Setting up for translations
Localization means adaptation of the language in a document or software to a new culture or region. This could be as simple as changing the spelling from American English to British English (for example, “color” to “colour”), or it could be much more complex.
It could mean preparing a document for translation into another language, or it might be taking a document written in another language and badly translated to English, and making it audience friendly.
Sometimes manuals written in foreign languages are poorly translated to English. The result can be entertaining. I recently bought a new kitchen device, a vegetable slicer. Instructions included:
- Helps your cooking fast, joyfully with wonderfully edged strings
- This photo shows how to make fine cut of carrot. Also, cut it in tiney [sic] pieces with kitchin [sic] knife and use for Hamburg [sic] steak.
- Obtain strings and expose them to eunninf [sic ??] water well.
- Made of safety type, hi-quality nylon beinforced glass.
- Helps you in cooking fast, joyful, beautiful sharp edged!
I might be willing to cook joyful a sharp edged, but I’m not sure I’d find someone willing to eat it.
The luxuring wireless remote controlling stretches out and draws back the door translates to Deluxe Wireless Remote Controlled Retractable Gate, and we’ve all seen instructions that recommend we connect wire to Earth.
So localization performed by an English-speaking technical writer will often involving intuiting what the intent truly is, then rewriting it so that it makes sense.
I remember a document many years ago that we’d received from a Japanese client. Two of us spent an afternoon dismembering half a page of text, going back and forth with our local client, and testing procedures on the device we were documenting. When we finally deciphered what the text was supposed to say, it reduced down from about 200 words to a single sentence.
That’s one side of the coin.
The other side is setting up your material for translation into other languages. There are a few simple rules that make the job of the translator much easier:
- Never use contractions.
- Never use slang or idioms.
- Never use possessives. (Instead of “the user’s first option” write “the first option of the user”.)
- If working in a very structured layout, allow for expanded text. Romance languages (French, Spanish and Italian) take 20-25% more words than English because of the sentence structure used.
The translation service usually gives the option of applying the translations directly in the source document or providing tables of translation, where words or paragraphs in corresponding languages are in corresponding columns to the original English. I personally like to work with the tables so I can continue to maintain control over the layout and copy-fitting.