Monday, October 24, 2011

The Specifics of Website Translation

Some may think that translating a website is no harder than translating a book or a manual: both include titles, texts, more or less the same footer information on every page, and a "table of contents" ("menu" for the website). However, if you get the chance to translate a website, you will soon realize that it is a tougher task than what some may expect.

Of course, at the end of the day, your job is still to translate words and sentences from one language to another, but unlike plain text translation work, you cannot just open up a web page and start translating everything that you see. 

If the webmaster has provided you with all the texts that you will need to translate in a plain text format, then you are a lucky person and you can stop reading this article.

For now, let me list some of the main differences between website translation and translation of "ordinary" plain text.

1. Books are made of paper, letters, and words. Websites are made of HTML

Web pages, at least the ones reaching your browser, are all made of HTML. Even if their names end up with ".php" or something different from ".HTML", the final content is always HTML, which is formatted text and not plain text. It means that if you\'re not translating web pages from code editing software (such as Notepad++ or Komodo), then you are doing things wrong. 

Rather, you will need to replace the text directly inside the code, using the previously mentioned software. As you can imagine, making changes inside the code can be quite tricky, as you may accidentally "break" the page. When you do it (I mean translating, not breaking the page), be very careful with tags and formatting. If you move or - even worse - remove some tags, the layout of the page may differ from the original version.

In the worst of cases, the whole page may even become unreadable or produce error messages. If you don\'t understand some characters or tags, just leave them as they are.

2. Web pages have a lot of "invisible" text

A web page is not limited to its visual content. Indeed, a lot of textual content is not visible when you just check the page on your browser. This is why, once again, you have to look at the code rather than what your browser displays.

You always have to check everything from the header to the footer of the page: Did you translate all of the meta tags, such as the page\'s description (the piece of text which will usually appear in search engines when people look for your website)? If mails are sent by the website, are these mails also translated? What about the alternative texts for images? Error messages?

Check the code again and again to make sure there's nothing you’ve forgotten.

3. Some words are not meant to be translated

Some parts of a web page don't need to or must not be translated. Before starting your translation, ALWAYS ask the webmaster if there is any content that is NOT to be translated. Some parts of the page (usually non-visible content) must be exactly the same in all languages to ensure that the website will work correctly. For example, tag attributes such as name="xx", id="xx" or even sometimes value="xx" should not be translated. If you didn't understand a word of the previous sentence, then you should be extremely careful and, if possible, learn a few elements of HTML, at least to understand how web pages are structured.

4. The problem of image localization

Web pages are made of formatted text, colors and images. Images including text are a concern for anybody who has been translating/localizing software or websites.

The first (important) thing to do is to get the image template file used to create the original image. Once you have it, you can edit the text layer with an image tool. Usually, Adobe Photoshop or The Gimp will do it, but if you don\'t know which software you should use, ask your client. 

Once the new text is implemented, there are two possibilities:

-The new text fits the image: You\'re done!

-The new text is too large: You will have to call your client to know what to do. Should you use a shorter but less accurate word? Reduce the font size? Increase the size of the button, which could bring about the necessity (for the webmaster) of rewriting some parts of the code? In any case, do nothing without the approval of your client; explain the problem as clearly as possible and ask the webmaster\'s advice.

5. What looks fine in your editor may look awful in your browser

After you finish your translation, checking the new page in a web browser is always a good idea. If the layout looks different, it certainly means that you’ve moved or deleted some tags by mistake. Always keep a version of the original page so that you can compare the code and find your mistake.

But don't forget: having a correctly displayed page doesn't necessarily mean that everything was translated properly.

There are a few other points I could mention here, but they are usually specific to certain categories of websites, and I believe the client would give you enough documentation in such cases.

As you can see, website translation differs significantly from "ordinary" translation. It can be quite tricky and you will always have to check everything extra carefully.

If you know nothing about the structure of an HTML page, then I strongly recommend that you read some introductory articles. You don't need to become a webmaster yourself, but you should at least understand the structure of an HTML page, and if possible understand the meaning of some "Webmaster slang" words as well, such as "meta tags", "tag attributes", and "page footer".

An All too Common Mistranslation Found in Games Localized from English to Japanese

In our first industry professional contributed article, translator Y.G. points out a common translation error (mistranslation) still quite prevalent even in many big-budget Western-developed titles localized for the Japanese market, detailing why this particular slipup can easily be a stumbling block for many translators, as the context within which the terminology is used in-game can be somewhat deceptive.   

Some knowledge of the Japanese language and how some basic terminology is commonly used to represent different types of data in many Japanese video games will certainly lend additional value to readers of the article, however we encourage you to give the piece a read irrespective of your Japanese language ability.  While localization has come a long way in just the past decade, with the quality of localization for many Japanese titles typically being far better than it has ever been, it’s also important to raise awareness about what’s happening with games in other regions undergoing these same processes as well.

An All too Common Mistranslation Found in Games Localized from English to Japanese

Rather far from being a rare case even today, Japanese players quite regularly get their hands on games developed outside Japan which have been localized and then released into the Japanese marketplace only to discover what they feel to be mistranslations (誤訳 - goyaku), and that error then ends up being mentioned on various message boards and game-related media sites, eventually becoming an open point of discussion scattered about the internet within game fan communities.  However based upon my personal experience, there exists one rather common mistranslation that I have repeatedly stumbled upon which for some mysterious reason or another has failed to gather similar attention around those same sources across the web, which is what I would like to address today.

First, we’ll begin by assuming a case where it is your task to translate the content presented below which has been (hypothetically) pulled from a game originally produced in English and is intended for localization into Japanese:

Enemies Killed: 882
Items Unlocked: 65/100
Missions Completed: 37/50
Points Collected: 85,578,300
Time Played: 20:30:09

Data representations similar to what is depicted above often appear within what is commonly referred to as the “Stats Screen” in many Western developed games.  Such a heading suggests that the sort of data to be found on the game’s corresponding screen is obviously, “Stats”.  The question then is, “How should this heading be interpreted for Japanese translation? “

At first glance, “Stats”  may instinctively be interpreted (by many Japanese game players) as an abbreviation for the word “Status” (ステータス), however in this case, the word “Stats” is actually short for “Statistics,” which is commonly referred to in Japanese-English dictionaries as tokei or tokeihyo (統計 or 統計表).  Very different from “Status,” the word “Statistics” refers to a set of calculated numerical data, whereas “Status” likely refers to something’s state of being.  Within a game context, the “Stats Screen” often displays data such as the player’s accumulated experience points or cumulative play time.  In other words, statistical data pertaining to game play.

However, cases of games localized into Japanese where “Stats” has been translated as “Status”  are surprisingly common.  This is problematic because in many Japan-developed games, the “Status Screen” most often displays information such as character health, attack strength and items in that character’s possession, data of a rather different nature from that represented in the example above, which most certainly does not fall into the category of “Status Screen” based upon the common Japanese standard.  The results procured by performing an image search for “Status Screen” (in Japanese: ステータス画面) using a search engine such as Google expresses the nature of this situation clear as day.  Provided this example, you ought to be able to see how the translation of “Stats” into “Status Screen” might evoke a slight of a sense of confusion for Japanese players.

As an aside, in cases where I have found myself tasked with translating “Stats” (in games), some common terminology found in Japanese games such as “Play Record,” “Play Data,” “Record” or “Senreki” (戦歴 – an expression related to Battle/War Record/History) tends to be appropriate when referring to this particular depiction of “Stats”.  Taking into consideration things such as the context of the game world, as well as the sort of item headings displayed on the “Stats” screen are helpful in determining how to handle such related expressions.

But this “Stats” issue can be rather pesky, as there exist cases where the translation of “Stats” in English can be handled by a direct translation, where that translation then accurately matches up with the appropriate context in Japanese games as well.  The stats screen below displays information such as “Character Level” and “Health,” content entirely in-line with what a Japanese player would expect to see on a standard “Status Screen” found in many Japan-developed games.  A translation such as the one represented below is clearly appropriate.  As a result, it may be safe to assess that the mere existence of cases such as the example shown below could very well be one of the primary factors directly instigating the alarmingly high number of translators’ misinterpretation of the “Stats” abbreviation.

Image from Aeria Games’ Twelve Sky 2 (

The mistranslation of “Stats” into “Status” stands out as an example of a common video game translation error that I cross quite regularly.  It’s an issue that pops up even in Western titles that are reasonably popular in Japan, titles that may ship over 100,000 units.

However being entirely honest, I must admit that I have also been guilty of such translation crimes in the early days of my foray into the world of game localization.  Luckily in each case the error was discovered and corrected in the process, hence circumventing the risk of such a blunder slipping through the cracks.  Yet based upon these experiences, I felt it worthwhile to take a moment in order alert others engaging in game translation and localization to this rather specific yet significant point of interest.

by Y.G