Translation from PDF. What is the right way?
Thread poster: roberto bormann

roberto bormann  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:41
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Apr 11, 2014

Hi, people.
I'm trying to find the best mechanics to translate from a PDF document and edit it back to the source PDF document. Or even deliver it in an useful format to be edited.
I see that most of the translators hate to work with PDF source document and I would like to find why, and how to overcome this difficulties.
InDesign, Abby?
Any kind of help is welcome.
Best regards


Little Woods  Identity Verified
English to Vietnamese
Have you ask the client for a friendlier version? Apr 11, 2014

Just my two cents but I usually ask my clients for the doc file from that pdf or the indesign file. The pdf are just for my reference.

If not, I translate it manually and try to mimic the layout at its best, which was the case when I charge the client for retyping the source text to deliver them a bilingual file and they opt for just the target and a close-to-original layout.


James Greenfield  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:41
French to English
+ ...
wordfast anywhere Apr 11, 2014

Hi, wordfast anywhere can convert dead PDF documents using an ocr scanner. I did this at the weekend and the results were good. You need to register for wordfast anywhere at Then you need to upload your PDF and you will have the option of downloading as a doc for review. This produces an editable file. The link below explains this well:

I hope that helps.

[Edited at 2014-04-11 16:56 GMT]


Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 14:41
German to English
+ ...
It seems simple enough Apr 11, 2014

90% of my work is from PDF, and I don't hate it. In fact, if many translators eschew that kind of work, then it's good for those of us who do it. icon_smile.gif

How do I work from a PDF file? I open the file. I open Word. I start typing.

(I didn't understand "edit it back to the source PDF document".)


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:41
English to Spanish
+ ...
No one right way Apr 11, 2014

There is no one right way. Some .pdf files can be copied and pasted into an MSWord file, but they lose format. Others just have the translation typed out and formatted by you, just like working with a paper document. Often you can have the client do any special formatting if you are not a Desktop Publishing expert; that's what I do.

There are also some programs for conversion of .pdf to an editable format but I am not familiar with them. Working with .pdf does not scare me; I worked with nothing but paper documents for many years before computers with my output in pencil and paper. I do not use nor do I ever intend to use CATs.

I also ask the client for the editable source file if they have it.

[Editado a las 2014-04-12 17:24 GMT]


Diana Obermeyer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:41
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
Conversions are seldom perfect... Apr 11, 2014 it eats extra time. I don't dislike PDFs, I just want a consideration for the extra effort.

I prefer receiving the source file for the PDF, whether that is Word or InDesign or whatever. Any fully editable format will do.
Otherwise I convert with Acrobat Pro and then tidy up. It's rather expensive by itself, but I have it as part of CC. I find the results slightly better than with Abby, but the cost difference wouldn't be justified just for file conversions.

For some files, conversions just don't work. If it's just text and tables, I recreate from scratch.

For more complicated files, José Henrique Lamensdorf posted a brilliant and almost idiot proof walk-through a couple of weeks ago : that I keep meaning to try out (it's on my to-do-list).


José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:41
English to Portuguese
+ ...
The right way is always the way you know best Apr 11, 2014

A simplified walkthrough of an example using "my way" can be found at:

If you find that suitable, be my guest to follow.


Matthew Olson
Local time: 05:41
Japanese to English
In Japan... Apr 12, 2014

In Japan, there are three ways I've seen to handle PDFs.

One is, as mentioned above, to attempt to mimic the format of the PDF in Word. I don't like this because it can require a lot of extra time and effort on the translator's part and because, depending on how complex the original document is, it might end up creating confusion as to what block of text goes where.

Another is for the translation company to put numbers next to each block of text in the PDF. The translator than just puts the translation for each block of text under the respective number in Word. This is the simplest and, as far as I've seen, most common method (in Japan).

The third method is to make a table in Word with two columns and put the original text in one column (perhaps just a quote from the beginning of the block of text to indicate what block of text is being translated if the PDF isn't copy-pastable) and putting the translation in the other column, splitting everything into cells by blocks of text. This way, the client can easily see what block of text goes where and just paste it over the text in their original document.

I hate getting non-copyable PDFs because, what with the Chinese characters used in Japanese, it makes it far more difficult than necessary to look up the proper pronunciations of place names or of technical words, especially historical or religious terms which use characters you might have never seen before. It's not too bad if it's just a locked PDF created from the original Word document or whatever, but when it's just a scan of a poor-quality fax, good luck even reading the regular characters, which will have devolved into an illegible mass of black. Take it from me, count it as a blessing if you're translating from a language that only uses an alphabet.


Local time: 04:41
English to Chinese
+ ...
abbey finereader Apr 12, 2014

So far as I know, Abbey Finereader is the best, as it can convert most pdf to doc.
However, for some pdf, the result may be so poor that I'd rather retype it.


David Wright  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:41
German to English
+ ...
I don't see a probolem Apr 12, 2014

I just translate it into word. If teh customer wants the formatting of the pdf he/she has to send me an appropriately formatted word file. I don't "fart around" trying to match the word file to a pdf. Pdf is basically at the customer's risk.


roberto bormann  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:41
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Thank you all Apr 12, 2014

Well folks, the number of different answers, apart from being very welcomed, shows how tricky PDF translation can be.
My objective is to create a safe path for a friend who have to translate his PDF english documents into PDF Brazilian Portuguese documents.
That's what I call edit back. His current method is to send the PDF to google translator, and have people to revise it again and again to get an acceptable translation, which is then DTPed back to PDF.
Yes, it is nonsense.
After José Henrique Lamensdorf's hint, I tried the InFix software, and surprise: It worked! I followed a intuitive path (I never read software manuals before trying it)
I exported a page from a 485 page PDF as XML, dropped it into Studio 2011, translated and imported back to the InFix. Astonishing. It made it flawlessly ( despite some font issues, which I will learn how to overcome later - in the manual).
I strongly reccomend you all make a try, I got really surprised.
If I find some problem I'll tell everybody, but for this first experience it was very good.
I already tried all the methods you kindly described but all of them have shown to be tricky and not always made good outcomes.
In the aspect of who does what, I agree that using PDF is s client risk, but in this case it's a friend in need. He has no other choice.
Thank you all again, and I would reccomend you a try just to know you have a choice after all.


Sergei Tumanov  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:41
English to Russian
+ ...
oops Apr 13, 2014

rbormann wrote:

I see that most of the translators hate to work with PDF source document and I would like to find why, ...

I think that these people are not self-confident enough to start negotiating with their clients in order to agree on decent terms.

All what they can do -- to complain on forum blaming someone.... else or something else (poor software).

I like to work with pdf
I print them out and translate in a word text processor reading from the printed copy where my ocr program cannot handle these files.
Still in business... I speak about myself

[Edited at 2014-04-13 08:18 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-04-13 08:19 GMT]


Germaine  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:41
English to French
+ ...
I wonder... Apr 13, 2014

Why is it that nobody ever suggest to simply buy Adobe Acrobat (Standard or Pro)?

That's what I did and never regretted it. Sure, the first version was an "investment" (upgrades are more affordable), but this is a tool that I use EVERY day. It comes with its ocr, a pdf printer (IMO, the most effective way to create a pdf from any file) and even a "snap shot" tool to create a jpg file of a graph or other images, and a "typewriter" which allows you to fill any form. You can comment on a document, create "read only" or password protected files and, naturally, copy-paste or export the content of a pdf to Word. Well, I won't describe every thing I do with it, but why bother with workarounds when the original works wonders and saves time and your hairdo?


Eileen Cartoon  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:41
Italian to English
Adobe on-line contract Apr 14, 2014

I bought a year Subscription to Adobe and when I have a pdf I need converted, I have them do it. I figured their software is probably more up-to-date than anything I could keep on my computer. And recently I found a real plus. I had a pdf which was obviously scanned and not a pdf produced from the original word or whatever file. When I clicked on any part of a page the whole page turned blue so there was nothing I could do with it. I posted it and was pleasantly surprised to find it came back converted in word relatively well.



Tom Gale  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:41
French to English
+ ...
Usually a combination of things Jun 24, 2014

Depending on the type of PDF (text or scanned), where it's come from (Word or a different third party programme) and the complexity of the formatting there are a number of options. Personally, I like to OCR the document and then paste the OCRd text into a new Word file as either Plain Text or as a match to the new file's formatting. That way the text has standard formatting which can then be adjusted to match the original without those horrid formatting gremlins which OCR programmes can introduce and you can put it into a CAT tool without a billion tags.

If you're lucky enough to get a text PDF (like one that used to be a Word file) you can copy the text into a new Word file and use the AutoFormat feature, which will do most of the hard work for you. You then need to spend about 20-30 minutes tidying it up.

However, for PDFs which started off as InDesign files or Visio flowcharts, there is simply no substitute for the original and you're fighting a losing battle!


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