Go into any major museum or art gallery in the world and chances are you will be offered a guide to the collection, an expert glimpse into the history and meaning of the beautiful works and artefacts around you. Chances are also that this guide will have been published by Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers. For many years we at First Edition have worked in collaboration with Scala to make sure these treasure troves aren’t locked to you if you don’t happen to speak the language.

Berlin Director's Choice

It’s the mists of September 2016. Scala tell us they are publishing a guide to the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin as part of their Director’s Choice series. Michael Eissenhauer, the Director General of the museum will be writing the German source text and Scala will need us to help them produce a version in English, French, Italian, Spanish and Russian.

And this is the start of this project with us. After Michael has carefully selected the most important and interesting pieces in the museum’s collection and painstakingly chosen just the right words to describe each painting, Scala send us a simple Word file – nothing like the striking full-colour guide as it is now – and our team can begin.

These projects are great collaborative enterprises. First our German editor goes through the source text, catching any errors that might have slipped by a more academic read and making suggestions for tweaking here and there to help with consistency of style or concision or word play. The edit is checked, suggestions considered, some more queries come back. Eventually agreements are reached and the text is finalised.

Then the translation begins. 10,000 German words into English, then French, Italian, Spanish and Russian. Research is carried out to check names, origins, idioms, to localise appropriately. Each translation then edited. Each pair of eyes sees the text anew and notices new things – the English editor would like a check on John the Evangelist, our French translator picks up a query about a portrait, the Italian team query the important distinction between Florentine and Italian. All these nuances need to be checked and approved – and then they need to be rolled out to make sure they are consistently implemented across all languages. At each formal stage there are myriad micro-stages as discrepancies are highlighted, changes are discussed, texts are approved by the language professionals, by us, by Scala, by the client.

By now Scala’s designers have worked their magic and they provide us with the lovely layouts into which our typesetters can work the freshly minted texts. Then the proofread. As well as the occasional understandable mistyping, curious word break and other miscellany of the proof-readers’ daily diet, of course, not all languages are equal when it comes to volume. Careful as we have been to allow for expansion, a few of the languages have still been wilful and want to overstretch the margins. They will need to be trimmed. So again, back to the translators and editors for suggestions of further edits, back to us and Scala and the client for approval, back to the typesetter for implementation and the proof-reader for double-checking. And the micro-stages whirl again until each volume receives approval and the printers are supplied with the final files ready to roll.

It’s misty again. It’s September again. 2017. The postman rings the doorbell, there’s a little frisson in the office. A delivery. All those months, all those files, the whole great team of experts and it has arrived. A beautiful guide in six languages. We take a cheesy picture and smile. Thank you, team.James posing

(blog post by James Stedman, Editorial Translation Manager)