Internationalisation, Localisation

If you’re going to translate, translate thoroughly

If you’re going to translate a site into another language, make sure the translation is thorough. This is related to one of the first entries here, ‘Provide accurate translations’, but it relates to a specific problem that results in half-translated text, as opposed to translations where all the text is changed to a new language, but the words are simply wrong or the sentence structure is weird.

I’ve noticed this with websites and apps that were originally written in English and later translated to a different language. If you’ve noticed this with other languages too, you can mention them in the comments.

What not to do

If you try to use the FedEx US website in Spanish, half the text is still in English. That wouldn’t be as much of a comprehension problem for somebody who’s fully bilingual in both languages, but it’s still jarring to see text in two languages:

Screenshot of the FedEx US website, set to Spanish. Most of the text is translated into Spanish but there are still several information panels written in English.

Tumblr’s French translation has a lot of untranslated English text interspersed, including some huge date and time format failures.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 17.47.14

There are three mistakes here:

  • the (numerical!) date is written in the American ‘month/day’ order, which is always wrong in French – if you want to say 17 October, it would be 17/10
  • there is a 12-hour time stamp of 6:55am – French uses the 24-hour time format and the time should be written as 6h55
  • ‘ven’ (short for ‘vendredi’ or ‘Friday’) is capitalised. Days of the week are not capitalised in French. I’m surprised Friday was even translated to vendredi!

I’m not sure how many people actually use the French translation of Tumblr, but even so, if you’re going to translate your website, make sure your text is translated. The ‘archive’ page on Tumblr has a similar problem, with completely untranslated month names – it should be ‘janvier’, not ‘January’, and the date format is again wrong for French. (I’m starting to lean towards recommending against using the US date format at all if you plan on translating a website, instead using the unambiguous ISO date standard, since it seems to be a revealing error in translations.)

Their newest UI change, where recent activity is shown by clicking on a thunderbolt icon in the top bar, has a similar problem with mostly untranslated text. Dates are shown in English (using the Month Day, Year format), as are phrases like ‘one week ago’. Again, the date format is wrong for French.

Mozilla’s Firefox add-ons page seems to have the same problem as Tumblr:

Screenshot of a user profile on the Mozilla website. All the text is in German except for the date.

Most of the text is in German, except for the date, which says ‘Benutzer seit [translation: User since]: July 9, 2010′. The date should be translated into ‘9. Juli 2010’. The bottom bar, where the copyright section is located, has more untranslated text:

Botton navigation bar on the German Mozilla add-ons site. Copyright notice and 'Report Trademark Abuse' are in English. Text isn't aligned well.

‘Report Trademark Abuse’ and the copyright notice have not been translated into German. Not to mention, the assumed word length for some of those words is too short for German.

This is frustrating, because Firefox gets top marks for the sheer amount of localisations available for it; it’s too bad that Mozilla’s centralised websites aren’t up to scratch.

Something similar occurs on Behance, Adobe’s online portfolio website. If you set your language to French, there’s still a lot of English text throughout.

If your translation to another language or language variant is incomplete, then add a warning letting the user know that they may come across text that’s in a different language. That seems more thoughtful than trying to use a website or application in Chinese, only to have lots of text interspersed throughout in another language. When you change to a language that isn’t available in OS X, the operating system will warn you that menus and applications won’t be available in that language. Etsy did something similar with their Russian translation – if you chose Russian, it told users that it was a beta and that some English text would still be there.


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