21 Oct 2013

General Tips for Localization and Internationalization

International Business Advice Comments Off

After more than 10 years in business and literally millions of words translated, we have seen translation projects go smoothly and we have seen some that, well, fail miserably. We’ve found that the ones that have failed had certain common threads. This article is designed to help you avoid some of those common pitfalls.

1. Plan Early

Plan for translation from the very beginning, as soon as you know (or even suspect) that your product will be marketed abroad. This will save money, and help alleviate the time-to-market crunch down the line. In the design stage, acquaint software designers, technical writers and editors with the implications of writing for localization and translation into foreign languages. Not all design software supports all languages, so it is important to discuss with your translation provider the best options for your particular situation.

2. Design With The Rest Of The World In Mind

Colors can be pleasing to some audiences while offending others. Be sure to reference a listing of international color significances before you inadvertently send the wrong message.

  • When using icons it is important to be aware that while these differ across borders, there are many international symbols that are universally acceptable.
  • Date and Address formats differ from locale to locale. Many countries use the 24-hour clock, and the ‘day/month/year’ order is the internationally accepted date format outside the U.S.

3. Quick Localization Checklist

  • Cull all “logistics” information that is not applicable outside the U.S., such as “800” telephone numbers, hours of operation for support services, lists of your U.S. local offices, U.S.-specific warranties and regulatory information.
  • Remember the principle for clarity is ONE WORD = ONE MEANING. Since words can have several meanings, try to simplify your text by keeping the words with one meaning isolated and use this term consistently throughout the text.

4. Language Expansion

Many important languages of today’s marketplace require more space than English. This means that the foreign language equivalent of an English word, phrase or entire document tends to “grow” by anywhere from 10 to 100 percent!

  • Allow plenty of “white space” on every page, to accommodate copy expansion in the foreign language. A general rule of thumb is to leave 30% white space per page, with consideration also given to the matching of text and graphics on certain pages.
  • Avoid constrictive framed, boxed, or columnar copy
  • Design as much extra character space as possible in the display, software prompts and messages.

5. Terminology

  • Avoid creating new technical terms where adequate ones already exist. Develop a glossary of your product and company specific terms, giving a clear definition of each. Using a program with indexing features during the writing cycle will allow you to tag important terms as you write, then collate them afterwards as your base glossary, to which you add definitions.
  • Avoid abbreviations and acronyms wherever possible. They can be confusing to both your reader and your translator. When acronyms are a MUST, remind yourself of the standard rule: On first occurrence of the abbreviation or acronym, write the full phrase, followed by the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses
  • Provide reference materials to the translator with any and all marketing literature, specification sheets and engineering notices related to your product.
  • Provide all artwork, including illustrations, photos and other graphics components of your to-be-translated document, even if they don’t have any text in them. If the graphics need to be edited, be sure to provide the graphic files in their original format.

6. Avoid “Translation Hazards”

  • Avoid “minimalist English” and U.S.-specific references and examples wherever generics will do. Instructions such as: “Monday morning quarterback” are meaningless to your foreign end-user.
  • Your translator will spend needless time coming up with appropriate re-wording.
  • Avoid jargon, slang and buzzwords.
  • If a term is not listed as acceptable in a current reputable dictionary or specialized glossary, don’t use it.
  • Avoid using the slash (/) as casual punctuation meaning “and” or “to”.
  • Avoid using ambiguous modal auxiliary verbs like ‘may’ or ‘might’. Instead, you should use a phrase such as “It is possible that…”.
  • TranslationSmart, Inc. can assist you with an intial analysis of your document to try and locate any potential problems before the translation process begins. Contact us for more information!
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