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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.
Although a little late, I wanted to share some information and encourage you to attend an interesting event a few respected colleagues are organizing this weekend: a game translation jam that will happen simultaneously in Tokyo and Kyoto this Sunday (4/22).
It’s essentially a day-long workshop kind of event where participants work together to translate a game from/to English/Japanese (source games will be offered for either language). Unlike the LocJAM, it’s not a competition and it is mostly meant to be enjoyed offline, but the audience is pretty much the same: enthusiastic gamers with different degrees of experience with game localization who join in to have some fun, meet colleagues and learn a thing or two along the way.
If you are nostalgic of LocJAM, are new to the game translation industry or just want to have fun with fellow game and language lovers, don’t hesitate and join the show! Although I won’t be able to join myself, this translation jam is organized by well-loved colleagues and you can expect an amazing day with lovely people.
Tokyo event page:
Kyoto event page:
Every week I receive a couple of emails from agencies looking for new translators. Some contain interesting and personalized offers. Some are so grossly unprofessional that I just ignore them without reading through. And then, there are… the frustrating ones. The ones that come from agencies that seem to be decent, at least from what I know of them, but show red flags that tell me that no, sadly, that’s not going to work for me. Here is an example I received a few weeks ago:
I am contacting you as we are always on the lookout for the best translation professionals. Therefore I would be happy to invite you to complete the attached translation test (EN to FR) and send it back to me within 1 week (please let me know if you are not available now and need more time). Please read the instructions in the document carefully.
In order to include you in our database of collaborators we kindly ask you also to fill in the following form.
Please confirm safe receipt.
To put it simple: everything about it is just too pushy. I’ve never contacted that agency. They reached out because they claim to be looking for the best translators. That’s nice of them to see me as a candidate for that title, but I haven’t asked for anything at this point, and definitely not to:
Asking so much from someone you haven’t had any interaction with at this point is just rude. Most of all, I hate the underlying assumptions: no, translators, especially established ones, can’t be expected to send you free translations and fill your forms at will. That sort of attitude is an immediate red flag for me. I know what most likely comes after: standard procedures, discount grids, project management platforms, forced used of such or such tool, database updates, more forms. Thanks, but no thanks.
You want to work with the best translators? Maybe start treating them as the professionals they are, and not as mere “resources” you can just pick up whenever you want.
Here is a short recap of the round table the IGDA LocSIG held before TGS 2017. I will try to update this article with more details when time allows. I also apologize for the random order of topics, I wrote this as memories came back to me
1 hour, 20+ participants, 5 broad subjects (market trends, localization technology, career, etc.) with a few specific topics each, 2 moderators to swiftly move the conversation from a question to another.
We had a fair mix of translators (aspiring, freelance, in-house), project managers/agency representatives and people from the end client side.
I admit I was worried 1 hour wouldn’t be enough to cover all topics, but it turned out to be just perfect. You would usually hear 2 or 3 points of view for each topic (often translator vs. agency), clear and concise. Everything flowed naturally and there was no idle time. More insights in 1 hour than you’d hear in 1 day at many conferences.
Can non-native speakers be trusted for translation?
Several participants noted they knew or had heard of at least 1 non-native English speaker who could a really good job on Japanese to English translations (I know such a guy myself! He now works for a big Japanese dev, still does great work). Interestingly, Japanese to English was the only language pair for which we could think of such people.
Getting started as a professional game translator is a bit of a catch-22 situation. Everybody wants you to be experienced before sending you projects, but you need to work on translation projects to gain experience.
One solution can be to build your own portfolio of sample translations & projects. To help you with this, I have a gathered a list of games you can freely translate right now and add to your samples. I have also put together a number of tips to help you find small translation projects and gain that all-too-important mileage in the localization industry.
I am planning to update this page regularly with new packages ready to be translated as well as links to other useful resources.
LocJAM is (was?) an online contest for game translators. A short open source game in English is published on the official site and everyone has a couple of weeks to submit their translations.
The future of the contest is on standby at the moment, but you can still download and translate the games that were shared during previous editions.
If you translate from English
All translation packages for previous LocJAMs are available on the IGDA LocSIG’s GitHub repository.
Read README.md for special instructions. The translatable file is in the bin/locale/ folder
The Republia Times is an indie game created by Lucas Pope, released in April 2012. In the game, the player takes the role of the editor of a newspaper torn between personal opposition to the government and threats to the lives of the editor’s wife and children if the editor doesn’t generate loyalty among the population. Character limits, humor and puns will give translators a good run for their money. An excellent game to show your craft.
Read instructions in readme.pdf
Grandpa is an interactive story about Emi and her Grandfather trying to find his hat. The game ends on a twist. Translating it while keeping all of its subtleties and hints will allow you to show your attention to details and creative writing skills. Here is my post-mortem about it.
LocJAM 3: https://github.com/IGDA-LocSIG/locjam3
Simply translate the .docx and .xlsx files.
The Hotel of Madness is a board game openly inspired by The Shining. For this edition, we tested translators’ ability to write accurate, consistent and unambiguous rules – essential qualities for this type of game. Not a video game, but a good title to add diversity to your portfolio.
Instructions in the Readme file.
Ikinari Maou is a puzzle game dressed up as an old-school RPG. With several plot twists and tons of hints hidden between the lines, the game is an excellent challenge for translators and a pleasure to play.
If you translate from Japanese
Try you hand at one of the winning Japanese entries of LocJAM 2 and translate it to the language of your choice.
The original Japanese game’s package, used for LocJAM Japan.
WARNING: Whatever your translate for free, do ask to be properly credited and keep word counts reasonable – be willing to help, but don’t let people take advantage of you. Anything over 1,000 words is too much for a free translation, unless you are extremely passionate about the game in question AND the dev clearly doesn’t have the funds. When necessary, politely explain than you can only handle a few hundred words for free. An App Store description, menus? Why not. A whole set of dialogs? Probably too much.
, and decided it to share it with my own twist. Enjoy!
1. Knowing a language is not the same as being able to professionally translate or interpret to/from it. A translation is a special set of skills that takes years to master and put together (and it’s not even a finite set of skills, new products, technologies and trends appear all the time).
2. Being able to translate FROM a language does not mean being able to translate TO it. In fact, it does not even mean being able to speak it. If a translator says that their translation pair is En-Fr, it means they translate from English into French only. Translation in both directions will be marked as En-Fr-En. And professional translators only produce works in languages they are native speakers – generally two at most (and we’re already talking about a small fraction of the translator community).
3. Some translators have specializations because different types of text require different approaches, different experience and different abilities. Some are better at terminology-filled legal texts. Some have a knack for translating poetry. Yet others are able to create concise and efficient instruction manuals, where a fiction-translator may easily get lost. And, of course, some translators are awesome jacks-of-all-trades! Specialized translators usually have a personal connection with their field. I received an IT degree, so I became an expert in software localization. Many medical translators have an educational background in the field, etc.
4. Translating fiction is actually more difficult than translating technical texts, not the other way around. Translating ads and catchy slogans is the worst. Creativity and cultural differences are quite an explosive cocktail. Such translations take great talent.
5. Spoken translation is called interpreting. An interpreter is not necessarily a good translator. A translator is not necessarily a good interpreter. The skill sets are completely different. A well-trained factory foreman with a decent fluency in a foreign language will give a much better tour of the premises to a foreign delegation than than a hired professional translator. Or than an non-specialized interpreter, for that matter.
6. Modern translation studies support the view that the “word-for-word translation” and word equivalency are myths. A translator’s worst nightmare is a client asking to “just translate a couple of words”. Broadly speaking, a translator turns one text with its context into another text with a corresponding context, not a string of words into a string of their dictionary counterparts. Even machine translation engines have given up this approach long ago.
7. Numbers may also require localization from one syntactic system into another. E.g. English 1,000, unless translated into French correctly as 1 000, will mean “one and zero thousandths”.
8. Translating/creating movie subtitles has specific rules: every language has a certain limit of how long a subtitle line is the best for the audience, how to choose words (long words may have worse readability for the viewer), how to adapt subtitles for people who are deaf/hard-of-hearing, etc. It’s a discipline in itself and requires yet another set of skills. It’s not something you just jump in as a translation generalist.
9. No, machine translation is not a valid replacement for an actual translator. Unless we are dealing with an extremely narrow and specialized context. No, Google Translate will not give you a decent translation of the ad for your product. Nor will your “nephew who’s spent a year studying abroad”. It may help you understand what your friend who lives abroad posted on Facebook. You may be able to have a general idea of what news say on foreign sites. But that’s about it.
10. Certain things, names, traditions, cultural norms etc. may require localization in certain types of texts.
11. A translator is, ultimately, a “complex computer that makes complex choices and considerations on many levels even for the simplest of sentences”. Not a dictionary. Not a language teacher. Not a “word-replacing dummy”.
12. There is professional translation software. No, it’s not like Google Translate or those fancy all-knowing sci-fi machines. What it does is find similar chunks in a standardized text and replaces them with what it has been taught by the translator, making the human’s work faster and less monotonous.
13. Humor is difficult to translate. Jokes and puns don’t necessarily have an equivalent in other languages. In fact, that’s what happens most of the time, so we need to get creative. Sometimes a translator even manages to produce a funnier version of the book than the original!
14. If translators face a bad original (poorly written, awkward phrasing, lack of elegance in the flow of text), they have two options: either to produce an equally ugly translation or to brush it up out of respect for the audience, the subject matter or the target language. In both cases, you never know to whom the audience will give the credit, be it good or bad – to the translator or the author.
15. It can be hard to form an opinion about a translated work of fiction because of the inevitable distortion and the translator’s enormous input into the piece. You don’t truly know a book unless you’ve read the original. It’s first of all true for poetry and the most creative works in general.
16. Unfortunately, translators are often invisible and unnoticeable. Hey, we do appreciate to be credited! It also puts positive pressure on us to deliver.
17. I’ve known translators to refuse to translate a text that offended their personal beliefs or could potentially offend someone else.
18. Everybody knows how a language becomes rusty and partly forgotten unless used. This holds true for the translators as well, so a long break from the profession may be costly for a translator. A professional translator is constantly learning – that’s the only way not to be left behind in the long run. New pages are constantly added to our internal dictionaries.
19. Still, a translator’s mind is always online. I often find myself wondering how I would have translated this or that when some ads or interesting phrases catch my attention. When I see translated materials, I sometimes try to guess what the original read like. And I’m ecstatic when it turns out I’m right!
20. I’m a freelance translator, but that doesn’t mean I work in my pajamas. I actually have fixed hours. I work at least as much as someone in-house and I do take the occasional holidays. I don’t spend my whole time home, nor having fun outside. I just have normal, balanced lifestyle.
If you have been involved in internet marketing for some time, then you’re probably already familiar with most of the SEO techniques that are effective in boosting your site’s ranking. With the advent of internet marketing blogs and abundance of detailed and free guides that walk you through the process of ranking a site, every enterprising and smart marketer knows the basics of link building, social signals, and on-page optimization. The democratization of what used to be concealed knowledge coupled with Google’s increasingly complex algorithms has left marketers desperate for an edge over their competitors.
One method that could double the search traffic to your site but is seldom discussed by SEO experts is translating your site into different languages to branch out and reach a global audience. Many marketers conflate the notion of the English speaking market being the biggest one with it being the only one, neglecting the fact that 75% of all internet searches are not in English. If you aren’t satisfied with the traffic that you’re getting or you feel that your SEO campaign has hit a wall, it is probably time to consider investing in international SEO.
The best practices for translating websites and getting high rankings
It is essential to know that getting your website in front of an international audience requires much more than just the literal translation of text and titles. Various cultural and socioeconomic factors will come into play to render the process a little bit less straightforward and about more than just linguistic differences. Understanding what your target audience is searching for and for what purpose, having a grasp of dialectal variations, and being able to conduct keyword research in a different language are essential components of what makes a successful international SEO campaign.
The importance of keyword research
More often than not, the value of a keyword is lost in translation due to not just linguistic contrast, but also cultural differences. The right approach is to simply conduct proper keyword research in the second language; the key here is finding the corresponding keyword, not the literal translation. Having a comprehensive understanding of terminology, local competition, and the various metrics that make a good keyword is essential.
Making use of Hreflang Tags
Hreflang tags tell Google what language is used in a specific page of your website. They’re either inserted within the <head> tags in the site HTML’s header or specified in the sitemap if multiple languages are being targeted. Once these tags are configured, your site will show up in the search engine results to people searching in that language.
They’re a critical component of website localization and their implementation will have a positive impact on your SEO campaign.
Choosing the right site structure
How you structure your site is one of the most critical steps of an international SEO campaign. The four main options that you have at your disposal are:
There are pros and cons to each of these, understanding the implications of each one is a primordial step before opting for a particular structure.
It is generally advisable to avoid URL parameters, and while Country-coded top-level domains tend to be the most accurate when it comes to geotargeting, they require a bigger budget than what a smaller company would be willing to spend. Subfolders are the best option for a small business as they’re accurate enough when used with hreflang and localization while requiring fewer resources.
Who should you hire for professional website translation?
When looking to translate your website, you’ll have the option of hiring a freelancer or working with a large agency, with the ultimate goal of finding results that marry the fundamentals of SEO with proper and accurate translation.
On one hand, agencies may alleviate the project management burden when you’re dealing with extremely tight deadlines or a large number of languages.
On the other hand, freelancers are the best option if you’re looking for more direct communication, a long lasting working relationship, and a more hands on approach when it comes to SEO. Working with a professional translator enables you to directly give specific instructions that you want and train the translator to follow the optimization blueprint that yields the results that you want in the search engine pages.
Translating your website while adhering to proven and tested SEO basics can do wonders to your ranking in search engine result pages. Exploring this often-ignored facet can help double your search traffic and offers you an alternative approach that is cheaper and less saturated than the usual SEO methods and tactics.
On September 20th, the IGDA LocSIG will organize a video game localization round table in Shibuya. It will be followed by a networking party, which I’m sure will be as friendly as ever. Let’s meet if you’re around!
The IGDA Localization Special Interest Group (SIG) Roundtable is a gathering event for all people involved in game localization, from developers to publishers, professional translators (freelance and in-house people alike) and linguists.
From translation trends to audio, from localization technology to testing, it aims to cover a wide range of topics with a brisk pace and a friendly atmosphere.
At the end of the event, everyone is invited to attend the Tokyo Indies show on the same floor or to have dinner together in lovely Shibuya.
The plan for now is to have 3 talks by local localization experts. A survey will be run on our group to determine the exact topics.
You will find details and registration page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/496037934082751/
The event will take place at:
道玄坂1-22-7 道玄坂ピア1F, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0043
From 6 to 7pm. Hope to see you there!
A new era starts at the IGDA LocSIG with a new committee. I am delighted to be one of its members this time again, and I will be true to my statement by working toward new events for game localization experts and hopefuls alike.
It also means I will be handling the newsletter for a bit longer, so this series of link roundups should stay alive at least for that time! Here is my selection for the months of May and June.
Undertale’s Japanese Localization Is Causing A Fan Frenzy – Another localization controversy, this time around the pronoun used by a character in Undertale’s official Japanese version. A little over the top, dare I say
Text Adventures: The Story of Visual Novels in America – Interesting insights from some of the companies taking the increasingly popular visual novels outside Japan
Once Again, Overwatch Isn’t Very Good At Picking Kanji Characters – A little surprising to see another kanji issue with Overwatch, as they got laughed at pretty hard the previous time around