Preparing for Localization

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Around the world, a lot of money is being spent to develop new speech engines and voice applications targeting multilingual, multinational projects. The sleeping tiger of internationalization is wide awake. Unfortunately, the art of localization—the ability to adapt a product for each nation, region, dialect, accent, and personal preference—is not. All things being technologically equal, a product with full localization has a powerful advantage over competitors, especially if these localizations are automatically initiated, intuitive, and available as preferences that can be changed.

To achieve an acceptable level of localization, follow these basic steps:
Step 1. Basic Translation A translation at this stage is generic and lackluster because content is not targeted, but all too often companies go no further.
Try separating business logic from language logic, and assume from the get-go that your system will be translated into many languages, and have many versions of the original available. Avoid empowering someone of one dialect with full responsibility for the final version of your system.

Step 2. Nationalization Date and time structures vary greatly from one country to the next. In England, one might say, "Package received on Tuesday, June the 4th, 2007, 15:30. In China, that same sentence would be structured to say, "p.m. 3 hour 30 minute at year 2007 June 4 Tuesday on package received."

Companies should never reuse translated words, expressions, or linguistic content across concatenated sentences or grammars without great care. Accommodate expected changes of basic expressions. Create a hierarchy tree that contains not only the world languages (English, French, Spanish, etc.) but also a tree of sublanguages for each (U.K. English, U.S. English, etc.). Associate concatenated sentences with sublanguages, and expect multiple variations.

Step 3. Regionalization When a translation fails to meet its goals, it may have been a direct result of terminology in the text—either present or missing—related to a rival city or area. For example, "press" in Spanish is "marcar" for the Americas, including the United States. "Oprimir" is the choice of Cuban-Americans. And in Spain the word "pulsar" should be used.

It’s important to have the translation from Step 1 reviewed by people from other regions. Ride the waves of bickering between dialects. You’ll feel like a truck ran you over, but the end result will be better for it.

Step 4. Expatriates If the targets live immersed within other language cultures, such as Spanish speakers in the United States, Moroccans in France, Koreans in China, or Turks in Germany, their terminology is often years behind the mother country. Expatriate callers will often speak out of grammatical order, substitute local words for native words, and use improper prepositions, articles, pronouns, and other elements.
It’s best to balance between using overseas professionals and expatriates for your content. Avoid complex questions that require answers with a lot of prepositional phrases.

Step 5. Customization for Corporations and Industries Companies and industries use their own unique terminology. For larger corporations, terminology may even vary between buildings or facilities. Even the legal name of a corporation may differ between regions or countries.

Try creating a customized sublanguage hierarchy, with each language specific to a customer. Select the text, grammar, and voice prompts to use at runtime by these customized language names, defaulting to the system base language if no customized language version is available. Enable a client to input its own specific expressions in prompts and grammars.

Step 6. Forms of Address In English there is no distinction when using the pronoun "you." Yet, among several languages, there often are different words or grammatical constructs to denote the formal or the intimate, and both have a solid and important position in their cultures.
It will help to anticipate requirements for at least two forms of address to be set in the software preferences. For Wal-Mart, you might want to choose a more intimate mode of address; for a Lexus dealer, the formal.

Step 7. Male or Female In many languages, adjectives and verb endings change according to gender. Most languages default to masculine if the gender of the person is not known. Although this is grammatically correct, it is emotionally deficient.

Plan your code to handle at least two versions of all basic prompts. Use any profile information you have at runtime to pre-select a female version where appropriate. Assure that all versions of such words are covered in grammars.

Sue Ellen Reager is CEO and founder of @International Services, a global translation services company and developer of localization software. She can be reached at sueellen@internationalservices.com.

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