This post uses the Russian GUI of Adobe Reader 9 as an example to look at a range of software localisation errors typical for Russian. Some of these errors also represent general translation industry issues. I thought that it would be especially interesting to study such errors in Adobe Reader, because this is a hugely popular product from one of the world software leaders. Typically, you don’t expect their products to have localisations similar to DIY localisations of smaller programmes.
For better understanding of these errors, they can be divided into 2 groups:
- Minor. This group includes errors that often don’t impact the user experience. Most users simply never notice them. Yet, they mar the broader picture of localisation quality. Usually, a translator responsible for such error would label it as “completely uncritical”. While this indeed holds true for individual errors, altogether they tend to create a generally negative impression. It is also important to understand that a customer providing high-quality content for translation expects the same level of target quality. Therefore, we avoid this type of errors in our own translations, and recommend the same to other vendors.
- Major. This type of errors changes the original meaning, making the target content very confusing for the users. Naturally, such errors are critical and should be avoided by all means.
In the “Preferences”, one of the tab names includes “Мультимедиа” beginning with the upper case letter in the middle of the sentence (which is itself incorrect in Russian), while inside the tab, in a similar situation, “мультимедиа” begins with the lower case letter. In a similar situation, two adjacent phrases “Enable rendering” are translated differently, “Включить рендеринг” and “Разрешить рендеринг”:
Similarly, “Ignore” is translated as “Не принимать во внимание”, and then “Игнорировать”:
“PDF file” is translated as “файл PDF” in the name of the section, and as “PDF-файл” in the next line:
The checkbox names are typically translated into Russian using the so called imperfective aspect infinitive forms (“imperfective” means that the action will be completed), rather than perfective (the action is completed). In the below example, imperfective and perfective forms of the verb “Show”, “Показывать” and “Показать”, co-exist within the same window:
Following numerous Microsoft localisations, in Russian, the “View” and “Edit” menu names are typically translated as “Вид” and “Правка” respectively. Adobe Reader uses different names, “Просмотр” and “Редактирование”. This triggers clear issues. Firstly, a non-standard translation is often inconvenient for those (many) users who are used to a different wording. It is therefore reasonable to always use standard translations where applicable. Also, while “Редактирование” renders the meaning of the source correctly and is itself totally fine, the translation “Просмотр” raises questions. “Просмотр” is mainly a process of viewing, while the source meaning is not a process, but basically the way a document and Adobe Reader are visually presented to the user, including layout, toolbars, etc.
Grammar errors resulting from more word forms in Russian as compared to English
This example involves a grammatically incorrect phrase “Каждый(е) 8 часа”. This common error type is mainly caused by the fact that a translator translates a single word or phrase in a single grammar form, mostly using nominative case, while there are 6 different cases in Russian. However, this single translation can be eventually inserted into various contexts in the GUI, potentially requiring different grammar forms. This type of bugs can be easily spotted during the testing phase. Ideally, you can also avoid adding an alternative plural form ending to a word in brackets, by creating a separate phrase per each grammar form in the software, e.g. “Каждый 1 час”, “Каждые 2 часа”, etc. Yet, this is sometimes impossible for technical reasons.
“Custom resolution” is translated as “Заказное разрешение”. “Заказной” (ordered) means “created or completed based on a specific customer order”. Naturally, this setting is not about any “orders taken from someone”. “Custom” is a non-standard user setting, as opposed to the default one. An alternative translation could be “Заданное пользователем”.
The “Open Settings” section is translated as “Открыть окно параметров” (literally “To open the settings window”), while the source meaning is clearly “Параметры открытия” (settings that govern the way files are opened). The same error is found in the “Save Settings” section: “Сохранить параметры” (literally “To save the settings”) instead of “Параметры сохранения” (settings that govern the way files are saved).
Unfortunately, this type of critical errors is quite common for the Russian localisations. The key reason behind them is the ambiguity of the English phrases that can be read both in the left-to-right direction, and vice versa. To understand them correctly, you need the context. When you translate without any context, such errors are just inevitable. Yet, aside from inherent English ambiguity, there is also direct translator’s responsibility for such errors. A translator is supposed to know the subject matter well, have software localisation expertise and flair for the English language. Otherwise, you will hardly ever achieve a correct and complete translation.
Another example is translating the name of the section “PDF File Attachments” as “Вложенные файлы PDF” (literally “Attached PDF files”):
You can easily understand the error by comparing this name with the below option: while the section name refers to the attached PDF files, the respective option below refers to the attached non-PDF files. Clearly, the meaning is not “PDF files attached somewhere” (which you gather from the incorrect section name translation), but the “files in other formats attached to PDF files”. As an alternative translation, “Вложения внутри файлов PDF” or “Файлы PDF с вложениями” can be suggested. In this example, the source is again ambiguous, and for correct translation, you need to both know the context and understand the subject matter well.
It is rather confusing to stumble upon this kind of errors in Adobe products. Surprisingly, they still exist in version 9.1.1, while the initial version 9.0 (which also included the same errors) was released almost a year ago. They could have been corrected based on the user feedback.
Still, I could guess at the possible industry-wide causes behind these errors:
- Willingness to cut the translation costs, possibly due to several middlemen in the supply chain, each taking their cut
- Inserting 100% translation memory matches without checking them for context-related issues
- Translator working on the individual strings extracted into a separate file that is completely detached from the context of the software
- Insufficient localised software testing.
Your translation should not be riddled with such errors—buy English to Russian translation from us to make sure that does not happen!