It's a L10N thing

Basreena is a technical writer with Tally Solutions Pvt Ltd., currently working on localisation of their flagship product, Tally.ERP9. She is an avid reader with an eye for detail, an ardent movie buff, and a die-hard foodie.

Basreena Basheer

Increasing demand for products and technologies to be culturally adaptive makes localisation the need of the hour. Tweet this

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A dialogue

A: So, what's the status of our language release?

B: Well, A, I have captured all the dates and progress in an xls file.

B projects the excel sheet and A looks at it closely.

B: Any questions, A?

A looks confused.

A: I get most of it but what is Lion? Something new we are experimenting with? Like Agile or waterfall development?

So there, I have set context to what the next thousand words entail; it's A's question, "What is Lion?" My immediate response to the question would be, "Aah! That's exactly what I had asked too!"

First things first, let me tell you, it is not Lion, it is L-10(ten)-N. El-ten-en. It is a numeronym for localisation. Now what is localisation? Read on!

My tryst with this L10N was about a year ago. Just when I thought I had mastered technical writing, destiny had other plans for me. One of those boring groggy Monday mornings, when all I could think of was my duvet and the most comfortable bed in the world, I was suddenly jolted to reality when I was cast into a cell with localisation, then only a little-perceived beast. Pause here for a moment, gentle reader, and imagine the situation: me, alone, in a prison cell, with L10N.

Forget the numeronym, when I began my journey, even the term 'localisation' was alien to me. Like any novice, I began to expand my horizon by reading. Localisation, to quote from Wikipedia, is:

The process of adapting a product that has been previously translated into multiple languages to a specific country or region. It is the second phase of a larger process of product translation and cultural adaptation (for specific countries, regions or groups) to account for differences in distinct markets.

Sounds simple, huh? Now let me toss some jargon at you: Term List, Translation Memory, Query Log, Internationalisation, and more.

My team went into an eternal mode of research, and when my manager thought the clock was ticking rather fast, and that she was losing more hair than usual, with the added problem of them turning grey, we decided to call in a localisation expert to take us through the entire process and help us understand what it would take to localise our product. Now, that is a long, extremely long, sentence. Read it again, gentle reader, without breaks so that you get a hang of the stress that I went through - not when framing that line, but when I was figuring out L10N.

So again, on a boring groggy Monday morning, (it's strange that most life-altering or life-threatening events occur on Mondays!) five of us sat in a meeting room, sipping coffee and hoping that the presentation would be solution to all the problems in our lives. Now, our problems ranged from bad coffees to cooks and maids not turning up to aunties who were killing themselves to understand why we were unmarried to the performance review that was due in a week. I might not have done enough justice to describe the problems but I guess that list gives you an idea of what we had dealt with over the weekend and had carried over to office that day.

One problem that was being taken care of was that I would get enough information about localisation, so that the next time I was bombarded with a question on L10N I would not have to bang my head on the nearest hard surface. Well, the presentation did help me on the head-banging front, and I must also tell you readers, the presenter was one stylish lady. Most of us sat ogling at her pixie cut hair, her bespoke attire, and, well, her matte-finish lipstick as well. But, that is beside the point.

To cut a long story short, my team did tie down the L10N beast eventually. Although we are yet to have our first successful language release, I must gloat over the fact that we are almost there! And what do you get from reading this long success story? Well, the learnings of my journey from technical writing to localisation, which are listed here.

  1. One golden rule to be followed while creating content is CONSISTENCY. Consistency of style, tone, format, everything. To elaborate:
    • Use simple sentences that are clear and comprehensible.
    • Use phrases such as "It is possible that..." in place of "may" or "might". It helps avoid ambiguity.
    • Do not use redundant expressions in sentences. For example, don't say "It is generally accepted that...". Instead, say "It is accepted..." Or better still, start straightaway with whatever it is that is accepted.
    • Use a single word in place of a wordy expression, wherever possible. For example, use "now" in place of "at this point in time".
    • Do not use the "/" symbol in place of "or". Clearly spell out the choices.
    • Use the simplest verb forms in sentences. For example, use "use" instead of "utilise".
    If you maintain clear, concise, and consistent content, localisation can happen overnight. Overnight is a hyperbole, of course. The implication here is that the process will be ten times faster. But when you are dealing with legacy content (boy! oh boy!), it becomes a more formidable task. So, if you have legacy content, the first crucial task would be to estimate the time required for localisation. Secondly, prepare a template by using the internationalisation standards, and then begin to clean up the content to ensure consistency. An accurate estimate of the time and people required is very important because the clean-up process itself can run into months. Most of us deal with multiple projects, which may be planned or ad hoc, and this may hinder the clean-up process. One way of tackling this problem is to closely scrutinise the progress of the clean-up process.
  2. Identify all domain specific keywords. These must be maintained by the translator in what is referred to as Translation Memory. You can, at any time, request the custody of this memory. There is also the Term List, which is a list of all the recurring words and phrases in your content. The list also includes a corresponding translation of these words and phrases. Before the onset of the translation process, this term list is shared with you so that you can review the correctness of the translations. After you validate the term list, the translators kick-start the translation process. So then, what about a language like Aramaic? Good question. When you figure out the answer, please get in touch with me. For now, my team is targeting the languages of only those regions where we have a branch. Doing so has the added benefit of having at least one employee who will know the local language and can help in spot-checking the translations.
  3. When you've made your content localisation-ready, you might fall under the illusion that all you have to do is send this across to the translator, and the translation process will happen seamlessly. Ha! You are wrong! Send your content to the translator, and there comes to you what they call the Query Log. As the term suggests, this log will have all the possible questions anyone in the world can ask about your content. Questions range from understanding a certain way of writing to some of your instructions which the translator could not understand. To reduce queries in the Query Log, the best practise is to expose your product to the translators. Give them basic training on what the product does and how it functions. This briefing helps them to understand the content in the context of the product. You can also create a list of translation rules that the translators must adhere to. The translation rules include guidelines on what is to be translated and transliterated, and what is not.
  4. The first time, like the wise say, is hard. After you do one successful cycle of localisation, there is no looking back. A typical localisation cycle includes:
  5. Never be afraid to venture into something new. Give it your best shot and things will fall in place. What counts is the sincerity with which you move forward.

It was not a cake walk for me or my team. We failed at times, and could not produce results at other times, but we did not give up. In trying to tackle localisation head-on, making sure our product was localisation-ready, and co-ordinating with software developers and business developers, it was a long tiring journey. But, I must say we have succeeded. To the experts in this field, all that I say here may sound banal, but for us as a team, as amateurs, this was learning and an accomplishment.

To quote my favourite poet Rumi, "As you start to walk out, the way appears". And so, that sums up my journey, a journey that took guts and gave glory.



The lion picture is from and is freeware.


It's a L10N thing

Written by Basreena Basheer. Narrated by Deval Faldu.

The narrator, Deval Faldu, is Associate Information Developer at BMC Software Inc. Before this, she was with WealthTree Advisors Pvt. Ltd. as a consultant and project lead. She made a career transition from finance to technical writing in 2012 after getting a diploma from Technowrites Pvt. Ltd. Deval holds a management degree with a major in Finance, and a bachelors in Commerce. In her free time, she likes to read fiction and watch movies.