Now it looks like I speak far more languages than I actually do


The folks over at TechNet Magazine have done something really cool: They've started translating all their articles into Spanish, French, German, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Simplified Chinese. (But no Swedish.) You can change your language on the fly with the combo box in the corner. (MSDN Magazine is doing the same thing. It's an epidemic!)

They did such a thorough job, they even translated my screenshot! (Though they forgot to adjust the picture size. Hey, they're still new at this. Give them time.) And by a stroke of synchronicity, they first article of mine to get this treatment is one that even mentions the hard work that goes into translating Windows...

(Note: I didn't get to see the translations ahead of time, so something may have been lost along the way. For example, in the German version, I don't think "dass unser Programm schlecht aussieht" quite captures what I was trying to say. Something more like "ein schlechtes Licht auf unser Programm zu werfen." I don't blame the translators, though. How were they to know that I was talking more figuratively than literally?)

Comments (18)
  1. Swedude says:

    Great work!

  2. Trey Van Riper says:

    Not to be nitpicky, but just knowing how you like your English to be spot-on, I thought I’d point out this typo:

    And by a stroke of synchronicity, they first article of mine …

    I think you mean ‘the first article’ rather than ‘they first article’.

  3. Nekto2 says:

    Though they forgot to adjust the picture size

    No they don’t. Just view the image without HTML page :)

  4. We’re working on the image-size issue as we speak. I promise :-)

  5. Marcel says:

    The German translation of your article shows pretty well why good translations are really really hard to do (and pretty much impossible for a machine).

    Grammatically and typographically there is not much wrong with it, but to me almost every sentence reeks of its English origin. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I suppose it’s the flow of the sentences and word creations like "Lokalisierungsbelastung".

    Nonetheless a tremendous and applaudable (and probably huge!) effort. Well done.

  6. Bob says:

    <i>"There have been companies who complained to Congress that Microsoft was maliciously targeting and disabling their software."</i>

    Why would anyone suspect such a thing?

  7. peterchen says:

    @Marcel:

    absolutely – and it’s very painful to read, it feels like the mental equivalent to enjoying a beer while throwing up :)

    I understand the amount of work that goes into these translations, and by no means I want to belittle the effort or skills of the translators. It’s just my language sense tingling like mad.

    (I just hope my english doesn’t have the same effect on native speakers!)

    What really annoys me: MSDN doesn’t remember the language combo box selection – and insists on german (even though OS and IE are english – weird)

  8. Marcel says:

    The beer metaphor is probably a bit harsh ;-)

    But yeah, I personally know how hard it is. Even when I have to translate my own manuals and articles into German (I’m German but usually write everything in English) the result reads like sh*t. Usually I then rewrite most paragraphs from scratch as they’re really beyound repair due to the English influences. Easy there because I’m the original author anyway but translating somebody else’s technical text (prose can be translated much more freely) is a real pain. Especially when there’s such a huge pile of it.

    (I just hope my english doesn’t have the same effect on native speakers!)

    Yo, same here.

  9. peterchen says:

    >  usually write everything in English

    >  then rewrite most paragraphs from scratch as they’re really beyound repair

    same here :-)

    I see some reasons:

    (a) Even when communicating in German, we use the english word as
    technical terms with a well defined meaning. The correct german
    equivalent is either context dependent, or not nearly as well defined
    as the english counterpart.

    (b) German technical articles are usually written in passive (“man”
    as in “one does”) instead of using the direct “Du” or “Sie”. The
    english “you” cannot be translated easily without sounding either
    stiff, inappropriate, or trying-tobe-cool-but-failing.

    (c) Many direct translations with a general use in english (e.g. “do”) are considered “idiot-speak” in german (“tun”)

    I wonder how well these translations work for other languages

    We had a schooled “technical writer/translator” translate our
    (english) manual to german. Though we had to double check all technical
    terms, the outcome is quite good. However, the amount of work is
    immense.

    [Yeah, I noticed that the translator used “Sie”
    instead of “man”. It struck me as strange, but I wasn’t sure whether it
    was some new fashion. -Raymond
    ]
  10. Bernd says:

    Why do they have to provide localized version of these texts? Can’t an author assume that if somebody wants to do advanced stuff like articles in this blog) he should know some english? When you want to become a doctor you must learn latin, don’t you?

    Don’t get me wrong. I.e. its OK to translate user manuals for microwaves since the targeted audience is "everyone". But when somebody talks about messageloops, threads and virtual memory I think its OK not to provide translations.

    Translated text (especially technical text) is always hard to understand. Usually you have translate the text back to english while reading to understand it.

    Back in the days when using my C64 nobody ever complained about some software because it was in english :-)

    Bernd

  11. Johann Gerell says:

    Oh, by the way, I don’t understand more German than, like "achtung" (2nd WW movies…), but I could have sworn I saw something in there about writing a book titled "The Old New Thing" coming in 2007, published by AW, authored by you, Raymond.

    I’ve totally missed that before – is it true?

  12. required says:

    I wasn’t sure whether it was some new fashion

    If you listen to the Austrian finance minister and others you might well think so.

  13. Michiel says:

    I’d second the notion that programming should be done in English, and therefore any text on programming should be as well. Before you know, people start using German comments.

    Of course, I’m still scarred by the German Excel being incompatible with the Dutch. It’s VBA, but still programming.

  14. Flibbit says:

    If you think one level of translation is bad, what about two?  Some of my stuff is first translated into German for publication in Europe and then back-translated into English for the US market, because it’s easier to back-translate the final, edited German version than to try and reconstruct an edited version from the English original.  The translations are technically excellent, but unfortunately all of the subtle humour and in-jokes have completely vanished by the time the text falls out the other side.

  15. Just thought I’d let everyone know that the image problem is fixed now :-) Raymond’s jokes can now be enjoyed in their original resolution!

  16. Isaac Lin says:

    Doctors in North America don’t have to learn Latin.

    Regarding the C64, there was (and I believe still is) a vibrant German C64 user community, so I would suspect that of the C64 software written in the last five years (and there are still diehards doing so), a good deal of it would be for a German audience.

  17. Norman Diamond says:

    Sunday, October 29, 2006 6:31 AM by peterchen

    I wonder how well these translations work for

    other languages

    (a) Even when communicating in German, we use

    the english word as technical terms with a

    well defined meaning.

    Here it’s pretty much random.  Some words are really written in Japanese (using Kanji).  Some words are written in katakana as transliterations from English (usually).  Some aren’t consistent and can change from one sentence to the next while speaking, or vary depending on which version of Windows or which vendor’s drivers or whatever.

    (b) German technical articles are usually

    written in passive ("man" as in "one does")

    If the grammar is "one does" then it’s active not passive, it just ambiguizes who the actor is.  "Is done" and "would be done" are passive.  In Japanese there’s a lot of "do", active tense but not imperative, without specifying who the actor is.

    (c) Many direct translations with a general

    use in english (e.g. "do") are

    considered "idiot-speak" in german ("tun")

    Um, I don’t know German, so is "man" an example of that?  Anyway in Japanese, especially in this kind of situation, maybe "do" is the most common verb.

    Sunday, October 29, 2006 11:55 AM by Bernd

    Why do they have to provide localized version

    of these texts?

    "Have to" is a tough question but "want to" has an easy answer.  "Have to" might be more suitable for MSDN where, in addition to the need for accurate information, there sure is a need for it in the customer’s language.

    Can’t an author assume that if somebody wants

    to do advanced stuff like articles in this

    blog) he should know some english?

    Advanced stuff like reading this blog?  Sure, you need English to read it.  Advanced stuff like Win32 programming etc.?  No way.  Programming skills and human language skills are not identical talents.

    Some of the stuff in "Win32 Programming that even a Cat can Understand" is both technically accurate and hilariously funny.  Does this mean that every Windows programmer has to know some Japanese?  Or can some programmers wait for a translation?  (Yeah I translated the title.)

Comments are closed.