Simple But Yet So Difficult To Translate: Placeholders In Software

I do some translating myself too. Already quite a long while ago I translated texts for a web application running on a small company’s website and came across a placeholder that didn’t have much information attached to it. I could see the placeholder’s name and the sentence it was embedded in. For that particular application, the placeholder name usually revealed what it was about. What I assumed it to be was the name of the user’s company/product. That made the sentence a bit difficult to translate due to Finnish grammatics, but I managed to build a somewhat natural sentence out of it anyway.

A while after that I browsed to the web site and saw what my translations looked like. Awful. The sentence structure was in some cases clumsy, in some cases the meaning was simply wrong. The placeholder didn’t stand for the user’s company/product, but for the website/service where it was used. And based on earlier translations in the translation memory I wasn’t the only translator who had been mistaken.

After that I sent an email to my contact person at one of the many agencies between me and the end client, and pointed this out. What happened? Nothing. The translations are still there. (But you shouldn’t really blame the project manager, as he was probably constantly swamped with email. Localization project managers usually are.)

What did I learn from this? Well, first of all it is critical to include enough information about placeholders for the translators. Even if they would be experienced users of the application, it might not become clear to them what different placeholders mean. Secondly, it’s important to have a translation process that supports communication and updates even after the initial translation has been finished. Communication has to be so easy that important issues aren’t left lying around even by mistake.