- All the language packs available for Windows 10. Microsoft does a good job at representing Asian and African languages, especially compared to some other tech companies, though I can’t speak to the quality of the translations. Note that some of these languages require English (either variant) to be set as a base language for them to install.
- Google’s accessibility overview for Android developers.
- Over the course of 2018, Microsoft will be adding more accessibility features to Windows 10, including eye control navigation improvements, expanded accessibility settings and new input options for users with disabilities.
- Towards the end of 2017, AssistiveWare added localisation for Dutch and Flemish to Proloquo2Go, alongside English, Spanish and French. After adding these Dutch-language localisations, AssistiveWare made the app available in the Dutch and Belgian App Stores. There’s a good overview of the app on Communiceer (site is in Dutch).
- An overview of the accessibility features in Ubuntu Linux.
- Information about how to make Debian Linux more accessible.
- Online Connections sells an Australian English exclude dictionary for MS Word to force it to allow only preferred Australian spellings. For example, if you want to allow only realise and not realize, entering realize into the exclusion dictionary will treat it as an error. MS Word’s British and Australian English dictionaries allow both –ise and –ize spellings, since both are technically allowed in British and Australian spelling. Matthew Goodall of New Horizons Learning Centres gives instructions for users to create their own MS Word exclusion dictionaries for other forms of English. (Incidentally, I disagree with Goodall that towards and grey are uncommon in American usage; towards seems to be the most common spoken form in all English dialects, and grey is pretty common, too. American dictionaries list them as secondary options, just as realise is listed as a secondary option in Oxford University Press dictionaries for British English, despite its being more common in everyday use.)
I’ve shown you many examples of people doing inclusive tech wrong, from large companies like Apple and Microsoft to smaller outfits like the 2Do team. But some people are doing it right.
Dropbox labels the English, Spanish and Chinese variants when two versions are available, and marks Norwegian (Bokmål) and Brazilian Portuguese because those disambiguations help. All languages are listed using their own names and are alphabetised according to those names, not their English ones. Ukrainian is marked as a beta, indicating that the translation may be incomplete. No flags are used next to the language names. They’ve improved quite a bit since the days when they had an unchangeable US date format when using the English version.
DuckDuckGo uses flags for countries, not languages. Also, they realise that languages other than German are used in Switzerland – the portion of my country selector shows Italian and French options for Switzerland. Similarly, the United States has both English and Spanish options. DuckDuckGo’s options also allow users to change the UI font for the search engine, and there are several options available: the default Proxima Nova, Helvetica, Arial, Verdana, a few other system fonts and a free-choice box that allows you to choose something you have installed on your system. Some people benefit from using different kinds of fonts in the UI, so this is good for accessibility.
The Hoefler & Co type foundry has a section where the designers showcase their typefaces in action, called DiscoverTypography. One of the showcases includes a series of tips about making apps more usable for multiple users. I doubt the sample would work well with a screenreader, but if you can access the page, you’ll find advice about making apps usable for colour-blind people, using visual hierarchy to improve understanding, and avoiding filling apps with unnecessary text to make localisation easier.
Google’s Noto font family, developed by Monotype, is designed to accommodate 800 languages and 100 writing systems within a single font family. Emma Tucker wrote an exhaustive case study about the work the design team put into ensuring that the fonts would accurately reflect people’s languages, culture and history.
2Do is a popular project-management and to-do list application for macOS, iOS and Android. Since this app has been widely lauded on various tech blogs, I decided to give it a try after I signed up for Setapp. It’s definitely a well-designed app with a beautiful user interface. It’s clear that the developer obviously put a lot of care into making things work. Unfortunately, there are some localisation and internationalisation problems that should be cleared up in future releases.
This single screenshot from the Mac version shows four examples of practices to avoid when localising and internationalising applications: flags to represent languages, incomplete translations, text boxes that don’t accommodate the text that has already been translated, and forgetting that English has multiple variants.
Flags for languages. 2Do includes a language selector within the app preferences on the Mac. All the language names have flags next to them. The flags are superfluous. The language selector is clearly marked with Langue (language in French) and there is a list of languages ordered by name. Most gallingly, they use the American flag for English. This is completely inexcusable, as the developers are based in the UK. Not that I particularly want to see a Union Jack either; flags do not represent languages. I tweeted 2Do and they told me that they’re planning on removing the flags from the language selector. They’ve already been removed in the Android version. But this is something that should never have happened in the first place. The developer apparently hadn’t thought of it that way and was surprised I pointed it out. I think this points to a lot of underlying issues around language, culture and other issues in tech, but that’s a topic for another post.
Stray English in the French localisation. There is stray English text in various places in the app (‘delay sub-tasks by 3 weeks’ at the bottom of my screenshot, for example), especially in the preference window. If you’re offering an app in multiple languages, make sure the text is thoroughly translated. Also, the language names in the language selector are alphabetised according to English order even though they’re written in their own languages.
Text boxes don’t accommodate French text. The text boxes are clearly too small to accommodate French text and have been hardcoded to accommodate the word lengths in the English version. If you expect to offer a program in multiple languages, you should anticipate different text lengths. Languages like German, Finnish and French require more space for words than English or Chinese.
Forgetting that English has multiple variants. Again, inexcusable in this case. The US flag for English is usually a red flag that we’ll be dealing with American developers being insular or developers from elsewhere who feel obliged to Americanise themselves.
It’s not all bad, though – there were several things 2Do did right. I believe in giving credit where it’s due. They used the region-neutral ‘Starred’ instead of ‘Favourites’ when the app is set to English, wrote the language labels in their own languages, made the font size adjustable, included European Portuguese along with its Brazilian cousin, labelled both Portuguese dialects and ensured that their service is available on multiple platforms.
I think 2Do is off to a good start with some of these inclusive tech principles, but the issues with translation and localisation show that some work still needs to be done.
Dropbox has been called out here before for date format foolishness, but they seem to be improving their internationalisation ever so slowly. If you look at the language drop-down, there are two English options now – hopefully that means English date formats will no longer default to Month/Day/Year. (They’ve also done it right by retroactively labelling English US for what it is, instead of having ‘English’ and ‘English UK’.) I want to say Latin American Spanish was added recently too, but I could be wrong.
iOS 9 has added some new language features, including a new Chinese system font, dictation support for more languages, Finnish and Korean spellcheckers, French/English and German/English bilingual dictionaries, improved Japanese autocorrect, predictive text for a variety of languages including Korean, Russian and Turkish, Canadian English and Canadian French user interfaces, and the option to switch between Arabic and Hindi number systems (h/t Multilingual Mac).
OS X El Capitan (10.11) has just added some new Eastern language support features as well, including the same Chinese system font that is now in iOS 9. There’s also new dictation for Arabic and Hebrew. No news of any new French, English or Hindi localisations – it’s Apple’s inconsistent internationalisation, yet again (and out of step with their other products and other operating systems).
Windows 10 had some localisation-related fail during the upgrading process, that required people to set their OS to English (US) in order to upgrade it properly. You shouldn’t have to change your system language in order to upgrade your computer, especially if you don’t speak English as a primary language. Good job, Microsoft. (That was sarcasm.)
Proloquo2Go is now available in Spanish! More info. There are bilingual English/Spanish children’s voices included with the new Spanish localisations, which are probably targeted towards the large bilingual Latino/Hispanic community in the US. (Interestingly, the boy’s voice has a recognisable Spanish-speaking accent when speaking English, whereas the girl’s voice has a recognisable American accent when speaking Spanish.) Adult voices come in Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish versions.
People on any region format other than US will not be able to see Apple’s News app on iOS 9 until iOS 9.1 – and I think that’s just for the UK and Australian region formats. (I know people are saying ‘people in other countries can’t see it’, but it’s tied to region format, not geographical location; anybody can set their region format to any country or language they want on an iOS device, and it doesn’t even have to match the UI language. You can set your region format to one language and have your phone set to a different language and your keyboard on another. Remember that when you set up an iOS device for the first time, it asks your language and region separately. I’ve seen screenshots of phones set to English but the region format set to Turkish.)
Skype In Your Language is a community-supported project for Windows and Linux that provides Skype localisations for languages and dialects that aren’t officially part of Skype releases. Not for the Mac, unfortunately – there’s no easy way to do unsupported localisations on OS X.
TalkTablet is an AAC (Assistive and Augmentative Communication) app that comes in iOS, Android and Kindle editions. It’s also available in multiple languages, unlike Proloquo2Go which is only available in English and Spanish.