General points about translation

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
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You can write entire books about translation. But I'll try and be more concise than that.

The ultimate purpose

This is really where translation can go badly wrong. Always bear in mind that you are not just replacing English words with words in your languages. You're trying to communicate a message in a way that other people can understand. Of course, there are only so many ways one can say Close or Edit but when the strings (=sentences and phrases) are longer, there are more questions about how to translate. I will give you just two examples from my own language.

Please close this window.

Perfectly ok English phrase. But before you start typing, just consider this - does your language use please naturally? Because Gaelic doesn't. Yes, there is a phrase for please (mas e do thoil e - if it is your pleasure) but that's a horrible phrase based on English usage which nobody really says unless they're trying to be funny.

Instead, to be polite, we use other ways of showing that. So a good translation here would be

Nach dùin thu an uinneag? (Won't you close the window?)

because in Gaelic, to be polite, you don't just blurt out 'do this' and then add please - you use an indirect question.

Second example:

This file has been corrupted.

Again, it's a perfectly good English phrase. Your language may or may not have a passive but the general principle applies. In Gaelic, there IS a passive but we use it less than English does. So the normal way we would say this would be

Tha am faidhle seo coirbte. (This file is corrupt.)

So the message here is, when you're translating, don't start inventing a translation but at the same time, try and translate in a way that works well in your language. There is no need to stick to English idiom like mud to a blanket.

Capital letters and stuff

Now, if your language doesn't use an alphabet that has capital letters, you can smile and stop reading. But for most languages which use the Latin alphabet, there is the question of what to do with capital letters simply because English is crazy when it comes to capital letters. These days, anything can happen:

  • Include the address of the page I was on. (only the first letter of the sentence is capitalised)
  • Open File Menu (the first letter of each word is capitalised)
  • search functions (no letter is capitalised)

If you're lucky, your language has specific rules about when you should and should not use capital letters. In any case, if your language does not have strict rules about this kind of thing, before you start translating, decide what you're going to do. You can try and follow the way English does it, but in many cases you will hate yourself for having started this.

My advice is this: if your language tends to use a capital letter only on names and at the beginning of a sentence, stick to that. It will make your life so much easier. Trust me, I've been doing this for over 10 years. It's ok to do so and there's almost never a rule that says you have to follow English capitalisation.


This is a tricky one. If you're lucky, someone in your language has done all the hard work and has created all the computer terminology you need. But if you're reading this, chances are you will have to make it up yourself to some extent. Sadly, there is no golden rule about how to do this. So here are some things you should think about and make some decisions about:

  • You don't have to translate absolutely every technical term. Some won't even be around for long enough for people to learn them. So if popup does not translate at all into your language, just consider leaving it like that.
  • If you make new words, remember that they should make sense to people who haven't seen the English text.
  • If you use too many made-up words, it's possible you're going to put off people who are not as keen on new words as you are. Finding a balance is really hard.

One rule though:

Whatever terms you choose, be consistent. Don't use 4 different words for 'file'. And if you decide that you really should change a term, do the extra work and change all of them. It keeps other people from going crazy.

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