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Translating References to User Interface: Keep End-Users in Mind

When it comes to translating software manuals, one of the main challenges is translating references to the user interface (UI items). This post discusses possible approaches to this challenge and related best practices.

Translating Directly (UI Items Have Been Localized)

Example from an English to Russian translation:

To create a new file, select File => New.

Для создания нового файла выберите в меню пункты «Файл» => «Создать».

Direct translation means that you replace the original UI item by a localized one. It’s only possible if you had the UI items localized before and you’re also going to replace original screenshots in the translated manual with the ones from the localized software. This approach has two advantages to it. First, compared with other approaches, it’s easier for an end-user to read the manual and locate the UI items in the software. Second, because you are replacing the original UI items and not adding anything, the translated text doesn’t get longer as is the case with other approaches.

Translating in Parentheses (UI Items Have Been Localized)

To create a new file, select File => New.

Для создания нового файла выберите в меню пункты File (Файл) => New (Создать).

Even though you already localized the software, you might choose to keep the original UI items in the manual as well. One reason to do so is when you’re not going to replace original screenshots with the ones from the localized software. Because end-users will be referring to original screenshots, they won’t see the localized UI items. But if you do provide them with the original UI items in the manual, they’ll be able to match the original UI items with the localized ones. Unfortunately, this approach makes it more difficult for the end-users to use the manual and the translated text gets longer, making it more difficult to typeset.

Translating in Parentheses (UI Items Have Not Been Localized)

Direct translation doesn’t work in this scenario because if you use it, the end-users will attempt to locate the non-existent localized UI items on the screenshots in the manual and in the actual software. Normally, what you do is keep both the original and localized UI items in the manual so that the end-users can locate the UI items on the screenshots and in the software while still having the ability to see their respective translations in the manual.

Best Practices for Translating in Parentheses

  1. When a UI item is in a heading, it’s best to translate it directly and descriptively. The heading looks better, and you can always add the translation in the paragraph below.
  2. It’s sometimes better to translate just the first occurrence in a chapter (section) and then translate it descriptively. A descriptive translation still conveys the meaning while the text is shorter and easier to understand.
  3. A manual might refer to a UI item such as a toolbar button using its full name as if this name appeared like this in the software. Example: a manual refers to the “Delete” button while the software has just a trash bin icon. It’s very important for a translator to translate such items descriptively. Adding translation in parentheses will confuse the end-users who will be looking for a non-existent button name in the software.

For more information about translating the UI items, read our post about English to Russian localization of Adobe Reader’s interface.

Thoughts?

2 comments

  • Excellent post! I would also add that it is important to ask if there are any character limitations. English software options are usually shorter than their Italian counterparts, so it is always a good idea to ask before it is too late! 😉

  • Hi Chiara. Thanks for the feedback! And yours definitely a valuable addition to this post. Having to abbreviate translations to match the original length is a pain, but is also a necessity sometimes. Yours sincerely, Roman

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.