tecznotes

Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Oct 21, 2009 8:41pm

i18n like a l10n in zion

Wil Shipley's recent rundown of software localization reminds me that I've been getting a heaping helping of translation assistance from users of Walking Papers, resulting in near-complete localizations of the site in seven languages.

I write the English content, Jonas Kruckel does the German, Milo van der Linden the Dutch, Jonathan Fretin the French, Manuel Gonzalez Noriega the Spanish, Hiroshi Miura the Japanese, and now Emanuel Carnevale the Italian.

Wil offers a wealth of technical detail on the production of translations, some of which is directly applicable here. The most important worry is synchronization, and the biggest potential hurdle is requiring too much coding effort and knowledge from translators:

XIBs are like source code: they are written by programmers and contain functional parts. If your localizers happen to delete a button, or disconnect a binding, your program stops working for that language. Remember, your localizers are NOT coders - they don't have the same innate fear of changing XIBs that you've learned from years of boning yourself. And how fun is it to debug a program that works differently in different languages? Not fun.

I have this same worry about offering the site up for translation, but thankfully a number of people who can code and know a bit of Git have stepped up and volunteered. I use the Smarty PHP template engine for all the world-facing HTML bits of the site, so generally speaking a translation of the complete website can be accomplished by simply copying a directory of templates and replacing all the English bits with your own language. Here, for example, is the German version of the About page, in contrast to the Japanese version. There are some fiddly bits, though, in the shared templates where it's really important for all of the languages to be synchronized with each other, such as the main top-level navigation links. Even fiddlier is the scan page, where a somewhat complex set of conditionals in the HTML display competes with an orthogonal set of conditionals for bits of language, button labels, that sort of thing. I've though about pulling all these words into an external strings file, but the interleaving of template, HTML, and language makes for a lot of levels of misdirection and potential confusion. Wil again:

... many languages are not as compact as English: the French and Germans are particularly fond of using the descriptions with the lots of the words or compoundwordstodescribeasingleconcept, respectively.

On balance, I think I'd prefer for this process to be tedious if that makes it more easy to see where the points of coordination need to be.

The unsung hero in this process has been Git and more specifically Github, the revision management tool and hosting site I've chosen for Walking Papers. Git has opened up a really interesting dynamic, where some of the more recent translations (Japanese, Italian, Spanish) were done without my knowledge or permission, and offered as a pull request. Emanuel Carnevale did all his translations in the space of a day or two, and let me know when he was finished. This kind of cooperative, loosely-structured development is a dream - translators can do the work and offer it in a completed form, instead of the usual offer / negotiation back and forth that might be necessary with a non-distributed hosting arrangement.

I've screen-capped the entire Git network graph here, to show how Git understand's these parallels split, development, and merging streams (it's on its side, because it's very long):

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