Friday, August 12, 2011

Ya want translation with that?

Translation. Ugh. Remembering to make sure I’m writing in English that’s suitable for translation is probably the bane of my work existence. I would often prefer to be writing something that will never be translated, but since I work for an international company at their HQ, that’s pretty unrealistic. Often it’s not the actual writing that is so difficult – it’s remembering what I’m going to have to provide to the translation company. Honestly, I’d prefer we change companies for this task, but hey, that’s not my decision to make (but I am one of the ones that has to suffer due to the poor choice).

So what kind of a checklist do I try to run through in my head while writing (and later editing) my stuff?

1. Is the sentence structure simple?
2. Am I using active voice? If not, do I have a good reason for it (i.e., active voice sounds wordy or awkward)?
3. Am I using the same words to make the translation easier overall?
4. Am I using the same sentence structure? Repetition = a good thing in tech. comm. albeit boring sometimes.
5. Are the words clear? Any double meanings? Most of the translators are native speakers of the language being translated into and not English.
6. Am I re-using previous content? The translators (supposedly) have a database of some sentences/terms; however, I’ve yet to see evidence of this, but we’ll discuss that later.
7. Have I eliminated un-necessary words (typically when I’m editing other people’s work)?
8. Have I used any idioms or slang?
9. Are the technical words OK to be used and will they translate OK?
10. Do all of my user interface terms match the actual application or device?
11. Is everything labeled properly in Structured Framemaker?
12. So I need to re-iterate something or can I simply provide a link to another section?
13. Do I have any hair left to pull out?
14. Wonder how much easier it would be to have a 1-page manual that just says, “Figure it out yourself!” in every language…

And that’s without having added any images or screenshots. In addition to making sure the language that I’m using is appropriate, images have to be provided in the target language. Those present a whole new headache. Luckily for me, the developers will usually provide these for me. To make their job easier, I try to limit the number of screenshots used in a manual and make the text as clear as possible – especially if the documentation is being provided as a CHM file or HTML. You can imagine how much of a headache this can be if something is being translated into 10 languages – that’s a whole lot o’ screen capturing going on. I also have to make sure that they name the screenshots the EXACT same name that I have for the English versions, so I try to give them a list of these names when I send them a manual to review (note: they never notice and it doubles my work later to provide them a final PDF w/ every single image labeled). Basically, I have to have screenshots for all of the languages provided. If I need to write something on an image, I have to either make sure it’s editable or (and this is what I do usually) just provide a number reference to text outside of the image.

Seems simple enough. Except for a slight snag. Remember that database of terms? I don’t think it exists. I’ve had some issues where I’ve had to contact 3 different teams to ask them for their list of translated terms (e.g., driver terms, software UI terms, and hardware UI terms). Now, in my opinion, if the translators actually had a database of some of our more frequently used sentences/terms, I wouldn’t have to provide all of these various spreadsheets. Also, the terms would all match (which isn’t always the case). Oh the English is the same, but the translated terms can vary depending on who was doing the translating. Anywho, that’s just complaining about our translation team’s processes. So, I also have to remember to gather up any terms and give them to the translators so they don’t have to, you know, translate things...

So, that’s the basic process of what I run through when it comes to getting ready to have a document translated.

Here’s a bonus (not) funny story about screenshots… So I was working on a manual a couple of years ago. It had lots of helpful screenshots. Then came the time for the international screenshots….dun dun DUN!! What do I get from the project manager? A huge, nay, ginormous headache. The screenshots were named as the page numbers they were found on for every…single…image…in…every…language. Maybe 8 languages with about 200 images each? Guess who got to stay in the office overnight and rename EVERY SINGLE IMAGE so we could request translation the next day. I’ll give ya a hint: not the project manager. *sigh* Now when this particular project’s documentation needs to be updated, the PM sends someone else to tell me, and if he has to do it, he ducks and cringes after telling me. But I digress…

Translation is pretty much a necessity in today’s market if you want to do any kind of international business, but it requires a lot more thinking and work than just saying, “Hey, translate this!” to a translator. A lot of extra work and thinking has to be done and red tape has to be muddled through before it can finally become a reality.

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