“What does it take to be good at something at which failure is so easy,so effortless ? ” : a quote from Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande which is a highly recommended reading for those who have not read it yet (that’s a link to the flipkart.com entry for those who are local).
Last evening over dinner, among other things, Runa and me got talking about translations and, translation quality. That is one of our favorite shop-talk items and, since the morning blog had bits about my performance with spellings, it was a bit more significant. It is a somewhat known issue that most translation teams measure the length of the sprint, that is, how many strings were completed or, the percentage of the coverage for a particular project. Some projects attach badges like “supported” / “unsupported“, “main” / “beta” to the coverage and thus make the rush to the tape more important. At some point in time, it is important for the teams to sit down, understand and make notes about the quality of translations. Left to itself, the phrase “quality of translations” doesn’t mean anything does it ? For example, if the phrase was “Disconnect from VPN…” and, you were required to translate it – how wrong can you go ?
It seems you can go wrong, and, most often do.
- One of the reasons that I have observed is that translating strings in application and, translating content like documentation/release_notes/guides require different kind of mind patterns.
- The second reason is the lack of fluency in the source language. So, if you are a translator/reviewer for any language, if you are using English source files (as most of us do), you need to be extremely proficient in the language. The way the sentences, phrases and sub-phrases arrange themselves in English may or may not lend themselves to direct translations
- The third reason is that most translators do not take time out to first use the application in English (or, read the documentation completely in English) and, use it again (or, read it again) after translation. That is a recipe for disaster. English is a funny language and, sometimes, due to the structure of the source files, the context of the content is lost. What does look like a simple word might have a funny implication if the comprehension about how it is placed within the UI or, the user-interaction flow is not made a note of.
Now that most projects have some kind of “localization steering committees” it would be a good small project to observe which locales are coming up with the highest quality of translations and, attempting to understand what they are doing. Asking the language teams about the reasons that inhibit them from maintaining a high quality would also enable deeper understanding of how a project can help itself become a better one (in a somewhat strange loop way). Such discussions would enable coming up with Guidelines for Quality which are important to have. I firmly believe that all developers desire that their applications be consumed by the largest number of audience possible and, at heart, they are willing to sit down and listen to constructive suggestions about how best they can help the localization teams make it happen. That is the sweet spot the “LSCo” folks need to converge on and get going. In fact, for projects like OLPC, where a lot of new paradigms are being created, understanding translation processes and, chipping away at improving translation quality is highly requested.
Translation is still an activity that requires a fanatical attention to detail and, that little bit of ingenuity. There is something not right about committing a translation that smacks of a “letting go of the disciplined focus on detail” and, does not contain anything new. The job is made somewhat more hard when it comes to documentation. One cannot (and, perhaps should not) go beyond what the author has written and yet, it has to be made available in the local language after “stepping into the shoes” (or, “getting into the mind”) of the original author while making it aligned with the natural flow of the target language. This is also the place where the “translator memory”, as opposed to the “Translation Memory” becomes important. The mind should be supple enough to recall how similar idioms were translated earlier or, if an error that was already reported has cropped up again. Translators have a significant bit to contribute towards making the translation source files better, cleaner, well-maintained and, well documented. And, they have to do it right every time.
All this would come together to produce high quality translations and, wider usage of applications and documentation. Collaboration for the win !
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