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One of my latest French game localization projects was the critically acclaimed Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights, a brilliant Metroidvania available on PC, Switch, PS4 and Xbox.
Its unique atmosphere and puzzle-like narration made for a great localization challenge. Piecing the story together and then translating faithfully while not being too vague/obvious was quite the balancing act. This time, I also had the chance to translate directly from Japanese, which is immensely helpful when it comes to getting the tone and nuances right. I was also blessed with a fantastic editing/testing team, whose thorough efforts helped polish the French copy.
As a translator, it is so rare to get credited (or even allowed to mention my work) that I didn’t want to miss the chance to share the news. Thanks to all parties involved for making it possible!
It’s been forever since I last posted on this blog, but I’m still very much here and I have kept myself busy.
The IT industry is constantly changing, and at a pretty impressive pace. While I constantly read and learn about new things as a translator, I feel a more formal and structured learning approach is necessary to truly keep up with developments and understand what lies behind all these new terms and technologies.
The two most recent courses I’ve taken were about Cybersecurity and Machine Learning.
Cybersecurity is a fast-growing specialization, and anybody using connected devices should at least be aware of the basic security practices. Besides the professional aspect of it, studying this field encouraged me to review my own security processes, from handling project date to securing my accounts to applying security mechanisms to all of my connected devices.
Similarly, I had both a personal and professional interest in the theories behind Machine Learning. The demand for this skill is growing at an incredible pace in the IT industry. And as a translator, it is interesting to know what sort of technology underlies machine translation tools. It also helped me catch up with popular programming languages such as Python and R – always nice for someone who likes to code his own scripts.
Overall, I’m delighted I took courses in these two fields. It left me with practical information I can use daily for my work, and a deeper understanding of some of the terms and technologies referred to in the documents I translate.
By internationalizing your products, you can gain a number of significant benefits in terms of localization time and costs when you decide to, say, translate your software strings into French or any other language. Always plan globally to make the most out of your international initiatives.
1. Increase revenue and profit potential
World-ready software is accessible to more users around the world because it can support many more languages beside English. As a result, a world-ready application can be sold in more places thus potentially increasing your revenue and profits.
2. Reduce international development costs
Time is money, but time saved by not producing a world-ready product is short-sighted. If you think about international users’ needs up front and incorporate them into your original designs, you will not have to go back later and fix design issues to enable globalization or localization or create multiple localized source codes for your product.
3. Get more miles out of your code
A single code base that supports users worldwide is much more efficient and cost-effective to develop and manage than a product with multiple code bases. With a single code base, it is much easier and less error-prone to update the product. As a result, code quality improves. This allows for greater code reuse and can serve as the foundation for the next version of the product.
4. Cheaper and easier to localize
With world-ready software, localization is streamlined. All the files you need to hand off to your localization team or vendor are separated from the code meaning less opportunity to introduce functionality errors in the code.
5. Easier to customize to meet customer preferences
If you want to take a product to a new level of user experience and excitement, consider market customization. With market customization, you enable your product so it is easier to modify its look, feel and behavior. The product appears to the customer as if it was designed for their specific market.
6. Lower testing costs
Testing localized products based on a single code base that has been designed for international markets reduces the duplication of functional testing prevalent in localized products based on different code bases.
7. Empower any user, anywhere, anytime
A world-ready product that supports many languages provides a common platform for communication and collaboration across the Intranet and the Internet for any user, anywhere and in any language. By shipping a world-ready solution, your customer in India can ensure easy data exchange with the colleagues in China.
8. Lower support costs
A product based on a single code base can simplify software distribution and deployment, plus it can lead to shipping a single service pack that can be installed on any language version of the application.
9. Increase customer satisfaction
Proper globalization and localizability during the planning and design phases can reduce localization-related delays and help you reach international customers sooner. Products that are localized reduce the learning curve for your customers/users thus enhancing their experience and increasing their satisfaction.
10. Move ahead of the competition
A product that is world-ready allows your company to enter markets more quickly and easily because it already supports foreign languages and is primed for quick turnaround in localization. Your company and product becomes more agile in seizing emerging opportunities. Furthermore, by using the savings realized from efficient development and reduced localization and testing costs, you can gain even greater advantage over your competition by expanding the language footprint of your product(s). As a result, you can reach more customers with products in their language.
Note: I originally wrote this article for the 2019 edition of JAT’s Translator Perspectives.
During one session of a translation conference I attended last year, the speaker explained what drove his switch from freelancing to working as an agency employee. One of his arguments was that working for a company offered more stability and future guarantees. That’s the typical way people oppose freelancing and employment. Freelancers enjoy their freedom, employees bring home a steady paycheck – no feast or famine cycle.
That’s something I used to believe too. However, time and experience helped me realize freelancing offered more security than any long-term contract ever could. On the other hand, the perceived stability that comes with employment is often illusory.
As a freelancer, the revenue you generate will vary on a monthly basis. True enough, but it applies to every business, small or big.
I am an incorporated translator. I pay myself a salary and fill a profit-and-loss statement at the end of every fiscal year. Thanks to my experience, I can predict with a reasonable accuracy (+/- 10%) my earnings for a given year.
With that figure in mind, I choose a salary slightly below my expectations. I then adjust the amount every year based on my results and predictions. With time, I have saved 6 months worth of my current salary on my company account, which I consider a comfortable cushion. Even if I started receiving fewer projects, I have a good reserve to tap in before getting into trouble, and even time to reconsider my career. This approach allows me to work without concerns about my financial future, and I can take cold-headed career decisions.
Another element of stability I enjoy as a freelancer is that my clientele is diverse, spread all over the world. Even if I lost a client, I would still have plenty of partners. And if that became a trend, I would have time to take measures accordingly.
As a company employee, though, you are never completely safe, no matter what your contract states. Businesses run into financial and legal troubles. Another company may acquire yours and make you redundant. That’s frequent in our industry. You may also make the mistake of your career when you expect it least and suddenly find yourself unemployed. I’ve seen talented colleagues lose their jobs over silly, uncharacteristic blunders. The risk always exists although you may not perceive it.
I’m not trying to push people into freelancing or drive them away from agencies. But it is a mistake to associate freelance work and lack of job stability. Once you realize you are a business like any other, you organize yourself differently. It requires a certain mindset and different skills. Thus, some will never manage or want to adapt to it and prefer working in a bigger structure. That is completely fine. But it doesn’t mean you can’t make freelancing work for you. Be the ant, not the grasshopper, and you will never need to worry about cold winters again.
This excellent article was originally written by the much-regretted José Henrique Lamensdorf, a freelance translator colleague who was always an incredibly kind and useful member of our community. He has helped hundreds of translators address difficult challenges in our industry, and his wise advice still perfectly applies today.
Everybody wants to buy everything cheaper, this is natural. Of course anyone has many things they would like to buy, if only they had more money. So translation services are no exception, yet how can you get cheaper translations?
I often get requests from prospects, asking me for my best rates, my best price… as if I had a host of options like a large car rental company. No way! I can’t offer a translation with or without air conditioning, power steering, etc.
Yet there are several opportunities to reduce your entire expenditure in projects involving translation, and not so many translation clients or outsourcers grab them. Here are ten of them, most – if not all – mutually exclusive, so you should use as many as you can.
The basic tenet everywhere is to avoid rework. If any apparent initial economy poses a threat of later requiring rework, it should be stricken out as an option from the start.
1. Translator selection criteria
At the outset, you are constrained by the language pair(s) involved. Usually, you have the original in one language, and need it translated into another language. If the translation market from English into Hindi is generally cheaper than, say, from Japanese into German, there is no use in trying to use one’s figures in the other. It’s the old supply-and-demand rule: you’ll have to pay what it costs to have your specific needs fulfilled.
Some languages pose an additional challenge, variants. If you have marketing reasons to need, say, Canadian French, Brazilian Portuguese, Australian English, it’s not a wise option trying to impose a variant different from their own upon your targeted market. The message conveyed will be somewhat demeaning: you don’t seem to consider them important enough to deserve your material translated into their particular variant.
Some countries have specific laws on translation rates, e.g. for sworn translations in Brazil and apparently some video translations in France. If you find a translator willing to give you a cash rebate (as local law disallows discounts), rest assured that they will be cutting corners somewhere else, which may increase the risk of the translation needing rework later.
2. Specialty areas
Do you really need a specialized translator? If the material you need translated refers to a specific field of human knowledge, for instance, electronics, medicine, law, biology, etc., it’s likely that you’ll need a translator who can understand enough of it to make sense in a different language.
Of course, a specialized translator – by the law of supply and demand – will cost you more. Yet this is not always a must, and it’s not so difficult to determine whether you need it: simply consider the target audience for that specific material.
For instance, if the content you have to translate is generally classified as “medical”, check its intended audience. If it is addressed to physicians, surgeons, or other healthcare professional practitioners, there is no other way out, you’ll need a specialist who commands their terminology in both languages, and clearly understands what’s being said there. However if it is addressed to patients, their family members, or the general public, you won’t necessarily need a specialized medical translator.
The same applies to any other area of specialized knowledge. Of course, a truly specialized translator will render somewhat better work aimed to laypeople in that subject, however there is no need to require it as a must.
The more time you give a translator to do their job, the less disruption you’ll cause to their schedule, so they will be less likely to surcharge you for any hassle.
I see many people wasting several days, sometimes weeks, searching for a cheaper translator, until their deadline is so close that it becomes a rush job.
The Brazilian law on sworn translations, one of the few regulations available anywhere, is quite fair on this matter. It stipulates a relatively low daily production volume for the translator per client, yet the translator not reaching that level, and thus delivering late, may be penalized in 50% of the statutory fee. On the other hand, it stipulates a 50% surcharge for urgency, i.e. demanding more than that minimum production per business day, as well as a 100% surcharge for work required on weekends.
A professional translator will usually have several jobs going, and will juggle them in order to meet all the deadlines. Yet he or she may assign #1 priority to only one of them at a time. If everything is properly scheduled, and you suddenly assign them a maximum urgency job, it’s obvious that this will wreak havoc in that translator’s schedule, not to mention the likely need for them to work longer hours in order to avoid missing both yours as well as other deadlines. So, if you give them more time to do everything orderly, in a planned sequence, you can count on their standard, non-surcharged rates – whatever they are.
I’d like to enrich this example by explaining how books get affordably translated by busy professional translators. I won’t delve into details here, however it should be mentioned that publishing a translated book calls for a huge up-front investment, while the return will only begin to materialize after readers start buying copies from a store.
Regular translation work is done in spurts. From the translator’s standpoint, jobs come, get done, and are delivered. So, between one such job and another there is often a void, which could fall into the “idle” time category. If a translator has the chance to work on a book with an extended deadline, they may turn these idle time slots into something profitable, even if marginally. So they are able to offer considerably lower rates on jobs that can be accomplished using mostly their otherwise unproductive time.
4. Price ranges
Before reading this article, this might have been your only criterion to decide upon choosing one translator over another. Yet it is not a matter of merely comparing figures and selecting the lowest one.
Of course you should hire translators at the cheapest level required to reach your objectives, yet you shouldn’t hire them at the cheapest level, period. Check your objectives first, and then – considering all other points here – select the translator who will offer you the best cost/benefit ratio.
Several translation portals on the web may give you a clue on what’s the average market rate for a specific language pair and direction. Yet the actual rates translators adopt may vary sharply, so here are some general guidelines.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s stipulate that the average market price for the translation you need would be 100. No currency mentioned, no specs, just 100. Apply that to your actual figures, to see what you’d get. Variation within each range should reflect each translator’s experience, thus allowing for a maturity curve. Translation quality is not an exact science, so the figures are a general reference (there is no concern on e.g. what happens between 90 and 99); it is a continuum.
5. Payment terms
Would you hire a bank to do your translation work? I hope not. Even if they agreed to do your translations, they would be amateurs in this trade, as they specialize in financial services. So what would justify securing loans from translators? They are supposedly amateurs in money lending.
A bank offers good (i.e. low) interest rates on loans because that’s their core business. A translator doing it would be outside their turf, so they should charge bad (i.e. outrageously high) interest rates. Yet several countries have grown a culture of paying translators in 45, 60 or more days after delivery. Why? Because they rely on the translators’ ignorance in finance; after all, they are linguists, men of letters, not numbers.
Do a reality check… verify the rates of a top flight translator specialized in finance, who supposedly understands how mankind deals with money. Are their rates outrageously high? Certainly! And why? Because most of their clients think it’s normal, or usual to pay a translator at least 30 days after delivery of the services. Ask that finance-specialized translator for a discount in exchange for COD payment, and it’s likely that you’ll get it.
On the other hand, merely asking any translator for a discount upon learning their price, without offering any kind of relief or changing your request in any way, may reveal some valuable, factual information. If a translator gives you a discount merely for your asking, according to my personal ethics manual, s/he is dishonest! They were initially trying to rip you off! Now they are disclosing their actual price, because they felt you were smart enough to suspect it was a rip-off, regardless of whether you did it or not.
However it is perfectly normal and honest to negotiate a price reduction upon relieving the translator from parts of the assignment, or giving them more time to finish the job.
6. Freelancer or translation agency?
In most cases, hiring a freelance translator directly should cost you less than doing it through a translation agency. After all, the agency must make a profit and pay taxes, so a longer supply chain should reasonably increase the cost.
However at least two aspects – when they are present – may render the translation agency approach actually cheaper than hiring a freelance translator. Most of the savings pivot on the cost of your own time.
If you have an unusually big translation job, while its deadline would be normal for a mid-sized one, hiring one freelancer will inevitably cause them schedule disruption and/or overtime, so it is likely that they will surcharge you for that. A translation agency is geared to set up a whole team of translators, so each one will work in their normal routine, at their normal rates. The agency will also arrange for text standardization and reviewing, as needed.
If you decided to set up that translators team yourself, imagine how much of your time it would take to recruit, select, provide directions, follow up, manage their bills and payments, and still assemble all the pieces you’ll get into something uniform. A translation agency may do that much more efficiently, hence more economically.
Similar situations arise when you have to translate one original into several different languages, or when additional work is involved, like DTP/formatting, audio recording, video subtitling, DVD authoring, etc. First, you’d have to recruit, select, negotiate, and manage a host of mutually independent vendors. Just imagine getting a pile of invoices, one from each of them, and you’ll promptly hand that job over to an agency. Furthermore, there is always a risk of one vendor having quality issues with the previous one’s delivery, starting a loop until all these are fixed.
Of course, some translators offer services beyond translation, however these are rare. The agency cost reduction won’t show on the job bottom line, but on yours instead: you’ll have more time to do anything else instead of masterminding alone a translation-and-whatever, possibly complex project.
Some tips comparing when it’s better to hire a freelance translator or a translation agency may be found online. There are also some other tips on selecting either one of them.
7. Material provided
The material you give the translator to work on might make quite a difference. For instance, you may have it in hard copy, so you simply copy & snail-mail, fax, or scan into a PDF file and e-mail it to your translator. This was the customary original for translation in ancient, pre-computer days.
Presently translators have a host of tools to translate much faster from computer files into computer files. The industry standard is Microsoft Word’s DOC file. If that original was generated somewhere in your firm using MS Word, it would be worthwhile to seek that file. Many translators surcharge work done from hard copy or PDF (Adobe Acrobat) files.
Talking about PDFs, there are two kinds of them: scanned (aka “”dead”) and generated (aka”live”, “editable”, or “distilled”, as Adobe calls them). Scanned PDFs are just as good as hard copy: a letter “O” there is a circle, its text is not editable. OCR (optical character recognition) software may extract text, its quality depending on various factors, including the scanning resolution (at least 200 dpi, to be of any use). Generated PDFs are editable, and there are several methods of working with them, though not so many translators do it.
Though working from a PDF will inevitably cause an additional cost, if properly done, it will eliminate the need for much more expensive DTP (desktop publishing) work afterwards, to get some ‘artsy’ publication properly laid out after translation.
However the publication you have to translate may have been created with other software, most likely of the professional-level DTP packages, such as InDesign, QuarkXpress, Frame Maker, or PageMaker. Occasionally it will have been created with the low-level DTP apps, such as Microsoft Publisher, Serif PagePlus, or the freeware Scribus. Each of these programs uses its own proprietary files, and the few existing converters between some of them don’t work well. So there are four basic options.
If you do have that specific software as a standard in your business unit, you’ll need a translator who has – and knows how to use – translation software that will go into those files and translate the text inside them. Your specialized staff for using that DTP package will have to go into those files to check and adjust layout issues created by text reflow. This option may be more economical on the long run only, if you ever need to update or otherwise edit those files in-house.
You may have to seek a translator who actually works with that specific DTP software, so they may translate in it and fix the layout issues. This may be hard to find, and probably more expensive. Check your reasons for keeping this translated file compatible with that software in particular.
If you can’t find a translator who works with that DTP software, you’ll need a DTP operator who can extract the text from that publication, and a translator to do the job. Then you’ll have the DTP operator implement the translation onto the DTP file, and ask the translator to check how it came out, possibly on a PDF file. This is one of the most expensive and time-consuming options, which should be avoided as much as possible.
If you can find a translator who works directly on PDF files, though fixing layout issues on the PDF will cost something additional to the translation itself, when this entire project is outsourced, the total expense will be much lower by recycling most – if not all – of the artistic layout work.
Video translation is another case where some care may reduce costs significantly. Most video translators adopt sometimes substantially lower rates when a script is provided. If a script is not available, written material or even related content links on the web might help to some extent.
An important point to stress here is that video dubbing or subtitling is a linear process. If anything is not adequate in any step of the way, and poor quality is detected later, this will require the entire process to go back to the flawed step, and redone from there on.
The bottom line is that since translation is the very first step, saving on rates here is not a sensible option. The translation itself may be cheaper, however the entire process may come out quite costly.
For instance, if the translation for dubbing is inadequate in terms of metrics, I’ve seen it happen: dubbers may take much, much longer to “make it fit”, several times more time, indeed. At the end of the day dubbers, technicians, dubbing director, and the studio time – all hired by the hour – may cost several times more than the savings in hiring a cheaper, possibly less competent translator. Likewise, if the translation for subtitles is not adequate for subtitling, it will often require extensive adaptation, or even redoing.
So in video work, the later in the process you think about cutting costs, more chances you stand in actually doing it. For instance (though I don’t recommend doing it), if you cut costs on the last step, say, DVD duplication, it may work. If you resort to cheap copying on cheap media from a pristine master, the worst that may happen is to get many non-playing copies, which your vendor will have to replace at their own expense, if so agreed. Though it’s not a sensible option, this should give you the general picture.
8. Delivery level
Check your actual needs in terms of delivery, and don’t ask for more than you really need. Avoid paying a translator to do something that will be redone anyway.
For instance, take the case of hiring someone to translate a PowerPoint presentation. Translators usually charge extra (often as much as 20-30%) to fix all layout issues resulting from text reflow or adjusting alignment after translation. If you have any PowerPoint wizard in your company, or if anyone will go anyway through the entire presentation to make further changes, possibly to adapt to some other material, tell the translator to stop at proofreading, and leave the layout/formatting as it comes out.
Otherwise, if you are having the entire translation revised by target-language-local staff for marketing or technical changes, maybe you can save some costs by asking the translator not to go beyond spellchecking.
9. CAT tools
Maybe you are familiar with them, maybe not. CAT is an acronym that stands for Computer Aided Translation tools. What they do is to build a database of pretranslated phrases, called Translation Memory, maybe in that specific job, maybe in that subject, or even over a translator’s lifetime. The intent is to spare the translator from remembering all the identical or very similar phrases s/he has translated already.
If your company publishes a lot of similar material, for instance, a computer printer manufacturer who publishes new, yet basically the same, user manuals all the time, it’s worth the time and effort to implement such an automated system, and demand work to be done within it always.
On the other hand, you may have read somewhere that all professional translators use a certain CAT tool… and no other! This is that tool developer’s marketing strategy: they persistently struggle to drive home the idea that no competent professional translator can be rated as such unless they own and use their product. They hammer it so often, and so insistently, that any open-minded individual might believe it.
Have you ever heard the expression “garbage in, garbage out”? For your information, there are many brands of CAT tools, and the one I am referring to is only the most expensive. Furthermore, a CAT tool doesn’t translate on its own; all it does is to remind the translator how s/he translated any recurring word, expression or phrase, and spare them from retyping it. If that translator translates badly, the best CAT tool won’t help improving their output.
So, before you bluntly reject each and every translator who doesn’t use any particular CAT tool, do a reality check: does it matter at all for you?
A really competent translator would deliver the same translation quality using pencil and paper. Maybe it would take them much longer to research, translate, spellcheck, verify consistency and grammar, but the quality should be the same. On the other hand, a fledgling translator most likely would deliver amateur work, even having the most expensive software available.
If what you need is the translation alone, you shouldn’t bother about the tool the translator uses, as long as no trace of its use is left on the material you get. On the other hand, if you demand expensive tools, take into account that the translator will be seeking return on their investment on them, therefore being more expensive.
10. Solid information and instructions
One foolproof way to waste money in any kind of project is spending it on rework, thwarting any attempt of making it right the first time. If anything is changed after a job has begun, chances are that some work will have to be discarded, fixed, altered, or redone. Translation is no exception.
So get your act together before you order a translation. If you assign a project, and later decide that some parts should be deleted, others must be added, and something has to be done differently, get ready to watch a variable amount of your money going down the drain.
If you are unsure, and feel that you are dealing with an honest, reliable translator, ask for their advice. Remember they do it for a living, so chances are they have seen or been through similar situations before. Tap on their experience.
The worst case scenario is when the result is better than what you expected, so it took a completed job for you to discover that something could be done much better than what you asked for. Then you decide to go for higher stakes and, quite often, this will require starting over from square one: this first attempt will have been mostly a waste of time and other resources.
So here’s the deal: Envision the whole picture!
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can save money by merely comparing $/word translator rates and hiring the lowest number. Check your final objective, and look for value-adding investments all the way. Think in terms of cost/benefit. Sometimes a minor extra cost may leverage the benefits so many times that you would never consider saving those pennies in translation, had you thought about it.
Yet I’ll end with a caveat: there are indeed cases where the cheapest is the best. The example below shows the instructions provided with a 99¢ retail priced vegetable peeler. If whatever you need your translation for is not worth more than that, forget all this, and go straight for the cheapest translation you can get. Have fun!
If you are new to translation, you may not be familiar with steps a professional translator should take to ensure the quality of their work.
In broad strokes, here are the 7 quality assurance steps I follow for each translation project. They can vary a bit from a project to another depending on content, deadline and other factors, but that should give you a fairly clear idea:
A translator can only deliver satisfactory work if they are comfortable with the project at hand. If the content seems out of my league, I will let you know and refer you to a colleague when possible. Same if you are looking for someone who translates in a language pair I don’t cover, say French to English (I only translate into French). If your deadline is too tight to allow me to deliver my best work, we can discuss solutions and alternatives.
Consistency is a critical aspect of translation quality. If you have existing translated materials, do share them for reference. I will also follow any industry glossaries and style guides required. In case you prefer a hands-off experience, I can of course provide my own.
CAT tools are translation environments that offer a wealth of tools and features to help translators work better and, in certain cases, faster. They allow translators to type translations in without deleting the source, look up previous translations in an instant, bring up key terms that appear in source text and generate translated files that preserve the original format, among other things. In short, they help translators maintain consistency and deliver files properly formatted for production. I personally work with SDL Trados Studio 2019 for most projects. However, lots of alternatives exist.
An essential step, yet one cheap/inexperienced vendors tend to skip. A good translator should always edit and proofread their copy at least once before delivery.
Ideally, it should happen with fresh eyes: a night of sleep will help the brain process the original text, making it much easier to detect mistakes and improve the existing translation. That is why I rarely accept same-day projects, however small, unless they are truly urgent. A bit of rest can do wonders and help you see your work under a new light, come up with better wording and spot issues.
I run all my translations through a fantastic tool called Antidote. It’s essentially an advanced spell/grammar check tool that picks up various types of issues besides typos. For example, it can detect awkward wording, confusion between similar words, clichés, literal translations, inconsistencies and more.
There are several QA tools on the market. Xbench is my pick. It automates a number of quality checks: is everything translated? Are there any inconsistencies (i.e. a same sentence translated differently or two different sentences translated the same way)? Missing tags, numbers or punctuation? In general, all those small details that can be easy for the human eye to miss. It can be a true lifesaver for technical projects.
You may have heard the saying: “I do my best proofreading after I hit send.” Obviously, a professional translator can’t afford to find themselves in such a situation. So right before delivery, just an instant before pressing that Send button, I open the translated file one final time and scan through it to see if anything stands out. Knowing this is the last chance to resolve potential issues often helps see things differently. For creative works, it’s also the perfect opportunity to put a finishing touch to the most critical parts of the text.
Software, mobile app and game developers often make a serious mistake when they approach localization by assuming it can be handled once the coding is done in native language.
In fact, you need to consider localization from the very moment you start designing your application – that’s internationalization. It’s not a one-man process either. You will need localization experts on board early on.
Here are a few localization good practices & tips I would like to share with you. I hope they will be helpful for your next software, application or game. If you wish to go further and ensure the success of your localization project, feel free to get in touch anytime so that we can get things started. You may also want to check my post with 12 tips to reduce localization costs.
1. First of all, internationalize your software. Your source code should be written in a way that your software can be localized without touching a single portion of code. To achieve this, place all the content (text strings, images, sound files), including those in the application’s original language in separate files and folders, which can then be translated appropriately by linguists in a different software. In your code, pick up the translated depending on the language selected and a string ID (which can be the original string itself). XML works great for this, but there are plenty of options available. Also, try to keep a clear structure for your localizable resources. You can have separate folders for images and sounds that will require localization.
2. Translated strings can occupy a much larger screen space than their original counterparts. A Japanese string translated into German can easily get 2 or 3 times longer than the original. Design your applications with sufficient space to accommodate long strings, especially if you are working on small screens (smartphone, handheld game devices, etc.). Plan your software as if it was going to be localized in every language on Earth, and use the worst case scenario as a reference.
3. Be wary of local standards and cultural differences. Imperial versus metric system is an obvious one if you are manipulating units, but there are local differences you may not even suspect. For example, weeks start on Mondays in some countries, and Sunday in others. This is why you need to have local experts on board as early as possible: only them will be able to let you know about these specifics. If you realize too late that a code portion needs to act differently depending on the location, or that visual elements should be replaced altogether, it can be extremely painful to go back and make the appropriate edits. The sooner you are aware of local norms, the better.
Have your app/game tested by native users from the target markets before going any further. Never assume you know everything about each and every culture. Ask locals to test your product and report anything that could be considered inappropriate.
4. Be careful when you are trying to put localized strings together. Let’s suppose you have an error message in your software that says “The job cannot be added because there is no job with ID x”. If you have many error messages starting with “The job cannot be added because” and many ending with “there is no job with ID x”, it can be tempting to ask the localization team to translate these two strings separately only once and then put them together when needed. It would work in English and (most?) Romanic languages, but not in Japanese for example, no matter how you put the two parts together.
Having the above in mind, you have to make sure translators can put words in any order they want, and, as much as possible restrict substitution to a single word or number. While avoiding redundancies is a good practice, it can be a tricky one when it comes to localization.
5. Provide as much context as possible. To avoid confusion, comment your text strings to ensure the translators will understand where and how they will be used. Make it clear that variables are part of the string and shouldn’t be altered. Also, explain what they will be replaced with, even if it seems obvious to you. If some bits mustn’t be altered, make a note of it, especially if they otherwise look like plain text. When possible, provide your translators with screenshots, videos or, even better, the actual product.
6. Make sure you can easily track source text changes. Nowadays, most software and applications are updated on a regular basis, thus requiring extra translations. Not only will this help you save on costs by not ordering the same strings twice (or more!), but you will also avoid headaches when merging translations. If you are planning to release frequent updates, for example additional content for games, this point can be critical.
7. Pseudo-localization, a little-known step of the localization cycle, will help identify a number of internationalization issues before a single string is translated: hard-coded strings, unsupported characters, potential overflows, and more. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by identifying potential problems early on.
Internationalizing an existing product can be tricky but not impossible by any means. In some cases automated tools may be of help, in others you’ll have no choice but to rewrite string-related portions of your code. Overall this is more of a per-case approach, and you will probably want to hire a localization consultant to ease the process.
As you can see, getting your localization done right is a process that involves efforts from all parties, from developers to translators, which is precisely why you should start consulting the latter as early as possible. Some of the smaller tips and tricks may not be obvious at first. You can contact me anytime for all your French localization needs! I am familiar with the localization process, whether you are working on software, video games or mobile apps (iOS with Xcode, Android with Android Studio, etc.).
This simple question asked on Twitter got great response and I though I would share some inspired tweets from translator, interpreter and editor colleagues. So here you go, and let me know if you find more ideas to throw into the mix!
Let’s start with basics
Knowing a foreign language makes you great translator.
(While I’m at it, my favourite comparison: having fingers makes you a great pianist.)
— ☕ Okultysta Brodokles🕯️💀 🦈🐼 (@beardimon) 2018年7月3日
Not anyone who speaks 2+ languages can be a translator. Translation is a supercompetence that requires extremely high levels of reading comprehension, writing ability, critical thinking, and cultural knowledge (to name a few things.) You have to be an expert in everything
— Calvin Westfall (@calbinw) 2018年7月2日
Translator and Interpreter are two different jobs
A person who speaks multiple languages, and acts as an intermediary so that people who don’t speak the same language can converse aloud with one another, is not called a “translator”.
— Andrew Levine (@andrewlevine) 2018年7月3日
Translation is an art
Foreign languages are not just yours spoken with a silly accent, and word for word translations will almost always be unintelligible. Any halfway readable translation is 50% the original 50% the translator.
Also, there are levels of fluency between ‘none’ and ‘native.’
— gG (@dubble_g) 2018年7月3日
And we translators are human, after all
Translators are not infallible. We can’t produce a perfect text. So either have it proofread or pay the translator enough so they can hire a proofreader.
— StarlingUK #fbpe #inlimbo (@starlinguk) 2018年7月2日
Why most of us only have a maximum of 1, occasionally 2 target languages
To be a good translator it’s much more important to be excellent at your own language (the one you’re translating into) than at the foreign language you’re translating from.
— Ervin Sperla (@sperlaervin) 2018年7月2日
“I learned French at high school and…”
I am a native speaker of the language you’re asking me to translate to, with a degree in translation & interpretation. “But they speak the language at home” doesn’t qualify them to correct something I actually learned to do/researched to death.
— Maria G. (@MsMarialba) 2018年7月3日
“It’s nothing too technical, so can I have it tomorrow? Please?”
If a text has taken three months to write, it is unlikely that a 24-hour turnaround for translation will do it justice.
— Teresa Bridgeman (personal) (@alwaysonrepol) 2018年7月3日
“Hey, you’re a translator, right? How do you say ‘Injection blow molding’ in your language?”
Also, some people seem to think that translators are “walking dictionaries” and know every word instantly. And that it’s not necessary for translators to understand meaning and context of the text, as we are simply asked “to translate what is already there”.
— Andrea Bernard 🇯🇵 🇬🇧 🇫🇷 🇩🇪 (@SparkTranslator) 2018年7月3日
Mostly the latter
95% of translators do not in fact translate books. Most of us translate documents, contracts and other boring stuff.
— Gun Street Girl (@EevaMarie) 2018年7月3日
From here tweets on editing – translators get called interpreters interchangeably, editors get the same with proofreaders
Proofreading is not copy editing is not content (or line) editing & none of it is your 4th grade teacher taking points off for spelling.
— Finnan Haddie (@FinnanHaddie) 2018年7月4日
Editing is more about fixing arguments and story structure than fixing sentences. Often when I tell someone I’m a book editor, I get some form of: “That’s so awesome! I love finding typos!”
— Amanda Cook (@axiongirl) 2018年7月3日
Writing professionally is not simply typing up ideas. Editing takes many forms and is much more than reading + correcting typos. Both writing and editing require serious study and ongoing practice. A good writer is not necessarily a good editor and vice versa, and that’s OK.
— Lisa L. Owens (@LisaLOwens) 2018年7月3日
Same goes with translators and editors
Good writers do not necessarily make good editors. Writing and editing require different (though complementary) skills. Editing is about more than just fixing typos.
— Jessica (@RappaDappa) 2018年7月4日
Parallels can be drawn with translation/editing once again
There are tons of different guidelines for editing different types of written media for different kinds of audiences. I’m not just there to check your spelling. Though I do enjoy that part.
— John Helix (@johnhelix) 2018年7月3日
Localized software QA/testing is, sadly, a step that tends to be overlooked, executed poorly or ignored altogether by developers, for cost reasons or lack of understanding of the process. Yet, with proper organization and planning, it is possible to keep costs at a reasonable level without hurting the final quality of your products.
An approach that can lead to cheaper localization QA is to split linguistic and functional testing. In other words, you will want your native-speaking testers to focus solely on parts where their linguistic knowledge is strictly needed.
Before I go further, let me clarify one thing. Ideally, if budget allows, you will want target language experts to check everything. A final eye never hurts even if the text was professionally translated by a professional and proofread by a second person. Even a seasoned proofreader can let the occasional typo slip through.
To simplify, the main goal of linguistic testing/QA is to make sure your localized software or video game works in context (mostly a linguistic task) and displays as it should (that would rather be functional testing). If you pick up some spelling and grammatical issues along the way, great, but in theory that should have happened during proofreading, and those would be rather minor issues as long as they’re few and far between.
The point here is that not everything absolutely needs to be checked in context. Strings that are self-explanatory or don’t rely on context (more on this later) should already be good to go. They still need to be tested to make sure they do display, and correctly so. But since the text doesn’t rely on context, you shouldn’t find any mistranslations/ambiguous phrasing here. So, in theory (again, that’s assuming your translator/proofreader team did their job!), functional testing is all you need here. This can be done in-house, or by essentially anybody able to follow instructions carefully, regardless of the languages that person can speak – this is where you can do things cheaper without taking major risks.
Parts that rely on context, on the other hand, must absolutely be checked by a professional tester. A mistake many developers make is to hire the cheapest native speaker they find for the task, regardless of their experience in localization testing, or in the language industry for that matter. Remember, testing is your last chance to eliminate critical issues. You do need an experienced tester with an eye for details and a perfect command of the target language. Most people don’t have a good command of their native language – spend 5 minutes on any online forum if you need to be convinced. That’s the one time you can’t allow yourself to be cheap.
Buttons, labels, menus, essentially anything that can be interpreted differently based on the context. UI and menu items in particular are critical because they directly affect usability. A typo in an error message is embarrassing, but it doesn’t prevent users from using your product as intended. Mistranslated buttons and labels, however, can seriously hurt user experience.
What you need to ask your linguistic tester here is to check the interface, use the different features and make sure button names, labels, etc. are easy to understand and match the actions they’re linked to. Put the focus on usability. If a translated string is not completely wrong, but not clear as it is, change it. That’s the sort of improvements you should aim for.
That’s about it for software. If you are developing a video game, you may want to check other elements besides UI/menus. Dialogs are the most common type of text that is heavily context-dependent. Even if you more or less know who speaks to whom at what point on the game, seeing the scene unfold in-game may help you notice certain details. An example: a dialog occurs between 2 characters, and in the file you’re translating, it seems they’re the only 2 people present. But during testing, you realize a 3rd character is with them. In this context, in French, there may be cases where you would need to switch from singular informal “you” (“tu”) to its plural counterpart (“vous”), which would affect the rest of the sentence.
Again, planning will help you reduce costs here. Once thing I’ve seen developers do is to create scripts that allow testers to see all dialogs of a game in context and in sequence (=without playing at all). This way, you don’t get charged extra for the “idle” time spent playing between two scenes. Focus is the key.
Descriptions, system messages, and in general any unambiguous string that would definitely translate the same wherever you use it. It can be error messages (“File not found.”) in software, or a character biography in a video game (assuming the string leaves no uncertainty about whose biography it is). If a string doesn’t need context or does provide it, and was properly translated/proofread, functional testing is all you should need. You’ll focus on overflows, garbled characters, hard-coded source strings, etc. The usual lot.
It’s also worth noting that pseudo-localization, another overlooked part of the localization process, can help prevent most of implementation issues beforehand.
As you will have noticed, I stressed the importance of having a team of professionals working for you: your translators, proofreaders and linguistic testers all need to be experienced and reliable to ensure the quality of your final product. Hiring a team of experts might sound more expensive at first, but it is a prerequisite if you are to implement the process I described above. See it as a small upfront investment that will allow you to make significant savings down the road.
Game localization is a much broader specialization that it may sound at first. Localizable texts come in all sorts of flavours, all with their own specifics that make us love or hate them. Here’s my general feeling about a few types of text you’ll typically meet as a translator. Let’s assume we’re talking only about games with at least a decent level of writing.
That category would be my personal favourite. I love translating anything that provides extra information about a game’s characters, places, history, etc. I enjoy both the reading and writing part of it. For well-written games, it can almost feel like like literary translation. Learning such background information can help better understand what is going on in the rest of the game, so it can be interesting to translate them before, say, dialogs between characters you’re not yet familiar with. Such parts also rarely suffer from lack of context and tend to have generous character limits, if any. I find them quite relaxing.
Dialogs can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster as a translator. They’re usually the most creative part in game projects, so they are stimulating as they really allow you to express your style, but they also come with many challenges. Character limits and lack of context are the obvious suspects here. Even when developers are kind enough to mention who is speaking at a certain moment, you rarely know to whom, or to how many people for that matter. It’s also where you get the bulk of the slang and jokes – fun parts to work on again, but filling query sheets (even worse: waiting for the answers!) to sort things out can get tiring quickly.
Ugh. Here comes the productivity sink. Short strings with little context and crazy character limits. Tolerable when devs properly organize the strings so you can easily understand what menu item does what. Still, rarely the funniest part to translate, and huge pressure as mistakes here can make the game extremely frustrating for players.
Tutorials are one of most relaxing parts. You do need to translate them accurately and with enough care to make the game easy to understand for players, but usually you’ve got all the context you need and won’t meet any major linguistic difficulty. You’re in control and can make a positive impact on user experience here, so I rather like tutorials, as tedious as players may sometimes find them.
Unleash memes, inner jokes and obscure references! Achievement names can be super hard to translate, although descriptions may help you figure out what the devs tried to convey. That’s one of the bits where you can truly get creative and original, so I rather like them… in moderation. Expect more time filling those query sheets.
IT-ish stuff with no creativity nor room for imagination most of the time. Any system terminology mistake here and you’re toast. Doesn’t sound too sexy on paper, but they let your brain breath a bit between two more stimulating chunks of text. I don’t mind them as long as they’re not the only thing I get to translate in a given day.
Bad text is bad no matter where it belongs. Descriptions can be dull and confusing, dialogs overblown or cringe worthy as hell when writers try to stuff memes every two lines, menus impossible to figure out even with the game in hands, tutorials undecipherable or just stating the obvious, etc. I never mind “difficult” projects when the copy is compelling. As for the ones where writing is boring, embarrassing or outright offensive, I’ll check the time more often than I dare to admit, whatever the part I’m translating.