If you want a high-quality localization of your product, linguistic testing is an absolute must. To get good results for any kind of project - whether a site, application, game, or mobile app - you have to do more than just translate strings in resource files. At the final stage of localization, linguistic testers must carefully and thoughtfully perform one more task: testing the translation as implemented in the final product.
Linguistic testing accomplishes three (and sometimes even more) tasks:First, testing allows pinpointing strings that do not fit into their GUI elements, be these menus, buttons, or toolbars. This can happen because the length of words is different in different languages. When translating from Russian to French or German, for example, the length of text increases by 15 to 20%. Things are even more complicated for Asian languages. A handful of Chinese characters when translated into English, for example, turn into a long phrase that simply cannot fit in the relevant GUI window. For character languages it is also a good idea to increase the font size, so that all the small details of characters are legible. GUIs should be beautiful and localization testing is critical for keeping them that way.
The second job of linguistic testing is to make sure that phrases fit their context. Most often this question arises when testing games: does the translation match the in-game situation that the end user encounters? When making the initial translation, the translator was looking at resource files and, although helped by comments and screenshots, still saw only a list of strings. So there are probably places where the translation does not capture 100% of the context. Common errors in games include incorrect gender, repeating units, and incorrect object names.
Non-games can have their complexities too: if we are translating the word "rate" from English, do we mean the price ("hourly rate") or ratio of currencies ("exchange rate")? Or maybe "rate" is used as a verb - but then is it in the sense of evaluate ("to rate an app") or to deserve ("to rate a mention")?
These aspects are tricky and deserve close attention.
Third, it's important to check how the text in your interface is displayed in different localizations of the target operating system. This can help solve possible issues with text encoding, such as when special characters (for example, diacritics or umlauts) in different languages are displayed incorrectly.
This screenshot shows incorrect display of special characters. Without linguistic testing, this is what French gamers would have seen in the interface.
What's the right way to do linguistic testing?
For almost ten years, we at Alconost have offered professional translation, localization, and linguistic testing in forty languages. Here are a few hard-won tips for linguistic testing based on our experience.
Let's say that all of the interface strings have been translated and integrated into the product. What is the next step? Optimally, the translators now receive the localized product and carefully review each window, checking each and every piece of text. Why do we say "optimally" here? In practice, complications crop up both on the translator side and on the client side. Sometimes a translator may not have a device capable of running the product, or the client cannot provide a custom build or grant access to the product. As a workaround, the client takes as many screenshots as possible for review by the tester.
Testing goes beyond just checking interface elements - it includes system errors, help materials, and other accompanying documentation.
When a tester finds an error, he or she makes corrections in the translation file and also records the error in the bug list. Bugs can include pieces of untranslated text, missing text, incorrectly formatted dates or numbers, incorrect first name/last name order, or incorrect currency. Keeping a bug list gives the client a visual representation of how many bugs have been found and how each of them has been fixed.
The situation is more complicated when, besides translation errors, there are cosmetic errors: the translated strings may be too long and get cut off, or even spill out of their button/window. In these situations, the usual method is to find a shorter way of rephrasing the text. If worst comes to worst and there is no way of rephrasing the text, then we can simply remove a portion of it. Another solution in some situations is to leave a word in the original language (i.e., in English), but this works only when the term is very well known and translation is not truly necessary.
Three secrets for awesome linguistic testing
Secret No. 1: By choosing the right tools during the translation stage, you can significantly simplify and speed up linguistic testing later. Unlock this "magic" by automating as much of translators' work as possible. At Alconost we do this by using the latest computer-assisted translation tools (SDL Trados, SDL Passolo, OmegaT, Sisulizer, Poedit, and MemoQ) and cloud-based platforms (Webtranslateit, Crowdin, GetLocalization, Google Translator Toolkit). These CAT tools allow multiple translators and editors to work on a project at the same time, as well as utilize translation memory.
Translation memory is powerful: each translated word is memorized, and when a word is found in the text a second time (or third or fourth...), the translation memory will make a suggestion based on the existing translation. This makes the translation consistent, reducing the time required for linguistic testing and preventing issues from occurring.
Secret No. 2: It's critical to write the test plan carefully. Make the work as simple as it can be, while making sure that everything (and we mean everything!) is verified and proofread. The test plan should explain to the translator how to view all texts in full and provide access to hidden areas of the product (error messages, bonus levels in games, paid functionality in software). When testing games, it's best to provide translators with cheat codes for quickly completing all levels.
Secret No. 3: Linguistic testing needs to be done by professional translators who are native speakers in the language being tested. Ideally, translation should be performed by only natives as well (in our nine years of experience at Alconost Translations, we have seen that excellent translation quality is possible only when native speakers are used). But if for whatever reason the translation was performed by non-natives, it is even more important that linguistic testing be performed by a specialist who was raised and educated in the target language. Only native speakers can pick up all the subtleties of context, as well as carefully and accurately shorten words and phrases.
As you can see, linguistic testing is a key step in the localization process. If you want a high-quality product, ignore it at your peril! Test well and prosper!