Archive for the ‘Brainwork’ Category

How to Translate GUIs

February 24, 2011

Or rather: How to translate GUIs properly.

If you work on a computer on a daily basis, you probably will have noticed that in some applications the wording used on the user interface is sometimes quite strange to say the least. Sometimes it’s plain wrong altogether.

Here’s a little true story about how these user interfaces, or GUIs as they are called, are produced. GUIs are usually developed by GUI programmers. Programmers are software developers and as such a highly technically minded type of people. They are usually only marginally interested in inter-human conversation. At least when they work they think in code. Not as exclusively so as perhaps the hardcore database programmers do (no offence), but still enough to sometimes twist natural language beyond recognition.

Don’t get me wrong. Developers are a nice bunch of people. I have worked with many of them on a lot of occasions and I have nothing but the fondest memories of them. Nevertheless, I believe that programmers should not be trusted with writing texts. Even if they are as short as GUI strings.

To sum it up, the initial GUI texts are often written by technicians. They are usually clipped to fit the constraints of the limited available space on the screen. And they often contain abbreviations or contracted technical terms intrinsic to the software at hand. Grammar is usually of no major concern.

The texts that appear on the screen are usually collected in so-called source files before the software is compiled or generated and shipped. These files are sometimes also called resource files.

When it comes to translation, such resource files are thrust at a translator. Most of the time with no background information at all about the software, how it works, and what it does. Hardly ever, screenshots are made available to the translator, let alone other helpful information such as manuals or design documents.

Do you see what I mean?

Does it begin to register why some software texts are so badly written and even worse when translated?

Experienced GUI translators would never accept to translate source texts without access to the software. Screenshots are the absolute minimum background information required to start serious translation work. Ideally, also the software design documents and/or a manual are provided to the translator.

So, to make it right, the translator must have:

  • Knowledge of the software and an understanding of how it works
  • Access to the software to understand functionalities from a user point of view
  • Access to the translated software to check and, if necessary, correct the translation
  • The technical terminology of the software’s subject matter

Good GUI texts are an important software usability factor


Assemble in Reverse Order

November 5, 2010

English: Assemble in the reverse order of disassembly.
German: Der Zusammenbau erfolgt in umgekehrter Reihenfolge.

This is a common phrase in technical manuals. The convention in English is a verbal instruction, in German the description of the process is passive and nominal.
Both are standing phrases in the respective language.

If this instruction were translated literally from English to German, a member of the target group would have to do the effort of translating the sentence into his/her context. A waste of time and an example of how bad translations make the user’s life unnecessarily harder.

A native English speaker would probably be equally troubled by the literal translation of the German “Der Zusammenbau…” It would read something like this ‘The assembly happens in reverse order’. It will be understood, of course. But again, the reader would have to do the translation into his/her reality. An effort that is actually part of the translator’s job.

Translation aligns conventions and patterns of speech across two languages, never words alone.

Native Memory Loss

October 27, 2010

At a loss for words. This is a phenomenon sometimes experienced by native speakers after they have lived in a country where a different language is spoken for a considerable period of time. Especially those who are not working in the language industry. By and by, they simply forget the language they used to speak as a child or younger adult, because they usually try to communicate in the language of the country they live in.

I had a colleague once, a US lady, who at that time had been living in Austria for roughly ten years. She worked in marketing and had never had a dedicated linguistic education other than the usual language classes in school. Whenever she had to write an official text in English, her native tongue, she used to come to us translators in the documentation department to have it checked. She once said: “It is strange, but sometimes I am not sure whether what I think is English or German. It gets harder and harder to keep the words apart!”

My father was born in another country. He came to Austria as a teenage boy. Now, after having been living in this country for over 60 years, he says that he could barely say a straight sentence in his native language. Lack of practice and the constant presence of another language and culture made him forget all but the most basic vocabulary.

Language skills need permanent practice to remain eloquent. Growing up with a language doesn’t mean you will be good at it for the rest of your life. If you don’t hone your language skills, they will get dull. People working in the language industry practice their languages at all times. They cannot forget their languages, because they permanently work in both (or all) of them.

…another reason for having translations done by professional translators.

Reliable quality comes from permanent practice

The Translation Process – How Is It Done?

September 7, 2010

Translating is not just typing a text in another language, even though many seem to think so. It rather involves a standard procedure of steps which must be strictly followed to obtain adequate results.

These steps are:

  1. Reading of the complete text
  2. Analysis of terms and terminology research
  3. First translation run
  4. Contextual and technical research
  5. Fine-tuning
  6. Revision
  7. Proofreading
  8. Correction
  9. Double checking
  10. Triple checking
  11. Spell check
  12. Finalizing the text
  13. Delivery

Read the steps in detail…


The Translator’s Mind – Part IV, The Mind Reader

June 8, 2010

Don’t worry. Translators usually don’t exhibit special telepathic abilities. Nor do they go about reading other people’s thoughts. Although the latter might really help some times.

When translating, it is necessary to know the final recipients of the target text, the reader. Therefore, in some way or other, most translators have some kind of alter ego by which they effectively simulate this person. This happens much in the same way as authors envision their readers, or as journalists write with a certain type of audience in their minds.

Likewise, experienced translators always remember that there will be an actual person, who will read, try to make sense of, use, and perhaps act upon the translation in a certain way.

Every text is written to be read

Speaking a Language vs. Translating from/into It

May 26, 2010

Not everyone who speaks a language is able to translate from or into that language. This holds true for English as well as any other language spoken on this planet.

Still, many “native” speakers are abused into translating texts when there is the need.

Why is that so? And why is it not advisable?


Why Does Google Translate Produce Such Funny Texts?

March 25, 2010

Machine translation so far does not deliver satisfying results for texts that must evoke a certain emotional effect in the reader, such as marketing collateral, websites, brochures, product descriptions, and so on. Not to mention works of art or literature.

The reason is that we still don’t fully understand how our brains work and language appears to be one of the most sophisticated inventions of the human mind.

In highly specialized technical fields, such as aerospace or other technical documentation, contracts and formalized legal texts, or some medical types of documents automatic translation requires a considerable amount of preparation, both of the source text and the terminology used. The reason is that a limited set of words and meanings must be set up in order to render terms unambiguous. Usually, the upfront effort to establish such an approved terminology by far exceeds the costs of conventional translation. Such endeavors only pay when the text volume to be handled is in excess of billions of words. Therefore, most business-critical translations are still done by human translators, sometimes with the help of comparably simple translation memory tools.

For private purposes, for example, when you want to read the Greek website of your summer holiday accomodation, feel free to use Google Translate any time (or any other machine translation tool, for that matter). As a side benefit, you will probably get a good laugh for free!

However, when it comes to “official” texts, such as websites, handling instructions or image brochures, it is better to let a human translator do the job.

mind the machines

Food for Thought – Feed Your Translator

March 15, 2010

This is a short list of the types of nourishment a translator needs:

  • Information
  • Feedback
  • Payment

Let your translator know about the text what you know. Tell her/him about the author, the readers, your intentions and the desired effects. This will help your translator to work more effectively.

If the translation result is not to your liking, this may have different reasons. Only one of them is that you were so unfortunate to pick an incapable translator. Other reasons may be that the information exchange beforehand was insufficient, or that the source text was of low linguistic quality in the first place.

Let your translator know what you don’t like about the result and ask her/him to make amendments. If you don’t, you will most likely get the same mess when the next translation is due. As a side effect, repeated feedback cycles might help you improve your source texts in the long run.

Well, of course. That goes without saying.

brainwork needs good food

Who Writes the Source Texts?

March 3, 2010

is any odd text suitable for translation?

Theoretically, yes. However, it depends on what purpose the text has and what the translation is planned to be used for.

Sometimes, texts are submitted for translation before they are ready. (more…)

Aren’t There Machines Already That Do Translations?

January 20, 2010

There are. In science fiction and in our dreams.

Wikipedia Image

Well, seriously, machine translation is an idea that’s been around practically for several decades now. Unfortunately, it is still in the research and development stage, although some pretty intelligent engines are already available and in use.

However, it appears that language is among the most sophisticated inventions of the human mind. Therefore, machines still can’t do it properly.