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Localizing software - methodology of translation

 
Martin Vajsar
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I've came to understand that localizing software is not an easy task, especially as an afterthought.

One thing is still unclear to me, though. Say that I have the string extracted from the software and stored neatly aside. How are usually these strings translated? Without the context, it can be next to impossible to translate them properly. Does the translator peek at the source code to find out the context? Is he given instructions how to bring up the part of the user interface for every single string? Does he just guess?

I'd really like to hear an opinion from someone who has gone through this process.
 
chris webster
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As a part-time freelance translator I'd be interested to know how this works as well. I haven't done localisation work like this, but I've worked on translating user manuals, screenshots and long lists of informal problem/solution pairs for sys admins.

Generally my experience is that non-linguists rarely appreciate the importance of context for producing the correct translation. Most of the time you simply get the source text, occasionally with some kind of background material either in the source language or (poorly translated) in the target language. It's pretty hard to translate a random list of words/phrases without knowing the domain/context, so you often spend a lot time searching online for materials that might be similar (in either language) to help clarify things and point you in the right direction.

Sometimes you'll be lucky enough to work with a company that uses translation tools, so they can provide you with copies of their in-house translation memory, which may contain lots of useful material. I can imagine that similar tools must exist for localisation, so once somebody has done the hard work of creating the initial translations, it's much easier to re-use their work in future. On the other hand, if they're like a lot of companies who relegate translation work to non-native speakers (often junior staff whose time is cheap and who claim to know the target language), then the translation memory files will be full of crap but you'll be expected to use it because the same crap is all over the company's website and PR materials. And don't get me started on the people who push complex documents through Google Translate and wonder why nobody understands the results...
 
Peter Johnson
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Most of our translations are done by looking at the text in the context of a screen shot. Though error messages usually stand alone and don't need any context info. We also have a dedicated product information team that ensures that all displayed text (originally in English) is correct and consistent which helps a lot for translating.
 
chris webster
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Peter Johnson wrote:Most of our translations are done by looking at the text in the context of a screen shot. Though error messages usually stand alone and don't need any context info. We also have a dedicated product information team that ensures that all displayed text (originally in English) is correct and consistent which helps a lot for translating.

So do you have in-house translators who know your business domain etc, or do you send the translation work out to external translators? And do you use translation memory tools (like Trados) or maintain glossaries of standard terms to ensure consistency? For example, I've done jobs translating documents full of screenshots or error messages, but with little or no supporting material to illustrate use or standard terms, and it can be tricky working out what the company's standard terms are when there are multiple translation options.
 
Peter Johnson
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Since we are a global company, our subsidiaries in other countries do the translating. I suspect that they have a glossary of terms and definitions; they've been at this for a long time!
 
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