L10n is altogether a different ball-game…

My first localization assignment came to me as a translation assignment. I was then just a Japanese language expert with a very little knowledge about what localization is and thus I too accepted the assignment as a regular translation job and continued working on it religiously till I finally started facing many different problems.
It was a software product to be localized into Japanese from English. The assignment that came to me was of translating the User Manual of the product. I had no idea whatsoever about what the product is, how it behaves, its target users etc. It is exactly like translating a User Manual of a cryogenic engine that most of us have never used or seen. As it is typical for most of the Manual or Technical Writers, the writer of this Manual had also “assumed” many things while writing the original English. This made my job all the more difficult. The Manual lacked logical flow here and there and there were consistency issues. All this started frustrating me as a translator and I requested my agent to allow me to meet the end client.
The end client was fortunately on a distance of 30 minutes from my house. While allotting the job my agent had just explained me that it is a User Manual of a product that helps developers to build skeletons of Java code. That’s all! When I visited the end client and got detailed explanation about the product, for the first time I got to know the real expanse of the project and the most important thing I learned was that they were planning to “translate” whole product into Japanese and had begun with getting the User Manual translated first.
Fortunately enough, I could successfully convince the end client that it is rather better to keep aside the Manual translation and start “translating” the product first. But the problem was “how to translate it?” They suggested that they would create a list of strings and resources etc. used in the product, I would translate them at home and then they would again build it to have a “Japanese product”, simple. The fact that Translating-QA/Testing-Building are iterative steps, we were sort of ignorant about it.
Working from home at one’s leisure was definitely a welcome thing till again I started facing problems while translating those context-less strings and resources. And it was at that point of time when I started feeling the need of actually seeing the product while I translated. Due to license issue it was not possible to install the product on my home PC and so ultimately it was decided that I will start working in the end client’s office.
Finally, the things were on the right track. Although I didn’t know then how important “internationalization” is, now when I turn back and see, I can say that fortunately they had taken enough care to internationalize it before they decided to localize it into Japanese. It was therefore possible to localize it with minimum changes required to be done in the design or architecture. Encoding and font care was also duly taken.
Thus, there was an internationalized English product in front of us, which we were supposed to localize into Japanese. Fortunately, I had already extensively used many different Japanese products, had read standard Japanese Manuals published by Microsoft and other companies and was thus knowledgeable about how a Japanese product should look and feel and what Japanese users like and what they don’t.
As mentioned a bit in the beginning, the only tools I had in my box were expertise of Japanese language, translation experience and knowledge of Japanese user mentality. Including me, we all were but ignorant about localization assisting products. These products are a commonsense now, the only problem being that they are still too expensive to purchase for small companies for their in-house use.
So, we extracted all the strings and resources in a tabular format and I translated all those while using the English product side-by-side. Since I had a fully functional GUI in front of me, context of different menu items, buttons, and messages was evident and screen transition was crystal clear. We translated and rebuilt and tested and translated and rebuilt and tested in iterative cycles. As we were not using any localization product, rebuilding the product was definitely a hectic and time consuming activity, but consistency and quality being the major orientation, we did it over and over again. When I tried a couple of localization products much later after that, I newly realized how much efforts we had put in their absence.
Everyday new companies are coming up and many of them want to expand their business globally. Sleek product localization is the only key to their success. Terms like Globalization (G11n), Internationalization (I18n) and Localization (l10n) are no more new. However, unfortunately client education is still a lacking factor.
Just like some 10 years back when I did my first localization job, today also, most of the localization jobs come to us as “translation jobs” with less or no hints about GUI, screen transitions and context. It is really challenging and thus equally interesting to grapple with such jobs and still ensure quality.

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