English to French IT Translator Blog

[2018] 7 Localization And Internationalization Best Practices & Tips for Software, Apps And Games

Software and game localization best practices(Last updated in July 2018 with an extra tip)

Software, application 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 tips to reduce localization costs.

Localization Best Practices

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.

What if you didn’t follow the best practices and your product is already developed?

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.).

Translators, Interpreters and Editors: “What‘s something that seems obvious within your profession, but the general public seems to misunderstand?”

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

Translator and Interpreter are two different jobs

Translation is an art

And we translators are human, after all

Why most of us only have a maximum of 1, occasionally 2 target languages

“I learned French at high school and…”

“It’s nothing too technical, so can I have it tomorrow? Please?”

“Hey, you’re a translator, right? How do you say ‘Injection blow molding’ in your language?”

Mostly the latter

From here tweets on editing – translators get called interpreters interchangeably, editors get the same with proofreaders

Same goes with translators and editors

Parallels can be drawn with translation/editing once again

 

How To Reduce QA/Testing Costs For Localized Software/Video Games (Without Affecting Quality)

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.

Why split testing tasks?

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.

So, what does need linguistic testing?

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.

What may only need functional testing (“self-explanatory strings”)

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.

Cheaper testing & QA without sacrificing quality is possible… with the right team

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.

“What are your favorite types of game text to translate”

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.

Game lore/Background info/Descriptions

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

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.

Menus

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

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.

Achievements

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.

System messages

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.

The quality of the source text matters, too…

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.

Game Translation Jam in Tokyo/Kyoto – 4/22

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:

https://www.facebook.com/events/189330645207491/

Kyoto event page:

https://www.facebook.com/events/207542246517228/

Why I Won’t Work With Your Translation Agency

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.

Thank you!

So, tell me, what is so wrong here?

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:

  • Take their translation test. I think the phrasing is what really annoyed me here. You don’t “invite” people to work for free. You don’t give them instructions and deadlines when they haven’t said they were willing to do it. I don’t do translation tests anymore. I see no reason why an established translator would have to. Good luck if you truly are to recruit the “best translation professionals” from there. By the way, the thing was a 500-word, 2-part test. At least try to keep the word count closer to 300 words…
  • Fill their form. OK, first, I hate filling forms. Second, why would I do that at this point? I haven’t even expressed interest yet. We haven’t discussed rates and I haven’t taken your test (nor will I but that’s not the point). So why would I waste my time filling a form that may well end up in the trash minutes after?

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.

Pre-TGS Game Localization Round Table Recap (IGDA LocSIG)

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

The format

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.

Topics

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.

Is it OK to refuse translation projects? How to do it?
Refusing jobs is OK. A few project managers present agreed that if they were happy with a translator, they wouldn’t give up on them easily. Actually, one person went as far as to mention that translators who accept all types of projects without hesitation, even difficult ones or ones with a very tight deadline, could be “suspicious”. You shouldn’t try too hard.
Refusing a project is fine, but do give a reason so things can move on, or it will sound like you don’t care. Common sense, but apparently not so common for some of our colleagues.
My 2 cents as a translator: try to negotiate when you can (if the issue is related to the rate, deadline, etc.) – if that’s not enough, decline politely and explain why. If you’re not comfortable with the topic (may that be for lack of familiarity with the topic or personal beliefs/ethics), just say it, your honesty will be appreciated. If you’re simply too busy, try to give your PM an idea of how long you won’t be able to accept new assignments.
Project managers appreciate open and transparent relationships with their translators. Quality is all that matters.
Project management tools (Plunet)
Project managers seem to like Plunet a lot. I can’t say I’m too fond of its interface (I prefer talking to human beings, too), but it seems to be here to stay. Well, my friends, machines may take over the jobs of project managers before ours. OK, enough for cheeky remarks.
Getting jobs: ProZ, LinkedIn, networking&word of mouth?
Networking and referrals still seem to be the strongest way to build a clientele. Online, some noted that power is slowly shifting from ProZ to LinkedIn. Speaking personally, I still get strong leads from both. Build a strong profile and keep promoting yourself. On LinkedIn, try to be active in industry groups
(note: ProZ is currently developing and promoting a new feature, expert pools, to help game localizers get more visibility. It will be interesting to see how this turns out)
How to control quality when you don’t know a thing about the target language?
During localization: Choose proven partners, have an independent and equally trusted party review the translation
Post-release: gather as much feedback as you can in the target market:
– Check what the gamer community says
– Read reviews and look for mentions of localization quality
– Ask local industry experts, for example game journalists
Using text-to-speech during the proofreading stage
Nice tip shared at some point: listening to your own translation will help you catch things your eye may have missed, also helps noticing flow/pacing issues
Do I need a degree in translation to get started? What is the trend?
Most people of the industry have learned on the field. But now that our industry has matured, there are more and more universities offering audiovisual translation courses. The proportion of vocational translators is increasing and should continue to do so.
Creative vs technical profiles
Interesting comment from a former PM. Some people excel at creative translations, others at drier texts that require more accuracy. Agencies should have this in mind when building up teams for their projects.
On amateur translations…
Mixed feelings from agency people. The lack of frame and quality control is an issue to make them a reliable experience. However, if translated titles are relevant to a particular project (say you fan translate visual novels and such a project comes in), it can move your name at the top of the CV pile.
Conclusion: use your best judgment. Get specific if you feel your experience is relevant for a particular project, otherwise consider including it in more general terms (“I have translated xxx words of game content”, etc.)
Something that was said a few times by PMs: in the end, all that really matters is the quality of your work and your professionalism. Having experience and qualifications can help fast-forward things, but ultimately everybody gets a chance to show their skills because agencies are always trying to renew their translator pools
On post editing machine translation…
Machine translation may be improving, but it’s simply not there yet. Post-editing itself is a pain, and it introduces errors you wouldn’t make otherwise. If you’re going to reduce rates because MT was applied, you should expect quality to be affected proportionally.
Do you have to be a gamer to translate games?
Things like UI and menus can be very hard to translate if you don’t play games. For narration & dialogs, non-gamers can do a perfectly fine job. Once again, it’s all about selecting the right person for the job at hand.
Speaking for the French market: when game translation was a new discipline, companies would often turn to literary translators. Some of them have done wonders.

How to Get Game Localization Experience – Tips & Repository of Translation Packages

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.

Translate Previous LocJAM Packages

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.

LocJAM 1https://github.com/IGDA-LocSIG/Republia-Times

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.

LocJAM 2: https://github.com/IGDA-LocSIG/Locjam2/tree/master/LocJAM2

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.

LocJAM 4: https://mega.nz/#F!12hEnJgS!KrCryf7EgZSrbswVnYpP7w

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

Grandpa: bit.ly/LocJAM2JP

Try you hand at one of the winning Japanese entries of LocJAM 2 and translate it to the language of your choice.

Ikinari Maou: Windows, Mac

The original Japanese game’s package, used for LocJAM Japan.

Other Ways to Gain Experience

  • Offer free translation to indie devs: To gain experience, it can be a good idea to offer your help for free. Rather than helping big companies for peanuts, I suggest starting with indie developers who really need help and don’t have the finances to hire a professional translator.
  • Browse the Indie Game Localization group on Facebook. Devs regularly post help requests there. Just be careful with whom you offer your help to, as some are taking advantage of the community to get free translation for their many games. Find a game that seems nice, from a dev who genuinely seems to need help. Make sure the word count is reasonable and go ahead.
  • Translate mods: Translating mods is a great way to earn a little experience. Most mod devs will be happy to receive a little help, and they’re usually not creating mods for profit. They also typically have a localization budget of 0 (does currency matter here?), so you’re not stealing anyone’s job. CurseForge is an excellent place to start browsing. Help requests for mods/games also occasionally pop up on GitHub.
  • Contact indie devs directly: you can use social networks to find interested devs. I particularly recommend Facebook and LinkedIn groups for indie devs (there are too many of them to list!) where people like to share information about their upcoming games. Once again, see what you like (you want good games on your CV, don’t you?) and get in touch.
  • Offer to translate articles, fan sites, game guides, reviews, etc.: let your imagination do the work here, there’s so much to explore! Just make sure you have the permission of the original author.
  • What about crowdsourced and amateur translations? They surely give you relevant experience, but you may not want to write about them explicitly on your CV. Rightly or not, crowdsourced translations are not associated with quality and professionalism. As for amateur translations, they’re usually on the wrong side of legality.
    My advice: write about your general experience (“I’ve been translated for xx years“, “I have translated a total of xx words of game-related texts) and only mention titles you are allowed to. Have a small list of projects you’re proud of, with sample files if you are allowed to share them. It’s fine not to have a ton of titles to mention. I have translated well over a hundred games in my career, but I’m credited in a grand total of 4 of them. Give general information, and only informally tell about details if you are asked to.

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.

20 Things Translators Know But Most People Don’t

There are many preconceptions about translations and translators, as well as things known almost exclusively by people of the industry. I found this lovely list written by a colleague, Alice Tsymbarevich, 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 specialized in SEO and can provide SEO translation and localization to bring more website traffic and get publicity for businesses. 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.

 

How Translating Your Website Can Help Boost Your Search Traffic/SEO

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:

  1. Country-coded top-level domains
  2. Sub-domains on a single global top-level domain
  3. Sub-folders on a single global top-level domain
  4. URL parameters

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

Anthony Teixeira

Anthony Teixeira - Professional English to French IT/Software/Video game translator
E-mail: contact@at-it-translator.com

Contact form - Freelance translation services
As a professional and experienced French translator and proofreader, I will help you with all your localization needs. My services cover various types of texts, from user manuals to software UI.

Quality, punctuality and professionalism are my values. Let's work together to ensure the success of your products and services in French-speaking markets.

Ask me for a free quote so we can get started right away, or send me your questions anytime: you will get a reply within a day in most cases.