Posts Tagged ‘localization’

I’m constantly approached by developers working on new Mobile apps and by translators working on the localization of existing mobile apps asking me for guidelines and best practices on how to write or translate for Mobile. I’ve given the topic a lot of thoughts and I come out with the 3 magic Fs rule: No, the 3 Fs don’t stand for Francesco, Francesco and Francesco; they stand for Fast, Focus and Fun.

When writing for mobile, keep in mind the intended audience: mobile users have less time and shorter attention spam than regular web users. And they want to have fun. So here it goes:

1. Fast: Keep it brief. Be concise and precise. Try to use the same number of characters as in the English source (including spaces), and don’t use more unless absolutely necessary. Describe only what’s necessary, and no more. Don’t try to explain subtle differences. They will be lost on most users.

2. Focus: Keep it simple. Pretend you’re speaking to someone who’s smart and competent, but doesn’t understand technical jargon. Use short words, active verbs, and common nouns. Put the most important thing first. The first words in a sentence should include at least a hint of the most important information in the phrase.

3. Fun: Be friendly. Talk directly to the reader using second person “you”*. If your text doesn’t read the way you’d say it in a casual conversation, it’s probably not the way you should write it. Don’t be abrupt or annoying. Make the user feel safe, happy and energized. Don’t use abbreviations to shorten a word or a phrase. Abbreviations as a shortcut for space restrictions must be avoided at all times.

wiritingformobile
Examples:

1. Keep it brief.

noToo formal
Consult the documentation that came with your phone for further instructions.

yesPreferred
Read the instructions that came with your phone.

2. Keep it simple.

noConfusing
You cannot perform this action with this app because this feature is not supported for your country. Please use the main website instead.

yesCrystal clear
This feature is not supported in your country yet. Please use the website.

3. Be friendly.

noConfusing
Sorry! The app is not responding. Please close it and reopen it.

yes Shorter, more direct, no fake apologetic
The app isn’t responding. Please restart.

4. Put the most important thing first.

noTask last
Tap Next to complete setup.

yesTask first
To complete the setup, tap Next.

5. Describe only what’s necessary, and no more.

noToo wordy
The app needs to communicate with our servers to sign in to your account. This may take a few moments.

yesShort and to the point
The app is connecting to the server. This can take a few moments.

6. Don’t use abbreviations to shorten a word or phrase

noAbbreviation
Go to Intl. settings.

yesSpelled out
Go to International settings.

Being fast means that features are fast to use, therefore the text needs to be fast to read. Focus is about simplicity, therefore the text needs to be easy to read. Fun is about engagement, therefore text needs to be friendly.

When writing for mobile, always keep in mind that the screen of a smartphone is about 4 inches diagonally. Also, keep in mind the intended audience: mobile users have less time and shorter attention spam.

Here are a couple of tips on how to write for mobile:

• Sentences should be no longer than 20 words.
• Nested lists should never be more than 3 levels deep.

How can you think for the small screen? Well, here are some tips:

• Don’t simply try to reuse content that you wrote for the web without repackaging the message in smaller containers.
• Use WYSIWYG editing display to see how much content you have for an iPhone screen while you are writing it.
• Write directly in this mode, don’t simply preview.

The last piece of advice is this one: take your time! Don’t do like Blaise Pascal, the famous 17th century French mathematician, who once apologized to a friend writing “I made this letter very long, because I did not have the time to make it shorter“!

According to an article published in Bloomberg’s Businessweek on 10/15/2012, based on calculations of the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, translation and interpreting is the 15th fastest expanding job category in the United States, with projected growth of 42% by 2020.

Public places always have multiple translations available for people who may not speak the native language. Never underestimate the complexities of language and before putting any translation in print, always double check that it’s correct, or at least that it isn’t a euphemism for something lewd or horrifying.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who don’t do that and these are a few hilarious results. My favorite one is the Enviro Mental Area sign. What’s yours?

 


I’m always very happy when I stumble upon a piece of software with nicely executed localization and today I want to share with you one of the most noticeable example that can be found in Apple iOS 5.

Here is the Setting screen of the iPhone in English:

How would you localize that On/Off switch in other languages?

Easier solution: just translate!

Would that work in Italian? Maybe, if you reduce the font by a lot! Not the best experience for the user though!

But would that work in other languages? Probably not!

To prove my case, here is the German translation of the switch. As you can see, Aktiviert would barely fit, whereas Deaktiviert definitely doesn’t fit:

Smart solution:

Well, at Apple they realized that it was going to be very hard to accommodate that switch in all the languages supported by the iOS. Hence, they decided to change the design of the switch itself for the international markets and use the convention I/O:

I personally believe that this a fine example of implementation driven by localization.

Francesco Pugliano

When designing a mobile app, one of the things a designer should keep in mind is translated text expansion. Probably this doesn’t come as something new; there’s a whole literature on the subject.

However, when designing and localizing a mobile app you should also avoid other layout tricks that as a designer you might be tempted to try. I recently stumbled upon an app for iPhone that struck me for its peculiar use of ellipses.

What are ellipses? As a convention, ellipses in UI text are used in the following cases:

  • To indicate that a command needs additional information.
  • To indicate that text is truncated.
  • To indicate that a task is in progress (for example, “Searching…”)

Italian

Japanese

Normally, when the translated text expands too much, the designer would use an ellipsis at the end of the sentence.

In this case Italian expands by approx 40%. Japanse seems to be aprox the same lenght as the English.

English: New message (11 characters)
Italian: Nuovo messaggio (15 characters)
Japanese: 新しいメッセージ

The funny thing is that in this specific app, the designer used an ellipses in the middle of the text, and not at the end where it should normally be.

As a result, the meaning of the Italian translation is not “New Message” but “New essay”. That’s what “saggio” means in Italian.

Why the developer didn’t stick to widely accepted conventions on the use of ellipses? This is still a mystery to me.

I’ve never been a big fan of ellipses used to indicate that a text is truncated. I believe that a better practice would be to implement the convention of scrolling text. Like a ticker message that scrolls across the screen letting the user read the entire string from beginning to end. On mobiles, this is used a lot in lists in the body of a window. And while I haven’t seen it used in the window title of an app, it would be a worthy experiment for design engineers to figure out.

Food for thoughts. What’s your take?
 

 

Introduction to AI

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is the study and design of intelligent agents. AI programs are called Intelligent Agent. Here is how it works:


The Intelligent Agent (on the left) interacts with an Environment (on the right). The Agent perceives the state of the Environment through its sensors and at the same time it affects its state through its actuators.

The real challenge about AI is the function that maps sensors to actuators: that is called Control Policy for the Agent.

Based on the data received from sensors, the agent makes decisions and pass them over to its actuators. These decisions take place several times and the loop of environment, feedback from sensors, agent’s decision and actuators interaction with the environment is called Perception-Action-Cycle.

AI is used in many fields, among which:

  • Finance
  • Robotics
  • Games
  • Medicine
  • And of course: the Web

AI and uncertainty

AI is all about uncertainty management. In other words, we use AI if we want to know what to do when we don’t know what to do. There could be many reasons for uncertainty in a computer program:

  • Sensor limits
  • Adversaries that make it hard for you to understand what’s happening
  • Stochastic environment (where behaviors are intrinsically non-deterministic)
  • Laziness
  • Plain ignorance (many people that don’t know what’s going on, could easily learn it, but they just don’t care)

All of the above are possible causes for uncertainty and AI.

Example of AI in practice

One of the many key applications of AI techniques is Machine Translation. How does Machine Translation work?

Machine Translation generates translations using AI techniques based on bilingual text corpora. Where such corpora are available, impressive results can be achieved translating texts of a very similar kind. Unfortunately, such corpora of bilingual texts are still very rare and the size of the available corpora varies significantly from one language combination to the other.

So what does Machine Translation looks like? On a large scale Machine Translation system, examples are found on the web. On a small scale, they can be found anywhere. This example was found in a Chinese restaurant in Cupertino:

In these type of text a line in Chinese corresponds to a line in English. To learn from this text, we need to find out the correspondence between words in Chinese and words in English. For example, we can highlight the word “wonton” in English. It appears 3 times throughout the text. In each of those lines there is also one Chinese character that appears: 雲. So it seems that there is a high probability that this ideogram in Chinese corresponds to the word “wonton” in English. Please note that we are talking about probabilities here. As a matter of fact “wonton” in Chinese is 雲吞 and not just 雲. For some reason the ideogram 雲吞 on line 65 is abbreviated to just 雲. And it’s not a common abbreviation.

You can go further, and try to find out what ideogram in Chinese correspond to the word “chicken” in English:


Please note that we aren’t 100% sure that 雞 is the ideogram for “chicken” in Chinese but we do know that there is a good chance because each time the word “chicken” appears in English this ideogram appears in Chinese.

Now let’s see if we can find a correspondence for the word Soup:


As you can see the word “soup” occurs in most these phrases but not in all of them. In the English side of the menu is missing in 1 place (65. Egg Drop Wonton Mix). Equivalently, on the Chinese side of the menu is missing in 1 difference place (廣東雲吞 60).

The correspondence doesn’t have to be 100% to tell us that there is still a good chance of a correlation.

In Machine Translation these type of alignment is used to create probability tables. Hence the name Statistical Machine Translation. In other words, the probability of one phrase in one language to correspond to another phrase in another language.

More on Machine Translation in future posts. Stay tuned.

Francesco Pugliano