Helping Software Go Local

REDMOND, Wash., June 11, 2008 – For most English speakers, terms such as “instant messenger,” “download” and “cut and paste” seem quite ordinary. Yet simple translation of such terms may not be sufficient to accurately communicate their concepts in other languages and cultures.

Localization – adapting to a particular language, culture and preferred “look and feel” – requires that everything from idiomatic expressions to color sensitivities be adjusted so the software appears as if it was first developed within the local culture.

This process is especially demanding for Microsoft, which currently licenses its software in 36 different languages. PressPass spoke with Ritsu Itoi and Britta Simon on Microsoft’s Language Excellence team, to learn more about their role in Microsoft’s localization process.

PressPass: Can you describe Microsoft’s localization efforts and how the Language Excellence team is involved?

Itoi: Each of the product teams across the company is responsible for localizing their own product. These teams’ localization efforts vary depending on the number of foreign-language versions. The most widely used products, Office and Windows, are distributed in 36 languages, but we also support the development of more than 40 Language Interface Packs, which cover additional languages and extend the benefits of Microsoft products to other communities around the world.

Along with developing the various features and technologies that make up each of these products, the product teams that develop the software also create initial names for the features they develop. The products are then handed off to specialists called content editors, who edit the software terms and strings to ensure that they can be translated into cultures and languages of a particular region or country without too much effort. At this point, the software terms are ready to be localized.

The Language Excellence team’s charter is to ensure that language standards are enforced within the various product groups and localization teams. We focus on terminology because it’s really the basis of supporting a person’s understanding of what software does or what support material is all about. To that end, the Language Excellence team consists of English terminologists who research and define the source terminology, and local-language terminologists who identify the term that most closely and appropriately represents a product feature for the respective languages in which Microsoft will ship the software.

We take this quality control a step further by engaging with customers and local language professionals around the world to get feedback on our target terminology and to ensure that it’s accepted by local customers.

PressPass: How does Microsoft engage local markets in this process?

Itoi: One of the tools we’ve had in place for the last two years is the Microsoft Terminology Community Forum. We use the Community Forum to gather feedback and terminology data on specific product terminology, such as Windows Vista. In the past, we’ve created more than 70 product-specific forums, and based on the nature of the product or where we’re at in the development process, we might ask for participation from members of one of our Microsoft partner communities or from customers.

Simon: The Community Forum is very useful when working on specific projects, so useful that we decided to provide our customers with an additional feedback tool, one that isn’t project specific, but that enables our customers to give feedback on any term used in our products, at any time. We also felt that it was important to give back to the customers and communities who so generously supply us with their feedback. This is why we chose to share terminology and software strings from our databases with our customers worldwide. The terminology search tool and the feedback tool are available on the Microsoft Language Portal, which we launched in April 2008.

PressPass: What is the purpose of the Language Portal?

Simon: We recognized that there was tremendous benefit for the company and local markets to provide easier access to information. The Language Portal serves as a single source for IT professionals, language professionals, and language enthusiasts to access the Community Terminology Forum, as well as to search terminology databases and other language resources.

The purpose behind the portal is to help these people do their jobs by providing them with access to IT terminology, software strings and translation guides, as well as the opportunity to share their points of view with other portal users. The Language Portal is available in 11 languages and includes language-specific content created by terminologists on Microsoft’s Language Excellence team.

I see the Portal not so much as a tool to facilitate or accelerate our localization processes, but more as a vehicle to get feedback from customers in communities around the world so that we can take the voice of our customers into consideration and ensure that we best incorporate their cultures and languages into our products.

PressPass: You mentioned IT and language professionals earlier. Can you elaborate on the identity of a language professional, as well as that of the typical Language Portal user?

Simon: There are a variety of people who use resources on the Language Portal, but they essentially fall into three categories: IT professionals who create software and need to ensure that the terms they use are well-known standard terms, language professionals who then further edit, write about, or localize the software created by the IT professionals, and language enthusiasts who are generally interested in linguistic issues and want to follow up on the latest developments pertaining to IT terminology in their language.

PressPass: What’s an example of how feedback has resulted in revisions to product terminology?

Simon:  The level of feedback we receive for any given project depends in part on the country and the culture. In markets with an especially strong online community culture we have strong participation. For example, prior to the launch of the Brazilian version of Windows Vista, we published Vista-specific Brazilian terminology that could have been translated in more than one way; we asked customers in Brazil to give us feedback on the terminology. With over 550 registered project participants, we had great customer participation. The feedback we received was incorporated in nearly half of the terms we included in this specific Community Forum.

One example of how an IT term was changed due to community feedback is the term “feed,” which is defined as “summary content with Web links to a more complete version delivered in a standard XML format.” Our Brazilian terminologist proposed to translate the term into Portuguese for the Brazilian market. Many customers supported this approach, and even suggested alternative Portuguese translations for “feed.” But as it turned out, most customers opted to leave the term “feed” in English instead of translating it to Portuguese. There were some different translations used in the Brazilian market, but participants acknowledged that the English term was more common and consequently their preferred choice. Based on this feedback, we adopted “feed” in the Brazilian version of Windows Vista.

Another example is “playlist,” which appears in Windows Media Player. We included the term in the Windows Vista Community Forum because we were curious whether our current Brazilian-Portuguese translation used in Windows XP, “lista de reprodução,” was considered appropriate. The community confirmed that the term was indeed appropriate and, as a result, the term “lista de reprodução” was kept for Windows Vista.

PressPass: How does Microsoft’s Language Portal differ from other language resources available on the Web?

Itoi: The Language Portal makes Microsoft language resources widely available, and it also provides an online community where people can interact and share their points of view with Microsoft. Not only will the Portal help support local software developers and language experts, but it will also help Microsoft to create software applications that more accurately reflect the diversity of language and cultures around the world. We are very encouraged by the positive feedback we’ve received so far from language communities across Microsoft’s international markets and we’re looking forward to our continued work with these communities in the future.

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