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Three More Secrets of a Software Localization Pro

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Translating software is often more challenging that regular translation. The tips below will help you tackle those challenges more effectively.

Ambiguity of English

Unfortunately for us translators, many English words are extremely ambiguous. Depending on the context, a word may be a verb, a noun, or an adjective. Here are a few examples from English to Russian translations:

Original

Location

Translation

E-mail Context menu command Отправить по эл. почте
E-mail Description of user rights Работа с эл. почтой
E-mail Login field Адрес эл. почты
E-mail Heading of a column with e-mail names Электронное письмо

Original

Location

Translation

View Context menu command Показать
View Description of user rights Просмотр
View Menu name Вид

Original

Location

Translation

Delete file Context menu command Удалить файл
Delete file Check box name Удалять файл
Delete file Dialog name Удаление файла

How are translators supposed to know the right meaning? Sometimes, it is brutally hard to tell the difference, especially because it is tempting to believe that those identical strings have the same meaning, when CAT tools show them as repetitions. Here are things that can help you get the meaning right:

  • Finding the actual GUI item in the software. Usually, in translation files, UI items are grouped by the dialogs or menus they belong to, which makes finding those words in the software possible.
  • Relying on additional information. More on this below.
  • Asking your client. It is important to ask specific questions and avoid general ones such as “What does this mean?” The latter usually result in useless answers, because it might be hard to look at things from your perspective, for a person who knows this software well and is a native English speaker.

Additional information

Software translators can derive crucial information from things normally irrelevant in other types of translation projects. These include:

File names

A file name often gives clues as to what role the strings in this file play in the software. For example, a file name such as Rights.Strings.resx indicates the UI items in this file come from a dialog where administrators configure user rights.

String identifiers

These are usually located somewhere near translatable strings in the software. If strings are extracted for translation into a separate file, these identifiers are usually placed next to them, but to do not require translation.

Meaning

Actual GUI item

msgIndexName Message Index Name
cmdRemoveRow Command Delete Row
gbGroups Groupbox,  i.e., tab or dialog name Groups
chkBurnAnnotationsOnTiffsOnE-mail Checkbox Burn annotations onto Tiff files

It is important not to miss these, because normally you do not see them directly in your CAT tool; you only see the actual text to translate. So make sure to refer to the source files for these comments.

Verbose developer comments

You are lucky if you get these as a translator. Just as with string identifiers, you need to refer to them during translation, usually outside of your CAT tool.

Literal translation can kill

Because software strings are often short and seem deceptively clear, it is tempting to translate them literally. However, successful software localization requires looking beyond the obvious, and this is why experience matters so much in this specialization. When I was just starting out as a translator, I could produce such monstrosities as translating “MAP” literally (as in “map of the world”), while “MAP” actually was an abbreviation for “mean arterial pressure.” Here are a few more examples:

Original

Incorrect translation

Correct translation

Patch Code Код патча (Although it makes sense without context, it is a gross mistranslation.) Сканировать в многостраничный документ, используя разделитель (This meaning could be derived from the user manual.)
Undock Search Results Извлечь результаты поиска (The translation is too vague.) Открыть результаты поиска в новом окне
Scan Dialog Window Сканировать диалоговое окно (True story! Back-translation: To scan a dialog window.) Диалоговое окно сканирования

You can find more tips on software localization in my previous article in this series.

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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.