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How to avoid translation glitches.

Lately, overseas software sales--particularly of native language versions--have been growing at a rate that's often well above U.S. growth rates. "It's amazing what the numbers are, compared to English language versions," says Stan Ormont, who oversees translation and localization for IBM's Desktop Software division.

Ormont points out that developers these days "pretty much understand how to keep text separate from code," which he says greatly simplifies the job of creating versions in multiple languages. But there are still nuances that make localization tricky." Some examples:

* Dialog boxes. Because other languages are often less compact than English, translators may have trouble shoehorning text into the limited space that's available in a pop-up dialog box. Modifying the dialog box's dimensions may not be an acceptable solution: "Translators generally aren't systems-oriented people who know how to make this kind of change," Ormont says. "And developers usually don't want someone messing with the way their screens look."

* Testing glitches. IBM routinely puts its localized versions through three distinct testing cycles, says Ormont. One test verifies that the recompiled version "actually shows on the screen what the translator intended." Then there's a functional test. ("Are dates handled correctly in the local format? Are accented characters being sorted in the right order?") Finally, the documentation, help files, and other text--which may have been translated by separate people--are checked for consistency in terminology.

* Tutorials and templates. "We try to make sure that examples in tutorials are applicable to the local market, and that things like sample data files and titles in templates are suitably generic," Ormont says. His recommendation: Have local sales agents or users review the U.S. version before starting the translation process, to spot potential problems.

* The illustration bottleneck. Ormont notes that documentation authors now tend to use more actual screen shots to illustrate their text. "Mechanically, that's a time-consuming process that puts pressure on the schedule," he says. Text in a line drawing can be modified easily, but creating screen shots usually has to wait until final changes have been made in the program itself.

* Timely releases. "It didn't use to matter if you were six months out of sync with the U.S. version," Ormont says. "But now the news travels fast. Gray market imports will kill the market if you don't get a native language version out on time." IBM's goal now is to release localized versions within 90 days of the ship date of its U.S. and U.K. titles. "That means we have to start work well before the code is frozen."

Stan Ormont, project manager, IBM Application Solutions Division, 1000 NW 51st St., Boca Raton, Fla. 33432; 407/982-3640.
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Title Annotation:translating software from English
Date:Aug 6, 1990
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