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How to Localize Software into Russian So That It Stands the Test of Time

Make your Russian-speaking users love your app!

Localize software into Russian

Looking to translate software from English into Russian? This article contains a few tips that we came up with as a result of our 13+ years of experience in this field, to help you set the wheels in motion.

Subject matter knowledge and software localization skills

The single most important factor in getting Russian software localization right is making sure your translation team has a unique skill set: understanding the subject matter of your software and understanding software in general. Without the knowledge to see what role a particular GUI item or string plays in the software—knowledge that comes as a result of daily practice over many years—localization is bound to fail. At the same time, if you need to localize into Russian a program for trading options and futures, you want a team that is not only well-versed in localization, but also has strong knowledge of financial markets.

Make it easy for translators to do a good job with reference materials.

Translating shorter pieces of text is more challenging that translating longer ones. The shorter a phrase, the more ambiguous it can be. And when it comes to localizing software, almost all phrases are short. To avoid literal translations and mistranslations:

  • Provide the GUI items for translation in a way that makes it a possible for translators to see the context. The best thing you can do is provide the actual software. Another option is adding a comment to each GUI item, explaining what this item is about. Yet another great vehicle is providing screenshots.
  • Provide reference materials, such as documentation.
  • Make sure to answer translators’ questions thoroughly. If quality matters to you, do not dismiss them and ask translators to use their judgment. In fact, you should welcome questions, because they mean that your translation team is thinking and wants to do a good job rather than make guesses.

Translate software and documentation in parallel.

The common practice is translating software first and documentation second. The problem with this approach is that when translators start translating documentation, they get a deeper understanding of the already translated software. As a result, they invariably find errors in the software translations. It is crucial that you be able to make changes to those translations at this stage. Doing so requires waiting patiently until the documentation is translated before you finalize and make available to users the localized version of your software. Here is what I suggest in the order of preference:

  • It’s best to translate software and documentation together. This will eliminate errors found after delivery, because the translation team will be able to correct them while the project is still in progress.
  • Translate software first and documentation second, but do not finalize the localized software until the translated documentation is ready.

Manage all texts to be translated as a single file.

One of the most efficient ways is to follow the principle used in Java applications. They use a PROPERTIES file that includes all strings in the format below. The translation goes next to the original string. The program can have many different language files and loads the one for the language that the user selects.

Leave space for the translated text to grow or shrink.

Translated from English into Russian, texts usually grow in length, which is a problem given the limited amount of space generally available in software. It pays to plan in advance by providing a cushion of space for texts to expand. Dealing with this after localization is also possible, but it is as efficient as walking compared to driving a car. For instance, you could place a field name on a separate line rather than on the same line with the field, thereby providing sufficient space for the translated field name to grow.

Use variables with caution.

Variables are important for developing software, because they make you more efficient. However, they often backfire in translations, because what looks perfect inserted automatically in English does not necessarily look good in Russian. Here is an example:

Text Explanation
English The drug was was administered to X Y. Y is a variable that can be either “patient” if X is 1 or “patients” if X is 0 or > 1.
Russian Препарат приняли X Y. The challenge with Russian is that instead of having just two word forms (“patient” and “patients”) for the equivalent Russian word, we have three (“пациент,” “пациентов,” “пациента”).

Your options are as follows:

  • Let the grammar error slide. This is not a bad error, but it might project an unprofessional image nonetheless.
  • Fix it after localization, which is difficult and inefficient.
  • Use text-based variables only where they are crucial.
  • Rephrase your sentences in a way that makes grammatical forms irrelevant. In the example above, you could write: “The number of patients who received the drug: X”.

Use terminology common to English to Russian translations.

It is very important to make sure your translation team uses common software terminology in your translation. Common proven terminology makes using the localized version intuitive, whereas new terms irritate and confuse users. To illustrate, imagine the menu Help in English being called Support. A vendor who is a software localization expert will do it correctly by default (another reason to work with professionals), but if you engage someone less experienced (a bad idea), you want to ask them specifically to adhere to standard terminology. For example, you could require using Russian Microsoft terminology, because Microsoft products are the most widely used programs in Russia and Microsoft maintains a powerful terminology base that is publicly available.

Software testing

Just as it is important to provide the context during the translation, it is important to let translators check the translations in context; that is, in the compiled localized software. With the translations inserted in the GUI, translators will be able to see whether they fit the context and did not expand to the point where controls overlap.

Russian software translation

In conclusion

This article gives you an idea of how difficult software localization can be compared to regular translation. If you want your software localized by a professional translation team whose expertise will help you avoid common errors and save money, ask us to provide a quote for your English to Russian translation.