Android, Apple, Internationalisation, Localisation

What Not 2Do

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.

A screenshot of the preferences window in 2Do.

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.

Accessibility, Internationalisation

Brief updates, 5 October 2017

  • MacOS now has Hindi available as of the High Sierra release! I’m wondering if they’ll add other Indic languages in the future. I’d still like to see them adding Welsh, Irish, UK English and Canadian French user interfaces down the line, but Hindi is a major step forward for them. I think much of the inconsistency with MacOS localisation compared to iOS and even watchOS comes from the allocation of resources at Apple HQ; as the iPhone is its top-selling device, most of the language work is done over there. 
  • iOS 11 has considerably expanded its accessibility options in comparison to previous versions. 
  • The Glyphs Mini font-editing app has a lot of stray English text in the French localisation, particularly in the preferences window. Most of the text isn’t even in French, which looks kind of careless. I’ve tweeted at the developer to see if he can fix it in a future update. Remember to be thorough when translating your apps into new languages or variants of a given language. 
Accessibility, Apple, Internationalisation, Localisation

Inclusive Tech Links, 5 April 2017

Adobe, Internationalisation, Localisation

Be mindful of regional date and time formatting

This entry is related to ‘Use flexible date and time formats‘. Every region and language has its own standard for formatting dates and times. If you get it wrong, or assume that only one format exists within a language, then you may end up annoying – or worse, confusing – your users.

What not to do:

Behance, an online portfolio site run by Adobe, seems to have its date format hard-coded to the US ‘Month Day Year’ format regardless of what your language is set to. As you can see here, my user interface is temporarily set to French. The date says ‘Membre depuis le mai 11, 2013′ (member since 11 May 2013). This is wrong for French; it should be ’11 mai 2013’. If you’re going to have non-English text on your site, do not hard-code the month/day/year format. In most languages, the month does not precede the day; they use a logical format from smallest to largest (day/month/year) or largest to smallest (year/month/day). This is from Adobe, not a tiny company run by two people with a lot of work and very little time. We’re talking about a multi-million-dollar company with enough time and resources to get this right.


A screenshot from the online portfolio site Behance. The site is set to French. The bottom text says 'Membre depuis Mai 11, 2013'. This is incorrect for French.

Actually, even if your site is only in English, you should still be careful about date formatting, since the English-speaking world doesn’t use one date format. Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and most other English-speaking countries use the day-month-year format; the US, some of English-speaking Canada, the Philippines and Belize use month-day-year.

Even if your site is going to be used only in the US, there may be the likelihood that your site will be written in Spanish, or in some regions, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic or another language spoken by a large immigrant population. The same rules still apply: make sure your date-formatting system can accommodate these languages.

Just don’t hard-code month/day/year. It’s culturally insensitive. If you’re going to hard-code any date format, hard-code year/month/day.

AAC (Assistive and Augmentative Communication), Accessibility, Android, Apple, Cross-platform support, Internationalisation, Localisation, Microsoft

Brief updates – the good, the bad and the fascinating

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.

Accessibility, Internationalisation, Localisation

Proloquo2Go and language – where assistive tech and language meet

It’s always good to talk about the ways developers have improved their offerings – it’s a nice breath of fresh air after finding so many issues.

AssistiveWare’s Proloquo2Go is an iOS app for assistive and augmentative communication – it’s a text-to-speech app that allows people who need help with speech, or who can’t speak, to communicate with other people. One of the major advantages of using Proloquo2Go with an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch is that it’s a lot cheaper than using a dedicated text-to-speech device like a Dynavox (which is a Windows PC with specialised text-to-speech software installed, and costs about three times as much as a basic iPad if not more).

Proloquo2Go has recently added vocabulary sets for British and Australian English. In the past they had voices for multiple English dialects, but all the vocabulary and spellings for the selected items was American, which led to people having the right accent, but having the wrong words to talk about things without somebody going in and editing the default vocabulary sets. People can now talk about their school holidays instead of vacations, eat crisps instead of potato chips and have cars represented with the steering wheel on the right instead of the left for people who live in left-hand drive countries. It took them a few years to do this, but I’m glad it’s been done. Any move away from a development mindset that assumes the USA is the sum total of the English-speaking world is a positive move that deserves praise here. (Now, if only you had an option to change the voices installed at default, so you don’t have default American voices even if you’re set to English Australia, and have to re-install your preferred accented voices every time you update the application.)

They’re also starting to expand beyond English, adding a Spanish option. Like the English option, there will be different vocabulary settings for different Spanish dialects, so both Spanish and Latin American speakers can use the words that make the most sense for them. The Spanish translation isn’t out yet, but they’re starting work on it. Proloquo2Text, their text-to-speech product for people who don’t need to use symbolic communication, has Spanish voices available, but that’s different from creating a symbolic text-to-speech system that anticipates grammatical usage, contains pre-loaded vocabulary and recognises the cultural nuances that may come up in Spanish-speaking countries.

I’ve got one tiny qualm however – I was playing around with the new English settings to see the difference between the UK and US vocabulary options. Choosing UK English doesn’t change the spellings in the settings (just for the pre-set vocabulary options), so you still see a lot of American spellings in the UI – a lot of missing Us in words like ‘colour’. Let’s be fair though – this may not be AssistiveWare’s fault but Apple’s, however; until iOS 8 it wasn’t possible to distinguish between regional variants of a single language in the UI if you used native iOS tools, unless the application was made by Apple themselves. Maybe this will be changed in a later release, since it’s an easy localisation to make.

Accessibility, Internationalisation

Subtitling/captioning resources in English, French, Spanish and German

Here is a roundup of some resources for people who create subtitles or captions for online video (or in some cases, links to subtitled and captioned media). A full article about subtitling and captioning is coming soon, but in the meantime, have a list of resources in English, French and Spanish, along with a link for German-language users of subtitled media. I’m personally limited to the languages I can read, but if readers have other suggestions I’d be glad to add them.

Gender, Identity and Naming

Avoid ‘real names’ policies

Some website owners, in an effort to control abusive behaviour, require their users to use their ‘real names’ (by which I mean names listed on government identification). This is most notable as a feature of Facebook’s terms and conditions, where people have found their accounts suspended or disabled because they were believed to be using pseudonyms. These policies have been a contentious issue online over the past few years, catalysed by the ‘nymwars’ that happened after the opening of the Google+ social networking service.

Real-names policies come from a valid place of concern – the desire to reduce the amount of trolling and harassment on social-networking sites, forums and comment sections in blogs – but the solution to the problem doesn’t actually come from imposing such a policy. It makes more sense to try to control the behaviour that’s actually problematic, rather than trying to force everybody to use names that match government-issued identification.

Some people have been victims of online harassment and stalking. Forcing victims of domestic abuse and violence to use their legal identities opens them up to identification and harassment from abusers.  Transgender, gender-variant and genderqueer people may not have had their names legally changed via court order or deed poll and may not want to sign up using their birth name. Some people prefer to use the internet to reflect a different aspect of themselves from the persona they present at work. And some people have been banned from ‘real names’ sites simply because they have unfamiliar non-Western names or unusual given or chosen legal names. All these reasons are perfectly valid ones, and are a good reason to reconsider strict ‘real’-name policies.

There’s also a difference between being pseudonymous and anonymous. You can ask your users to use a persistent pseudonym on the site and ban anonymous comments.

Geek Feminism has a comprehensive list of who is harmed by a real-name policy, and My Name is Me has a collection of personal narratives from people who are affected by these policies.