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“Translator X from Canada” is back! This time he takes on programming language developers. Read on…

I firmly believe that programming language (PL) developers are very intelligent people, who, for some reason, have not yet noticed that we now live on such a small planet. They should have already realized that successful applications must be multilingual to be easily translated and localized.

Microsoft is both a major PL vendor and an applications vendor at the same time. I assume that it develops its applications and its operating system with its own languages. Then it probably pays many times the original development costs to make all of its programming languages internationalization (i18n) / localization (l10n)-aware. Most PL vendors have one or two cool features with regards to i18n/l10n, but I don’t understand why they can’t offer PL with a localization toolkit that would include the following features:

  • A function that lets me (the translator) view any string in context. Since third-party developers can already do this, PL vendors should also be able to figure it out.
    • Seeing my string displayed, I can verify immediately if it will fit in a text box or label and thus adjust it accordingly.
    • If I can’t shorten a string, there should be a tool to let me move or resize the item, and/or modify the font.
      • It would be very valuable for the original applications developer to know what I’ve changed. Therefore, I need a feature to be able to easily communicate this feedback and to verify that everything works in the target language.
  • A function that keeps all the natural language (NL) source text, so that anybody doing NL revision can do a comparative reading of the source and target.
  • A bookmarking function for elements that require further research before translation/revision, just as with normal text. Finding THE string I am looking for in a piece of source code is really a nightmare with some PL.
  • A full text search and replace function for the strings I handle. This function should let me confirm my replacements if I choose to do so, and not perform an automatic replacement (I have suffered the “all or nothing” approach too many times). Sure, many programming languages already have something like this, but I would like it to be limited to the translatable elements. Current implementations usually return extraneous variable names and keywords used in the source code.
  • Contact information for the original creators of whatever material is being translated and/or localized. I remember one occasion when I really needed help while translating a software program and its user documentation into French. When I contacted the company in Texas, I was told to call someone in France! This was because the U.S. company had originally acquired most of this program from a French company in Paris.
  • A feature that allows me to view at any time all the strings that have been translated, in table format.
    • The table should provide alphabetical sorting in both source and target to be able…
      • to compare my translation with the source.
      • to compare translations to ensure that I didn’t use the same terminology for different items.

      Being able to switch between these two states would make me a very happy person!

  • A second table containing the elements that remain to be translated, with two available views:
    • one view in associative order, i.e., elements of the same form/same module grouped together.
    • one view in alphabetical order, in order to assign similar translations to similar elements.
  • A way of flagging items that require further work before I can translate them. Currently, I’m forced to take notes in a text document or on a piece of paper.
  • A place for programmers to include their definitions of key concepts. At the present time, I have to contact them if I can; otherwise, I must guess what they mean. These days, a programmer’s mother tongue is often not that of the program itself, i.e., s/he is writing in a second or third language.
  • A manager function for hotkeys/shortcuts. This could take the form of a table that keeps track of all hotkeys/shortcuts used in the program and of their place in the program, by form, by module and so on. I should know immediately which of the shortcuts are valid throughout the application, which are only valid in one part of the application, and which are local to a form.
    • I think this feature would also be useful for programmers as well. It would do away with the inconsistencies such as the ones we French-speaking people experience in some programs, e.g., when the same letter is used for a hotkey/shortcut throughout an application, as well as for a local function, one always overrides the other.
  • A feature that lets me communicate with the programmer. Translators can help educate programmers regarding their choice of images, e.g., those which may be offensive in some cultures but not in others (ones that represent a cult, the flag of a country, etc.).
  • A feature that allows the programmer to specify that a string is not to be translated because it is a trademark. For example, Corel WordPerfect should not become “Mot Parfait de Corel.” Sometimes, it is not so obvious, especially when Capitalization is Used Everywhere.
  • A spell checker or a software bridge to spellcheckers of mainstream word processors.
  • A function that would automatically correlate the help content and any item that is linked to it. This way, the same translator could do Help, the interface and the user documentation. (And the possibility to switch between a translation in progress and the source text.)
  • A tiny, minimal workflow utility that indicates which resources, help topics or other elements remain to be translated, that I might have forgotten.

Plus many, many functions and technical elements that will better handle the character sets, locales, display algorithms and so on… all items that developers familiar with i18n/l10n issues can define and explain much better than I ever will.

Is my wish list so extravagant? There must be some PL vendors who understand all of the leverage and the many benefits to be gained from implementing some or all of these features…

In the meantime, I wonder what planet they’re on…

P.S. If any PL vendor has a job for me, I am available only in Canada because there is so much fun to have in the snow around here. :-)


Reprinted by permission from the Globalization Insider,
6 May 2003, Volume XII, Issue 2.3.

Copyright the Localization Industry Standards Association
(Globalization Insider: www.localization.org, LISA:
and S.M.P. Marketing Sarl (SMP) 2004

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