6 tips when submitting text for translation

Localizing a video game is hard work. Writers, developers, translators, and linguistic testers all have to work together to create the best outcome possible for the end-user, usually on a tight schedule. And they all cost you money. If a tester finds an issue in the LQA stage, they’ll have to make edits, enter bugs, crosscheck issues across different languages, go back and forth with the translation team before a fix/will not fix decision is made on your end.

Working in QA before moving to translation allowed me to notice a few ways clients could save time and money before even submitting their content to be translated. Some of them, you might already know. Others, you find useful next time you submit your source text to your translators.  This article is written from the perspective of the video game industry, but hopefully you'll find it useful for your projects too:

Translation Tip #1: Character limits

Let’s start with an obvious one. When translating from English to French, German, or pretty much any other language using the Latin alphabet, the English source text will be shorter than the target language.

A classic example is “Main Menu”, which translates to a variant of “Menú principal” in all Romance languages and was regularly cut-off in the games we tested. If you already know your UI won’t allow for much extra room there, just let your translators know about the character limit – or lack thereof – and they’ll anticipate this situation.

If a lot of the text is cut-off your QA testers will have to spend quite some time fixing it.

This is even more useful with long subtitles. Your translators can come up with condensed versions of the source text before the audio is recorded, and your testers won’t spend their time writing bug reports.

Translation Tip #2: Words without context

Let’s take the word “OPEN”. When used in a menu, it's usually an infinitive or an imperative. If it describes a crate in-game, it could be a past participle. In both cases, you'd write it the same way in English. In Italian, you'd translate it as “APRIRE” and “APERTA” respectively. Quite different.

A player seeing these reversed would be confused at best. Sure, in theory your QA testers would catch it before it reaches the public, but by adding a column on your Excel document to give some context to your translator, you’ll sidestep this issue entirely.

Which words should you give context for? Think most adjectives, verbs, and past participles. Nouns should be fine though. Here is an example of how you could do it:

Source text

Context

French Translation

CLOSED

Sign in front of a restaurant

FERMÉ

CLOSED

For a crate

FERMÉE

SWEET

Character personality description - Male

GENTIL

SWEET

Food desc. (candy)

SUCRÉ

SWEET

Food desc. (potato)

DOUCE

Granted, most translators and reviewers will guess the intended meaning of the word correctly. They do it by looking at the context, string ID (if it includes any hint like ITEM_05_DESC_SWEET for example), the strings around it, etc. But another thing they’re good at is not assuming. So they’ll probably end up sending you a query about these strings anyways.

Translation Tip #3: Character gender

I once tested a game where female NPCs had a male voice-over. It probably came from the translation of her dialogue lines. Some names are not obvious even in your own language. Is Kerry male of female? What about Sergeant Atkinson? Will your AI have a male or female voice? In some languages, like English, gender influences dialogue. Look at the following Japanese dialogue and its translation:

  • あきらさんは教室にいますか? (Is Akira here?)
  • いいえ。もう帰りたよ。 (No, he/she went home.)

Now, without knowing Akira’s gender, it would be impossible for the translation team to know which pronoun to use. Unless you tell them. And that’s just for English. In many other languages, the verb "went" would also change depending on Akira's gender.

Letting your translators know about the characters’ identity can save you big bucks when your QA team does not spend an hour per language changing pronouns. But does that mean you have to write the character gender next every single line of dialogue in your source file? No. You just need to provide a place for the translators to look it up in case they forget.

Which brings us to…

Translation Tip #4: Character descriptions

Gender is one element affecting your game translation. But there are more subtle characteristics that will have an impact: age, tone of voice, occupation, etc.

The older brother talking here would sound very different if he was talking to his boss.

You might be thinking: “If my writers take that into account, then won’t the translators see it anyway?” Not necessarily. Let’s look at an example with English text, and its translation into Japanese. These two languages represent the source languages for the vast majority of game translation and localization.

While English has some ways of conveying personality into a character’s dialogue, Japanese is a whole different beast. Say your character just had a good meal:

Context English Japanese translation
Girlfriend, to boyfriend I’m so full! Onaka ippai damon!
Little girl, to her mother I’m full. Onaka pan pan.
Employee, to boss I’m full. Onaka ga ippai ni narimashita.
Edo era samurai I’m stuffed. Onaka ippai dazo.
Female coworker, to female coworker I’m full. Onaka ippai dane.

And the list goes on. Some languages, like Japanese, just have more varied registers than others to accommodate for all situations. A little girl is going to sound very different from an elderly gentleman. And in a Japanese translation, this difference would apply even between two coworkers or two siblings.

This is useful for every language

Register affects almost every sentence in Japanese, but having the character information available will be useful for pretty much any language pair. Just think of the word “you” in English. In Spanish, a teenager will use different translations when talking with a friend (tu), a group of friends (vosotros), a superior at work (usted), etc. These would even be different if he was from Argentina.

Think of all the time you’ll save when you don’t have to do audio retakes when your localization QA team finds that character who talks to their boss like a little girl would. And that's if you even have time for retakes.

And you don’t even have to take hours preparing complete character sheets for that. If you have them from, say, a previous game, great. Otherwise here’s an example of an excel file you could include with your localization guidelines:

See how much information you already give with this? Max and Clem are going to sound different in English and in every translation. And when in doubt, your translators have something to refer to.

And that brings us to…

Translation Tip #5: Numbers

Numbers have translations too. “This charm is $1,200,000.99.” This is how the number would be written in most source text. Because most of the game development is done in English, and largely influenced by the conventions in place in the US. But Italians would write it 1.200,99$. French translators would choose 1 200,99$. And a Japanese one would write it 120 0000.99$.

As a rule, your translators will stick to what’s in use in their country/region. Here are two things you might want to consider before letting them do that:

  • Consistency. Some numbers in your game might be hardcoded or variables. They will probably look like the one in the “charm price” example. They most likely won’t change. Are you ok with having numbers look one way in the UI, and another way in text boxes? Either way, let your translator know what you expect. That will save you time answering QA queries and bugs when they notice some inconsistencies in-game.7
  • Corrupted characters. To avoid having numbers over two lines because of an unfortunate line break, some translators will chose a non-breaking space as a thousands separator. And sometimes QA testers find them corrupted in-game.

So there you go. A simple way to avoid all that is to include a line about the format you’d like your translation team to use for numbers and if they can use non-breaking spaces

Speaking of which...

Translation Tip #6: Special Characters

Non-breaking spaces are special characters that may or may not cause corrupted character issues in-game/in-app. We use them a lot in languages like French, which has spaces in front of double punctuation marks and we don’t want sentences to look like this:

Ideally the question mark would not be separated from the word "revenus". Ideally.

Without even counting Asian languages, Arabic, or Russian, which all have different fonts, almost every language has more special characters than English. Accented letters, quotation marks, special letters, punctuation… all of these could create corrupted characters, incorrect line breaks, inconsistent fonts, or who knows what.

How you can fix it

A quick way to prevent issues down the line is to run a font check on your UI for all the characters in your localized languages and see what comes up. If everything is displayed correctly, great! If not, you can either:

  • Have your devs fix it. Some words just can’t be spelled without their special characters. “Hält” is not “Halt” in German and “garcon” makes no sense in French (whereas “garcon” means boy). If it's too early to even know what to fix, you can always wait. Just know that bugs will be coming in quick in the QA stage if you choose to do that.
  • Let your translators know what to replace the special character with. Very few people in France would be confused if a French translation used “coeur and “soeur” instead of the correct “cœur” and “sœur”. Just be sure to send these guidelines to your translators and reviewers so they don’t spend time creating issues by adding corrupted characters all over the place.
This is what we're trying to avoid with these tips.

There you go, six quick tips that will save you time and money before submitting your content for testing. Heck, if you don't have a QA stage and put translated content direclty in front of your customers, this is even more useful. Have you ever worked in localization? Game development? Subtitling? Surely there are points you'd like to add to this list!

If you'd like us to take a look at your English text and make it ready for translation, check out our proofreading services and we'll implement all those tips and more. You'll be ready in no time!

And don't forget to have a look at our translation page for more content like this.

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