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Questions equals dedication

minna_xd profile image Minna Nurmiluoto ・2 min read

If a translator asks you many clarifying questions about your code or application, they're not being annoying – they want to do their best job.

Say you have a furniture store and you have built a nice inventory management application. You are getting the application localised and a translator wants to know the meaning of 'table'. Are they an idiot? Surely not. It depends on the format of the localisation file, but context is super important in translation. In worst cases, the file contents may be alphabetised and therefore they've lost all context. In other cases, the string IDs may be something generic like label1, label2 or title.

How would you translate 'table' into any other language you know? Or, if you're not a polyglot, you can think of this in terms of definitions: how would you define 'table'? (Click the paragraph/arrow)

How about now?

  • sofa
  • table
  • chair

How about now?

  • pie chart
  • table
  • graph

See? Even though the words in English are identical, they carry completely different meanings and will likely be translated using different words in another language. If this type of context information is not available through surrounding words, string IDs or comments, the translator is basically just flipping a coin. More often than not, a multi-sided coin (if that were a thing). Sometimes they can make an educated guess but due to the concise nature of software texts, even that can easily go wrong. You, the developer, be unambiguous – or helpful and understanding – instead.

By the way, if for example those above two meanings of 'table' co-exist in an application, you'll need to handle that carefully in your translation memory. Luckily, you can add multiple translations for one source text!

Cover photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash

Discussion (2)

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eevajonnapanula profile image
Eevis (she/her)

This is so interesting topic, and I couldn't agree more! There is also a possibility for a word or phrase to carry some culturally weighed meanings, and translating that correctly needs a lot more context than just a label.

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minna_xd profile image
Minna Nurmiluoto Author

Absolutely! Sometimes translator may also recognize that a term is going to be culturally problematic in the target language even if it's not in the source language, and then they might need to discuss alternatives with the developer.
There's so much to take into consideration in translation!