Translation – dive in!

The reason I started writing this post is the recent rise in the interest towards things related to translation and localization. Everywhere one turns to there is someone evangelising this revolution from atop a soapbox and gathering people around for quick win localization projects. It may be reasonable to question if I consider this innundation of localizers as an unhappy turn of events. Hardly. After having toiled alone for ages, at times through uncharitable sneers it is indeed a welcome change. However, I have some grave reservations about how this is being done.

Off-late there has been a rising impetus on forming geography based communities around some of the significant (eye-ball grabbing) FOSS projects. With the proliferation of the projects’ user base this is a natural progression in the scheme of things. When communities are based on geographies one of the first things they tend to find commonality in is their language. Thus, enter localization. So far so good. However, this is where the slightly disruptive butterfly starts to flutter its wings.

The localization projects are also a major entry point for new contributors to be lured into the projects. It has forever been a perception that translation was the easiest way to start contributing to any open-source project. And why not? Everyone seemed to be able to read and comprehend English – the original language used in most components and the same ‘everyone’ also knew how to read and write the language that they were going to translate into. Fair enough, come join. All Hail Crowdsourcing!!

This is where the fluttering starts to get serious. Most of these localization projects were not new discoveries. Depending upon the maturity of their localization sub-projects, there are established norms of translation, review, terminology and validation, including certain methods to groom new translators. Teams are formed around a language to ensure that translations are consistently updated and polished to attain a high degree of consistency and perfection. Conventions evolve and rules honoured.

Does that make it difficult for new entrants to join? Marginally, yes. But then which other projects do not have this barrier. If it is acceptable for projects to validate and audit codes before accepting them, why should localized content be considered an open field for experiements. Especially, when compared to codes the latter is far more difficult to trace and rectify.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Sue Gardner, Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, where she answers a query about whether new contributors were finding it difficult to work their way around the policies:

We queried her take on this second area, pointing out that all publishers that aim to present high-quality information find they need complex rules, whether explicit or via accepted standards of writing and scholarship. Could she give specific examples of areas where we could simplify policy without sacrificing standards?

Yes, the premise of this question is absolutely correct. The analogy I often use is the newsroom. Anybody who’s curious and reasonably intelligent can be a good journalist, but you do need some orientation and guidance. Just like a newsroom couldn’t invite in 100 random people off the street and expect them to make an immediate high-quality contribution, neither can Wikipedia expect that.”

What most of these populist programs tend to miss are the percolations that are felt elsewhere. For languages with large amount of published localized content that have been filtered through long periods of (mostly) manual validation, experiments on ancilliary components introduce inconsistency and worse, errors. For instance, non-validated translations in add-on components ruin the user-interface of the main component. Which in most cases is an extremely prominent application and often part of enterprise level products. These errors can be resolved by the usual bug tracking systems, but how does one chase up volunteers who had turned up for localization sprints and have moved on?

Crowdsourcing is here to stay. So will crowdsourced contributions. With more flexibility in translation tools, the new age translators do not have to go through the rigourous grooming process that were prevalent until a few years back and has shaped a lot of the veteran translators.They can get their contributions into the main projects without any delay. Often with the blessings of the sponsoring project who do not have to wait for their translation assets to multiply and their local communities to expand. With some amount of experience both as a translator and as a homemaker, the one thing that I can vouch for is that technical translation is not unlike housework – everyone has an opinion oh how easy it is but you don’t know how many corners you end up cleaning until you are down on your knees doing it.

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