Preparing your systems for translation

By Sam Whatley

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UI Strings

It’s fair to say that we work with a plethora of different file formats and systems on a daily basis for our clients needing mobile app and software localisation. Some are a dream to work with, whilst others present specific linguistic and technical issues. Generally, this comes down to how well a system has been designed to deal with multiple languages. Below are some of the areas that you might wish to consider when preparing your tools and files for translation.

  • Sentences over standalone
    It always helps if text comes to us in complete semantic units. Even if English allows a sentence to be chopped up into pieces or separate strings with line breaks or variables inserted between them, that doesn’t mean the same can be said for German or Chinese, where the sentence structure may change. For instance, if you need to insert variable text into the middle of a sentence (e.g. “To accept *Joe Bloggs*’s invitation, click here.”), consider using meaningful placeholders such as {firstName} {surname} rather than cutting the text into two and gluing the parts back together for display. This will allow the translators to put any kind of breaks or variables back in the most natural place and maintain the flow.
  • Context is king
    We always appreciate extra information about what we’re translating. Please send us examples of how the text will actually appear in the application if this text has been extracted to an arbitrary file for translation (for example is the label text “Complete” used as an adjective, i.e. a column heading/status, or a verb, i.e. button text? Does it refer to an application – feminine in many languages or a process – masculine?) This can be vital to ensure that text is translated in the right way according to the context, where the gender of the word in another language could change the translation. Providing IDs for text if it comes to us as an automated export can sometimes be the only way for us to see what it is referring to.
  • Not quite looking right
    If you are considering translation into Arabic or Farsi, do your systems and report generators support right to left display? Right aligning the Arabic text in an LTR interface or page isn’t enough, especially for online assessments and training courses; the whole display will need to be ‘flipped’ to make it feel “right” to Arabic speakers and for it to read correctly. Forward/back and radio buttons need to be positioned on the opposite side to English to make sense.
  • Double byte, double challenges
    Do your databases and files support double-byte characters, such as those used by Asian languages, and Unicode text for all other languages? Selecting the wrong text encoding can cause i��ue� with the di-¥Oq³Èâ*-play when non-English characters and accents are used.
  • Larger than life
    Perhaps not such an issue on the web as in print, but be aware that the length of a translation will most likely be greater than the original. If content area widths are fixed, this may mean that text will be truncated and not displayed. Ensure that content areas are big enough to accommodate not only the English text but some extra text in addition.

Of course, these are just some of the areas to bear in mind when developing your documents and systems with an eye on translation, and some may well not apply. Comms Multilingual are happy to discuss the specifics of your translating a SaaS application, and any potential problems which might arise. Please contact me if you’d like to discuss in more detail.

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