Common errors by non-translators
Thread poster: Samuel Murray

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:43
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Nov 28, 2005

G'day everyone

I have been asked to present a talk on the types of errors that localisers who are non-translators make, or errors that localisers make when organising a translation project for their software. Related issues such as how to ensure that the project is a success (more from a translators' perspective than a localisers' perspective) is also relevant. Can anyone comment, or point me to some information which I can use for ideas on what to talk about? I'll be mostly sharing my own experiences, but it would be useful to have some ideas for topics which are relevant (so that I can build them into the slides).

Thanks in advance!


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xxxsarahl
Local time: 09:43
English to French
+ ...
Wrong order Nov 28, 2005

Hi Samuel

I worked on a lengthy localization project last year, which was very complicated at first because they sent us the buttons for translation before we knew what they were really about. The logical order would have been the User's guide, then the dialog boxes, then the buttons. Unfortunately, the software developers did the exact opposite, which made our job really complicated at first. Speak of a lack of context!

I really wish they had spoken with us before.

HTH


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Ricki Farn
Germany
Local time: 18:43
Member (2005)
English to German
A common mistake: sticking too firmly to source syntax Nov 28, 2005

Hi Samuel,

a typical linguistic error of localizers who do not have a degree in translating is, in my experience, that they do not know how to transform a sentence or phrase to make it sound smooth. E.g. between English and German, you can switch from a verb to an adjective or an adverb etc. (the only example I remember offhand though is from a poem - "do not stand at my grave and cry" became "steh nicht weinend an meinem Grab", i.e. the two verbs "stand and cry" turned into a a verb plus gerund attribute, like "stand crying"). Proofreaders/editors without a translating degree sometimes criticize "real" translators for diverging from the original when they use this kind of legitimate syntactic strategies.

Or were you rather thinking of technical errors, CAT errors, globalization errors? (although those would probably be made by translators who are non-localizers

Greetings from snowy Germany,
Ricki


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:43
Dutch to English
+ ...
Length of strings Nov 28, 2005

2 issues:

1.
Many programmers forget that other languages use more words. This is particularly the case in Spanish. You can need as much as 50% more space at times.

2.
Deciding beforehand whether to use the formal or informal you which does not exist in English but does in many other languages (Dutch, Spanish, etc.).


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Elías Sauza  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 11:43
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Use of the primary meaning found in a dictionary or colloquial Nov 28, 2005

Following up some commments from my colleagues here, I'd point out that some times the first items to translate are the strings or name of buttons without knowing the application of the program. I have found out that non natives take a dictionary and use the first word in a dictionary or the first word used in everyday language that comes to mind. As an example, recently, the word "router" (IT) was translated with the term for the carpentry tool; and "quick" (as in quick view of a screen) was translated with a colloquial term (sort of hurry up).

HTH

Elías


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Hynek Palatin  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 18:43
English to Czech
+ ...
Creating sentences from substrings Nov 28, 2005

Programmers like creating a few strings and then combining them into different sentences. This allows them to have many combinations, but it creates problems in languages that use declension, different gender endings or different word order.

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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:43
Member
English to French
Well-prepared glossaries Nov 28, 2005

Specific glossaries are often provided for a given project. They are made by engineers or similar who don't have any idea about the translation process, but they give a very valuable insight on the subject matter. They must be very documented (examples, context, etc.), thorough, consistent and final.
This preliminary effort (I believe term extracting tools are useful for this task) is much more productive than having to go back to the UI or help files to search for terminology that was changed in the course of a project... I have seen this kind of setback even with famous and large software companies.
Cheers,


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:43
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks everyone... some comments Nov 28, 2005

sarahl wrote:
I worked on a lengthy localization project last year, which was very complicated at first because they sent us the buttons for translation before we knew what they were really about.


I do find that the GUI is often one of the first things to translate, but then at least it would be nice if translators had an idea of what the program is supposed to do. It also helps if related menu options are grouped together... it gives a semblance of context, which is better than nothing.

Ricki Farn wrote:
...They do not know how to transform a sentence or phrase to make it sound smooth. ... Proofreaders/editors without a translating degree sometimes criticize "real" translators for diverging from the original when they use this kind of legitimate syntactic strategies.


True, although I think the flipside is also true, namely that professional translators who are not in touch with the needs and constaints of GUI translation might end up creating sentences or phrases that look beautiful in isolation, but is not functional for the purpose. Don't you agree? You could translated "Open file" into Afrikaans as either "Open lêer" (stilted, jargonish) or as "Maak die lêer oop" (nice, but long... and for a menu, short items with iconic value will help the user learn the program faster, I think).


Or were you rather thinking of technical errors, CAT errors, globalization errors? (although those would probably be made by translators who are non-localizers


Well, if you were to give me those errors, then I can think of suggesting some solutions to the localisers about how to prevent translators from making such mistakes...

Marijke Singer wrote:
Many programmers forget that other languages use more words. This is particularly the case in Spanish. You can need as much as 50% more space at times.


Yes, and while some widgets allow for expanded width, others don't, which leads to unnatural abbreviations or phrases so short that they lose all meaning. A related issue is when the programmer fails to inform the translator that there is a string length limit...


Deciding beforehand whether to use the formal or informal you which does not exist in English but does in many other languages (Dutch, Spanish, etc.).


A very good point... also relevant to Afrikaans. On a large project I took part in, half of the translators ended up using the formal "you" and the other half used the informal "you". The client ended up using the formal "you" because it was easier to convert the informal "you" into the formal "you" using global search-and-replace, even though IMO the informal "you" would have been better.

Elías Sauza wrote:
...Some times the first items to translate are the strings or name of buttons without knowing the application of the program. I have found out that non natives take a dictionary and use the first word in a dictionary or the first word used in everyday language that comes to mind.


Yes. However, if you have some clue as to what the program does, you as native speaker can guess at the most probable meaning and translate it as such. This isn't always possible, though, for example the English word "view" can be a verb or a noun, and it does matter in the other language which form is used.

Hynek Palatin wrote:
Programmers like creating a few strings and then combining them into different sentences. This allows them to have many combinations, but it creates problems in languages that use declension, different gender endings or different word order.


Very good point. The Google GUI translation is one such example, in which the programmers reasoned that since the predicative and attributive forms of the adjectives are the same in Engish, they should be the same in other languages too, and therefore one can mix and match them. It also relates to the position of the variable. "File has been renamed %s" might work in Enlgish, but in Afrikaans you'd need "Lêer is tot %s herbenoem". If the programmer had two strings "File has been renamed" and "%s" instead, it would be impossible to translate it into "normal" Afrikaans.

Thanks for the replies so far... they've been helpful (triggering all sorts of possibilities). Keep 'em coming.


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Ricki Farn
Germany
Local time: 18:43
Member (2005)
English to German
Errors made by translators who are non-localizers Nov 28, 2005

Using "illegal" characters (e.g. double quotes or unmasked ampersands that break the HTML).

Adding initial capitalization and/or a final period where the original does not have them - beware if the string ends up being integrated into another one, e.g. "Error: <placeholder>." means that <placeholder> sentences must NOT have a period at the end. (Half of the blame goes to the programmer who has set this trap

Adding/deleting leading or trailing whitespace, similar reason.

Making an incredible mess of sentences that include placeholders, because they cannot guess what the placeholder will be replaced by, and they don't recognize a necessity to ask (or there is nobody to ask).

Taking over complex concatenations of (software) product names "as is" rather than researching the individual components and arranging them into their own language's syntax, because they have never heard of these products.

Not recognizing hardware differences, e.g. a "T1 cable" does simply not exist in Germany, but if you don't think about cables a lot it won't occur to you to verify this.

[Edited at 2005-12-27 18:04]


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Alain Dellepiane  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 01:43
English to Italian
Not supporting the required characters. Nov 28, 2005

Software to be localised should support accented letters (ê, ó, È), tildes and umlauts (ñ, Ñ, ä, Ö), inverted marks (­¿,¡) and non-breakable spaces (you need a space before most French punctuation).

It should also support all the weird variants (… “”) that appear during MS Word editing and usually display as garbage when imported...

Anyway I wish it ever happened


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PatPat
Local time: 13:43
English to Portuguese
+ ...
translating common expressions Nov 29, 2005

Non-translators often translate or partly translate common expressions and colloquialisms, often resulting nonsensical phrases (which are often unintentionally hilarious). One famous example is the line " a toast for the Queen" in En being translated to "uma torrada [a piece of toast] para a rainha" in Pt. Another is the French "en tete a queue" being expressed as "head to tail". Also,at one time (I don't know if they still do it) albums bought in Argentina would have the title translated on the cover. Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall" was thus renamed "Fuera de la Pared", which I still find amusing 20 years later

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Roberta Anderson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 18:43
Member (2001)
English to Italian
+ ...
Context, communication, overall view Nov 29, 2005

I share some of the points raised above, especially what Hynek mentioned! there was one project which was a real nightmare because somany strings were assembled like a jigsaw puzzle...

It is inevitable that sw translation comes before documentation/help translation (unless localized versions are allowed to hit the market 1 yr after the original version, which is rarely a possibility, since by then an update would have already been anounced!)

Although the documentation would not be ready at string translation time, it may sometimes be possible to get a draft copy as reference only (but then the translator would have to bear in mind that it is only a draft, with errors like wrong string wording), or even a internal-use document listing the new features. This is likely to be available via the client's marketing department, rather than the engineering department, and unless the localization project manager specifically asks for something like this, it would rarely be thought of as a valuable piece of information for translators, and therefore not made available as reference material. Marketing and Sales departments often have a wealth of documents that would also benefit translators (like also competitive analysis - which would help translators in finding similar applications and checking what terminology has been used there), so it is well worth asking.

I have received in the past files of strings to be reviewed in Trados. These came as a Word table (1 column Source, 1 column to translate), in alphabetical order... with no beta sw to use as reference to get an idea of the context. A nightmare! In this case I asked the agency to pls supply me with the Excel file from where these 2 columns had been extracted: in the Excel file, although still in alphabetical order and protected, at least each string had its own string ID, and in this case string ID were "intelligible", i.e you could actually understand from the string ID where in the sw the string would appear, it if was a tooltip (which allows for a longer, more complete sentence structure) or a command, in which dialog box it appeared and searching with part of the string ID you could also find other related strings and get a mental picture of the context.
[In the glossary kits that followed, the string ID had also been added as a 3rd column in the Word document, so that the translator could also benefit from it]

The use of Trados and other CAT tools also has its pitfalls: strings are full of 1 or 2 words segments, which may need to be trasnapted differently according to context. Relying on 100% matches can lead to serious erros (think of Copy: is it the command, or a suffix to add to a copied filename? Duplicate: command or adjective, like duplicate word in spell checking? Screen: monitor, or printing screen?...). So all 100% should be reviewed (and this needs to be budgeded for, both for time and cost)... assuming of course that the translator has a good context reference.

The best context reference is often having a beta of the sw available and installed, and enough time scheduled to allow you to use it! Not always possible, but invaluable. When this is not possible, then there should be a communication path open between the translator and someone at the agency or client side available to answer specific context reference, and possibly supply screenshots when required.

In an ideal world at the start of a localization project the product team should call all translators/reviewers involved and give a brief presentation of the product - features and target user. This is rarely possible (time and cost again... but think of how many fewer queries this would lead to, and the level of collaboration between different language teams this would bring about!).

A frequent mistake is also to treat each phase of translation separately: instead it is best to have the string traslator involved in the doc translation as lead translator or reviewer. Usually at doc stage, what is provided as "glossary" (i.e. the files of translated strings) are not yet written in stone. SW is likely to be still in testing at this stage and any context-error that becomes obvious when translating the documentation can still be reported to the testing team and fixed - of course this needs to be coordinated by someone with an good overview of the whole process - it's no point fixing something in the sw if the corrected string is not also passed on to the doc translation team... and again at layout/dtp testing, when you can finally see the tranlsation complete with screenshots - again at this stage it is usually still possible to spot and fix errors.

If anything else comes to mind, I'll let you know

cheers,
Roberta


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