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Happy International Translation Day!
Think Global, Go Mobile!

(Originally publilished September 2012)


It’s that time of year again!  Let’s celebrate! September 30th is International Translation Day, the feast day of St. Jerome, the patron saint of language translators.


Translation is an essential link to being global and effectively communicating across cultures. In today’s society, global also equals mobile, having the ability to be nomadic, to cross borders and oceans while still communicating and sharing information with the world around us. So, what do you need to know to effectively translate and localize mobile applications? Here is some information to help you with this process.
Internationalize first. Internationalization is the process of planning and building, or in some cases rebuilding, a site or application so it can be readily adapted for all languages and locales. For example, be sure to allow for text expansion and different sentence structures in other languages. This would include avoiding concatenated or combined strings because these are often based on English structure and can be very difficult, if not impossible, to meaningfully translate into other languages.
Strategize and collaborate in advance. Developing an effective strategy up front can save significant amounts of time and money in the end because fixing internationalization bugs is much more costly than addressing and avoiding these issues in advance. To ensure success, be sure to include all key stakeholders in the internationalization and localization process, including the developers, user interface (UI) designers, technical writers, marketers, and of course, your language services provider.
Go global by design. As part of the internationalization process, be sure to review common design elements like images and colors as well as usability design to see what may need to be adapted to enable a global or, if needed, a local look and feel for your specific markets. Particularly with mobile applications, design is also not just about how something looks but also how it works or the usability. For example, right-to-left languages like Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi, and Urdu often require a different UI layout. So, it is critical to ensure the UI design will support these languages if needed.
Take fonts into consideration. Because many mobile manufacturers are still using digital screens, it is best practice to avoid the use of italics or bold font types as it can affect the readability of special characters or accents in some languages.
Consider screen size and allow for text expansion/contraction. Many languages like German, French, Spanish, and Russian may expand by as much as 35% in either word or character counts, so it would be critical to allow more space for these types of languages, especially since they do not commonly use abbreviations like English does. This would also include making text boxes larger when designing the UI. On the other hand, some languages like Chinese will have a much lower character count and may require larger fonts to make characters readable.
Watch your words and mobile terminology. The mobile industry is developing its own terminology, which is often based on English, so it would be critical to ensure that these terms are effectively translated into other languages. Single-word strings like “kill” to mean “stop the application” can be very tricky to translate without context. Developing a glossary that includes both definitions of original strings or terms and the translations would be critical to ensure these terms are effectively conveyed in other languages. Also, be careful with abbreviated words like “H2” to mean 2nd home phone number” because it may be impossible to find a short word in another language that has the same meaning. However, if absolutely needed, at least be sure these terms are in the glossary.
Provide the necessary context for translation. One of the biggest challenges when translating content for mobile applications is receiving isolated UI strings with no context. It is important that translators can identify how this information will be used as well as the grammatical structure or part of speech. So, in addition to a glossary and style guide, provide the linguists with a mock-up or demo of the application and any other information to provide the necessary context for translation.
Run different types of tests at various project phases. It is best to run tests at various phases of the localization process to ensure success. This would include running a pre- or pseudo- localization test to ensure appropriate character display and that the UI design will support the target language. It is also important to test compatibility of the localized applications with different operating systems such as iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows OS. And, of course, be sure to run a test before launching the mobile application to ensure that there are no bugs or other issues that need to be fixed.



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