PDF files
Sometimes a free translation is not enough, such as when you need to translate the manual for a medical device or when you need an official translation. Or you may find that dealing with a scanned PDF is too much work, especially when you need to preserve the original page layout. In these cases, go to a professional translation company. They will charge you for the work, but they will deliver a high-quality translation and also take care of the layout of the page.
About the Author
David Grunwald is the CEO of GTS Translation Services, an ISO 17100:2015 certified online translation company.
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