Join Dennis Meyer for an in-depth discussion in this video Working with translators, part of Localization for Developers.
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- Before we start talking about working with translators, I'd like to talk about what translators actually do. A common misconception is that translators are just the same as interpreters. People see interpreters both in real life and on TV far more often than they meet or see translators. If that's the only exposure you have to what a translator is, you'll soon find that it's quite a different experience working with translators. While interpreters do translate, the purpose of their job is to facilitate live communication between people who speak different languages.
Their concern is that both parties have a shared understanding and are able to communicate effectively back and forth in real time. Translators, though, are preparing materials ahead of time and that means that they have the time to provide a translation that is not only accurate but hopefully natural sounding and even eloquent as well. Translators have to look at a number of different factors. Firstly, there's Meaning.
The meaning is definitely the most important aspect. This is the accuracy I was just mentioning. Meaning has to be maintained but in most cases, different translations are possible and just as correct as the others. The next factors we discuss are usually what informs the choice of which of these correct options the translator chooses. Next, there's Context which normally comes down to Audience.
Text written to the general public is going to look different than text written to professionals in a specific industry. For example, take the word "uvula", the little hanging flap of skin in the back of your mouth. In French there are two words "l'uvule" and "la louette". "L'uvule" is closer to the word in English, but it's used almost exclusively by medical professionals. "La louette" on the other hand, is the word that most people would use to talk about that part of the mouth.
So if your product were being translated for the average consumer, you'd probably use "la louette". Whereas if your product was destined for medical professionals, you might opt for "l'uvule". Next, there's Style. There are things beyond the literal meaning of words to consider. Is the text funny or sarcastic? Is it instructional? Is it conversational? If you're looking to get an application's menus and interfaces translated, you want the terminology to match the interfaces of other applications that your users are already familiar with.
If you have a game, and the character dialogue is supposed to be funny, that translation is going to take more effort. As a quick rule, if the text took a lot of talent to write well, it's going to take a lot of talent to translate well. Fourth, is Formality. You also need to think about how formal or casual the language is going to be. In some languages, a different formality means that a translator will be using different words entirely.
If you've ever read Shakespeare, you'll probably remember words like "thou", "thee", and "thine". English used to make more of a difference when "thou" and "you" were both used. You wouldn't want to use the wrong one when speaking to the King though. In many languages, these distinctions still exist. And some languages actually have multiple levels of formality. If your application is being used in a professional context, you need to make sure that your translators are using the appropriate level of formality.
And the last concern I want to tell you about is Space. For most applications, and for smartphone applications in particular, space is at a premium. Sometimes a translator has to trim down the most accurate translation so that it fits the target size. There are other factors as well, but I hope you're starting to get the idea. In the end, you want a translator who is going to take the time to research the difficult words, adopt the most appropriate style, and produce a translation that's going to feel natural to users of your product.
You want a translator who can help you walk that subtle line between being polite and being too formal and distant. And the biggest part of that equation is making sure that the tranlators have all of the information they need to make an educated decision. As we've already discussed, many localization systems support adding context for each entry to be translated. But you need to know that no matter how much context you add, it's not going to cover 100% of the questions that translators will have.
Plan on your translators asking additional questions. This isn't a sign that they aren't very good or that they don't understand English very well. I've seen this be a source of some very sore misunderstandings. The simple fact of the matter is a good translation is going to require more information than you might think. So don't be surprised, or worse, hostile when you get questions from your translators. If you're getting questions, it's normally a sign that your translator actually cares about your project and wants to make sure that they're communicating what you intended.
Sometimes the translator will need to get additional clarity on the tone of voice you're shooting for when things in the original source text aren't consistent. And sometimes the language itself is going to raise questions. For example, some languages have distinctions that just don't exist in English. Many languages have separate words where English only has one. For example, for the uncle who's your mother's brother and the uncle who's your father's brother. There are a lot of other reasons that translators might need to ask you questions.
But even with a giant list, there will still be questions that arise that you just can't plan on. Because so many people don't understand this principle, you want to take the time to let your translators know that you understand that questions are going to come up that you didn't anticipate when you prepared everything for them. And beyond that, you're happy to answer questions as they arise. You should let them know who the best point of contact is and what the best method for communicating those questions is.
One last point I want to mention is that you should probably work with at least two translators per language. Typically, this follows one of two structures. Either you have one translator hired to translate and another hired to edit that translation and to check it over, or with larger projects, especially, you might have a team of several translators contributing translations, and a lead translator whose job it is to review all of the suggested translations and to give them their stamp of approval.
- Timing internationalization and localization efforts
- Researching localization targets
- Evaluating and localizing text
- Internationalizing media
- Converting to Unicode
- Supporting right-to-left languages
- Working with translators
- Testing your localization