Note: This blog entry was originally written in Japanese in 2019 for our Japanese website. We used our machine translation platform Translation Designer to translate the entry into English and to post-edit the output for readers outside of Japan. The original Japanese entry can be found here.

Translation companies handle different types of documents in all areas for translation. Among them, the one that stands out is the User Interface (UI) translation in the IT field. This time, we will introduce the tips to reduce the stress of translating UIs from the aspects of translation memory (TM) and glossary, while explaining the unique features of UI translation.

What is agile UI translation?

What are UIs in the first place? Let's take a moment here.

What kind of device is everyone using to read this article? You may be reading it on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. However, no matter what device you are using, you must have clicked or tapped an icon or button including a browser, bookmark, or start. This element that operates the device and exchanges information is called the User Interface (UI).

The main peculiarities of UI translation can be summarized in the following three points:
・ There is no context, and it's difficult to translate.
・ An existing UI can't be changed at one's discretion.
・ Since updates occur frequently, relevant translation work occurs each time.

In particular, many IT companies generally adopt agile development as their system or software development method. Which means, UI translation has a special property that new translation tasks are constantly being created in align with the system development.

Supplementary information on agile development:
In agile development, large-scale software and systems to be developed are subdivided into small units, and implementation and testing are repeated in those small units to proceed with development. With this approach, new features are added to the target software and system in a short span, and updates are made each time. As new features are added, so will the new UIs.

In agile UI translation, the translation work proceeds while making full use of style guides, glossaries, and TMs. We will introduce the outline of style guides at another time, but for now, let's discuss the importance of TMs and glossaries and operational precautions in UI translation, while explaining the characteristics of the work and selection of translated terms.

TMs and glossaries are especially important for UI translation

TMs and glossaries should be prepared for translation work of any document type. And creating them is especially important for UI translation. Why is it so? Let's see the following two reasons.

1. Memories are easy to accumulate.
As mentioned above, in agile online UI translation, translation work occurs each time the system is developed. Since translation work occurs constantly, existing translations will be accumulated more and more in long-running projects. Therefore, in order to efficiently refer to existing translations and past translations, it is absolutely recommended to creating a TM and glossary when considering UI translation.
The more memories and terms you have, the more efficient the work will be, and you can reduce costs and shorten the turnaround time. UI translation, which is easy to accumulate memories, can be said to be one of the types of translation projects where you can fully enjoy the power of TMs and glossaries.

2. Multiple linguists will be working on it.
In agile UI translation, inconsistency in translated terms often occurs mainly due to the following two features.
  1.) The project is large-scale.
  2.) Many translators are involved.
It is ideal to ask the same translators to work on the same part in the same field as much as possible by referring to the past projects and the history of who were assigned each time. However, as the project cycle is fast, the reality is that not all same translators can be assigned every time. Also, if you are required to process a large-scale project in a short delivery time (which often occurs in agile-type projects), you will have to work with multiple translators, which will cause inconsistency in translated terms.
But if you have a TM and a glossary, you can minimize the inconsistency even when working with multiple translators. You can even utilize an automatic check feature using quality assurance tools, so you can maintain quality and improve work efficiency at the same time.

The characteristics of UI translation work and TM

So, how are TMs utilized in UI translation work? First, let's focus on the characteristics of UI translation.

In agile UI translation, of course, newly added functions and name displays such as items, buttons, and messages on a page are handled as translation work targets. But also, small updates, including correction of typographical errors in the original text, changing terms to plural, and adding and deleting punctuation marks and symbols such as hyphens and colons, are all handled as work targets.

Therefore, if you work with computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools and TMs, as most of these minor modifications often do not affect the Japanese translation, the workload is significantly lighter. For example, even if the English original text "Field" is updated to "Fields," it will not be affected the Japanese text because there is no difference between singular and plural forms in Japanese. In such a case where there are many small changes, it is possible to almost complete the translation work just by using the TM.

However, because they are small changes, you need to be careful not to overlook them. In addition, in rare cases, completely irrelevant translations may be registered in the TM, so keep in mind that you can't be too dependent on TMs such as using them without reviews.

What to be aware when using TMs – restriction on input length

Let's look at another case where you should not be too dependent on TMs. We will explain it along with the characteristics of UI translation.

Since the number of characters that can be displayed on computer or smartphone screens is limited, an input length restriction is often set for each text in the UI. The number of characters that can be entered differs depending on which character code system is used in the system. If a certain input item is set to 20, most of them are set to the number of bytes. This means that you can enter 20 single-byte alphanumeric characters or 10 double-byte characters such as Japanese hiragana, katakana, or kanji.

Therefore, even though the original text has enough characters, sometimes the input length is not enough when trying to translate everything into Japanese. In this case, you have to decide whether to abbreviate the translated text to the extent that the original text can be understood or leave some part of the UI in English.

If this character number restriction exists, translations from the TM might not fit within the input length, and your translation work may not be as simple as just using the memories. So, you need to be aware of these restrictions even when using TMs.
* Note: For systems that use Unicode, the set input length is the number of characters.

Remember that TM maintenance is important! 20 choices of translation?

By the way, when utilizing a TM, what you should pay more attention to is the maintenance of the TM. Many people will think, "The more memory you have, the better your translation will be." In fact, it is often helpful, but if you have multiple translations registered for a single term, you will have trouble deciding on the right translation. Occasionally, translations that are out of context may be chosen. To prevent such a situation, it is important to check and maintain the TM on a regular basis. This will help you maintain your translation quality and work efficiency.

In fact, when the meaning of a term was different depending on the product, more than 20 translations were registered for a single term in a TM. If the same term is used in other parts of the same object, you can match the translated terms. But if there is only one in the object and you don't know how the sentence will be used, you should adopt a translated term that is natural and matches the surrounding translations. It can be confusing if multiple translations are registered meaninglessly, so it is recommended that you check and maintain your TM regularly.

Let's also maintain the glossary

Just like a TM, regular maintenance and editing of the glossary is very important.

In agile UI translation, new terms are often added at the same time as translation work occurs, so we regularly work on the new terms to translate, check, and register them in the glossary. It is important to add new terms on a regular basis and maintain the glossary so that other translators do not translate the terms again. If already translated terms are translated again, there will be inconsistency in terms such as function names.

One of the nice things about UI translation is that once the translation is finalized, the work can be processed in large-scale quantities. For long-term projects, it is helpful to regularly have phases to review the TM and glossary to help you create a good translation.

Kawamura's UI translation service

In UI translation, you can see that by utilizing TMs and glossaries, it is possible to maintain high quality, shorten the turnaround time, and reduce costs. However, it is important to perform regular maintenance and pay attention to the details when translating, rather than leaving the TMs and glossaries as is for years.

To meet the needs for online and offline translation, we offer a wide range of services from internationalization and localization to testing support for developing multilingual software. If you are considering UI translation for software or applications, please feel free to contact us from here.