Content Rules Inc. was kind enough to extend their invitation to have me blog for them again. This time, it’s on a subject that’s near and dear to their hearts as well as mine.
This article talks about my own personal experiences in trying to use standardized language. Whether you use standardized language in your personal or professional life, it’s something that one needs to keep in mind as a writer, especially when writing for a global audience, and even more so if you are writing for a digital format that is easily accessed through the Internet. It’s not easy to do, but it’s something that should be tucked in the back of every writer’s brain.
Val Swisher was the next to last individual to speak at the Adobe Day at Lavacon 2013 event. For those who are regular readers of this blog, you know that my love for all things Val Swisher has no bounds. I’ve always been able to take her easy-to-digest information, and absorb it quickly into my brain, as well as relay her knowledge to others. When I looked at Portland Gardens to compare her to, I chose Ladd’s Addition Rose Garden. While it’s not as well-known (unlike Val, who is very well-known), this particular park, according to The Rose Garden Store, was one of four rose gardens especially built from the Ladd estate, in which the design included these gardens coming together to form the points of a compass. I often think of Val as my compass, as she has never steered me wrong with her information or with the wisdom and fun that she’s shared with me one-on-one.
Val’s Adobe Day presentation centered on talking about source English terminology in a multi-channelled, global world, and how terminology affects structured authoring, translation and global mobile content. She started the talk by reminding us that historically, we’ve always created content, whether it’s been on cave walls, through stenography, through typewriters or eventually on word processors. In every instance, consistent terminology has been essential for structured authoring and content. Managing terminology is also essential for translation and for reuse. She stated that prior attitudes used to be that the more complicated the writing was, the more “fancy” the product was. Today, that’s definitely not true. She used the example that I’ve heard her use before, but it’s so simple itself that it’s a classic. Her example involves writing for a pet website. If multiple words meaning dog are used, there can be problem with reuse, because you can’t reuse content if you use different words.
Val pointed out that it would be an even worse situation if technological or medical terminology was used instead.
Val continued by saying that when it comes to XML, reuse , and terminology, you cannot realize the gains of structured authoring if you’re not efficient with your words. Terminology is critically important to gain more opportunities.
Translation comes down to three elements– we’re trying to get better, cheaper, and faster translation output. We MUST use technology to push terminology and style/usage rules to content developers. In order to make it cheaper, we need fewer words, reused words, and reused sentences. It’s impossible for writers to know or even know to look up all term and usage rules. We MUST automate with technology. For example, “Hitting the button” is not translatable, but “Select OK” is fine! She said, “Say the same thing the same way every time you say it.”
For better translation, translation quality needs to improve and meanings need to match in order for better machine translation to be a possibility. Bad translation comes from the source itself. If the source information is problematic, then the translation will be problematic. The best way to save money and time is to say the same thing, every time, using the same words, and use shorter sentences. For machine translation, don’t go over 24 words in a sentence.
Faster translation is seen as content that takes less time to translate, needs fewer in-country reviews, and gets to market more quickly. The key to delivering global mobile content is responsive design, global mobile apps, text selection is key, and terminology is the most important element. Val showed this example of how translation in responsive design isn’t working, where the Bosch websites are not exactly in synchronization:
The simpler the design is for the website–especially in mobile, the less you have to tweak it. This is especially true where consistent terminology is important, because consistency is needed for structured authoring. Creating truly faster, cheaper, and better translation enables a true global responsive design. This is not a simple task, as there is no such thing as simple, even when writing about complex concepts. Even if you think you’re not translating, your customers are, so the content needs to be very clear. The scary part of this is that some companies use Google Translate as their translation strategy, which is risky at best. To use something like Google Translate as the translation software, the content had better be tight, clear, and consistent.
One of the things I enjoy with Val Swisher’s presentations is that it all comes down to common sense, and she breaks it down into easy manageable parts for those of us–like me–who might not have thought about the context of language for structured authoring, and the consequences for not strategizing content to include translation considerations.
I highly recommend checking out Val’s blog for other great insights.
(As always, Val–if you’d like to add or correct anything here, please do in the comments below!)
I’ve been a big royalty follower for 30 years. It started the weekend before the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, and it hasn’t stopped since that time. Nor has my interest in royals been limited to just the Brits. I’ve always been fascinated by any royals, no matter the nationality, and keep up with the “royal gossip” reading Hello Magazine online.
So, what does this have to do with anything, especially something related to technical communications? A friend of mine found the following article in the Telegraph, which talks about how the received pronunciation of how the Duke of Cambridge’s elders speak is starting to change to a more modern pronunciation, with less crispness and precision than in the past–more like how the Duchess of Cambridge and many average Brits speak.
To me, this fact is of notable significance. English, like any other language, is a constantly evolving language. While the same base language is spoken among those claiming to speak English, there are significant differences not only in pronunciation, but also in how it’s used. Those speaking English in India, Australia, and New Zealand greatly differentiate from their fellow speakers in Canada, the U.S. or South Africa. Heck, just within my own state of New Jersey, there are different pronunciations of certain words! Different vocabularies and different expressions are used often, but the foundation of the language is the same. This also applies to other languages as well that are used globally like Spanish and French.
This is an important thing to note, as rhetoric is a good part of technical communications. How language is presented in spoken word, whether by a recording, audio file or video file, can make a difference as to whether the message being delivered is clear to the audience. This also has an impact on the translation in technical communications. Recalling Val Swisher’s talk on Adobe Day, the choice of words when writing documentation that needs to be translated into other languages is critical. Using expressions or colloquialisms is frowned upon, as often these expressions cannot be translated directly.
However, I’ve also seen this happen within different English dialects. For the past two months, I’ve been teaching a virtual technical and business writing course to Asian-based employees of a very large global software company. Of all the students I had, only one was a native English speaker. Knowing that typically British English is used outside the Americas to learn English, I did my best to adapt my vocabulary accordingly. (Good thing I’m such an Anglophile and watch a lot of British television these days!) Even with that, I could hear from my students–who usually spoke English well–that certain nuances from their particular locales still came through their speech, and I don’t mean just accents. Students from India and Singapore were much more formal with their words and phrase choices than their colleagues based in Korea or Kuala Lumpur. There’s nothing wrong with that, but merely an observation. I also thought about how American English has changed. If one watches an American film made in the 1930s or 1940s, much of the rhetoric used was very different from today, much like the American equivalent of the Queen’s English described in the article above. There are still very good speakers in the U.S, but that crispness of speech is more relaxed and modern.
For me, I think my rhetoric holds up decently enough. I know that I will slide into some bad habits now and then, but not too often. I don’t have a pronounced “Jersey” accent that’s put forth on television shows, but I am a native Jersey Girl through and through. (You can judge for yourself on the home page of my e-portfolio, where I’m featured in a video for NJIT’s MSPTC program.) One of my younger sisters is an actress, and while she has had extensive elocution lessons, she doesn’t necessarily have a particular accent, especially a “Jersey” accent. So when a famous British actor met her years ago and spoke with her at a book signing, he swore she was from Sweden and not from New Jersey!
As we become more globally aware, thanks to Internet connectivity, we need to become more aware of how we communicate to each other rhetorically to make sure that we understand each other as clearly as possible. As technical communicators, we should be setting the standards and leading the way for others.
So as you speak to fellow English speakers that you know locally and globally, how does your rhetoric stand up to the rest?
This post is just a quick summary of the Adobe Day at LavaCon 2012 series from this past week. As you see, there was so much information that it took six posts to try to summarize the event!
Being in Portland, Oregon was great. It was my first trip there, and being a native Easterner, my thoughts pushed me to that pioneer spirit of moving westward in this country. Once there, I saw a hip, young, modern city, continuing to look towards the future. The information I gathered at Adobe Day was general information that was endorsement-free, and practical information that I can use going forward as a technical communicator, and that by sharing it, I hope that others in the field will equally take on that pioneering spirit to advance what technical communications is all about, and bring the field to the next level.
To roundup the series, please go to these posts to get the full story of this great event. I hope to go to more events like this in the future!
As I said, I really enjoyed the event, and learned so much, and enjoyed not only listening to all the speakers, but also enjoyed so many people who are renowned enthusiasts and specialists in the technical communications field and talking “shop”. I rarely get to do that at home (although it does help to have an e-learning developer in the house who understands me), so this was a chance for me to learn from those who have been doing this for a while and not only have seen the changes, but are part of the movement to make changes going forward.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of blog posts. I still have many more to come–at least one more that is inspired by my trip out to Portland, and I look forward to bringing more curated content and commentary to you!
Val is the founder of Content Rules, Inc., and she spoke about eight simple rules for technical communicators to follow to make content global-ready–now! Her specialty is doing translation work, so she knows a thing or two about making content ready for a global market. As she went through each rule, she would explain the impact of the rules and why the rules were in place, although some were self-explanatory.
The rule she listed were as follows:
Rule 1:Not all errors are created equal. Some can cost you thousands of dollars! This is one of those obvious rules. Taking the time to write content carefully as well as making sure proper editing is done is a necessity. Even one small typo can make a difference.
Rule 2:Creative Writing is a myth. Standardize. Val’s point with this rule is that superfluous writing is not necessary. Keeping content clear, concise, cogent and correct is especially important in translation, and allows for better reuse of content.
Rule 3:Real copy editors don’t do it without a terminology manager.
It is vital to use the same terms for certain words, especially for translation purposes. For example, the words “puppy”, “dog”, and “canine” all refer to the same animal, but are clearly different words, even though they essentially mean the same thing. In translation, there are times that this much word variation for a single item isn’t available in a different language, so choosing one word as the referential term is recommended. It keeps terminology within the content–especially if reusing content–consistent. Style guides are, unfortunately, not followed as often as they can be. A system is needed to manage terminology and help prevent problems like this example from occurring.
Rule 4:Have you got translation memory (a translation database)? Your vendors do. Use it. It keeps content standardized and saves money. This is another fairly self-explanatory rule. I was not aware, since I’m not in the translation business, that there are such things as translation databases. From what I could understand how it works (and someone please correct me if I’m wrong), a translation database has features that when a specific turn-of-phrase is used on one language, there is a specific translation for that combination of words into another language. When a translation is done, the database looks for that word combination and translates it accordingly. This, again, allows for consistency in translations between the different language editions of content. As a technical communicator who does translations, Val is saying that if you don’t have such a database in place, you should have one because in the long run, it will standardized content and save money.
Rule 5:Don’t complain about quality of your tech writers. You agreed to outsource docs to ___ in the 1st place.
Val pointed out that while there are good outsource resources for writing and translation out there, sometimes the quality is not as good as keeping it in house or closer to home, especially if the content is written by someone whose first language is not English. Good quality source material is key! Having good quality source material helps control costs, especially with translation!
Rule 6:If you write flabby copy, even the nicest vendors will email you a bill for localization that will astound you.
Again, this comes back to having quality content in place. Val’s point was that if you do write weak content that is difficult to translate because it is not quality content, even one’s best clients will send you a bill for the translation for localization purposes, and the bill will be VERY HIGH. Again, having quality content saves money!
Rule 7:Get rid of extra adjectives and superlative words! Delay this product launch, and there’s no next product launch.
This rule is a strong recommendation related again to how content should be written. The use of extra adjectives, adverbs and other superlative words do not enhance the content. Using such words that have to be rewritten or translated can delay a product going out, and for a client, that can be a deal-breaking move. By delaying the product due to not meeting a deadline due to overdue time for translation, and there will be no next time being able to help with a product launch. Obviously, that would be bad business.
Rule 8: Translation is a team sport. You want to work alone? Become an accountant. While this rule elicited a laugh from the audience, it was a point well taken. Teamwork is KEY! A better source of English content will result between source writers and translators if they work together.
Val was asked the question at the end of her presentation, “What alternative tools for style guides are on the market?” She responded that there are lots of software tools out there, but to be careful about push technology within those software items.
I found this presentation rather fascinating, especially since Val presented it with a sense of humor. But her point was clear. Content needs to be as precise as possible when it will be reused and especially when used in translation for consistency. By following her basic rules, costs can be controlled, and the quality of the content can only get better.
I thought about what it takes to do translation, searching my own memory banks from when I almost minored in French during my undergrad years and had to do translations, to the present day watching my husband translate literature written in German to Spanish for a group he’s been involved with for years, to my own struggles to translate what I want to say to my in-laws into my broken Spanish. Translation is not an easy task, but when thinking about translating my English thoughts into another language, it can get tricky because of the turn of phrase or colloquialisms used from area to area. Even in talking to my husband about the topic, he will say that there are different idioms used between Spanish speaking countries, although Spanish will still be relatively “standard.” Being from Ecuador, he can still understand someone from Spain, Mexico or Argentina as much as an American can understand someone from the UK, Canada, or the Australia. But I’ve even found in my own teaching of a business and technical writing course to a corporate group in Asia is that English taught globally is not consistent due to the source English being from different countries, so I have to go and set the record straight. I can certainly appreciate where consistency and choice of words can lead to better quality content and communication in the long term.