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5 Things I Learned From the Tuts+ Translation Project


We recently launched the Tuts+ Translation Project, an initiative which has seen the Tuts+ community rally to translate, publish and share our tutorials.

The response has been overwhelming; not only from readers who are thrilled to see our content in their native tongue, but also from people across the whole world who have volunteered to help. In the last few months I’ve been working with a large team of individuals, who’ve so far published over 200 translations in sixteen languages.

And we’ve barely scratched the surface. During the course of this project I’ve learned a great many things, about language and people. Here are my top five!

1. My Written English Isn’t Globally Understandable

I’ve written my fair share of tutorials and articles, usually spattered with a healthy dose of British hyperbole and obscure comedy references. I enjoy writing that way. And some of those who read what I write enjoy it too. Possibly.

It turns out, however, that confusing metaphors sometimes confuse people. I realised this when Thoriq (whilst translating A Beginner’s Guide to Pairing Fonts into Indonesian) asked me what typography had to do with wedding speeches. Thoriq speaks fluent English, but if he’s baffled by my quirky writing, how many others are coming unstuck?

I hereby swear that, from this day forth, I shall endeavour to write my tutorials in non-cryptic, accessible English.

2. Voice and Tone Are Complex

Tuts+ Instructors are given guidelines to assist in producing tutorials and courses for us, including guides to writing. We have a Voice and Tone document suggesting that tutorials should be written in a “friendly but not sloppy” way, that they should come across as “confident but not cocky”.

When more languages are added into the mix, these guidelines are even more important, as many of our German translators have pointed out. English, you see, is fairly unique in that it lacks any specific formal or informal speech. Most other languages use a formal and an informal “you” for addressing individuals; the difference, say, between talking to a friend as opposed to your Bank Manager. German goes even further by having four distinct ways of doing this. Its detailed scale of politeness applies equally to objects, not just persons, so even the word “the” can communicate attitude. It can get pretty complicated!

For the record, we’ve opted to translate all our tutorials “informally”.

3. Text Within Images is Bad

For some time we’ve made it a policy to avoid text within images in our tutorials, instead placing captions underneath. This keeps things visually consistent and has some SEO benefits as well.

Now that we’re translating tutorials, keeping images free from textual content is more important than ever! Text within images is bad. Bad, bad, bad.

4. Translators Make Great Proof-Readers

We’re proud of our editing standards at Tuts+, but sometimes mistakes slip through the net. Occasionally readers will leave comments, pointing out typos, but if mistakes manage to get past them you can be sure our translators will catch them!

I’ve been bowled over by the perfectionism our translators display, not just in their own translations, but by suggesting improvements to the original content too. Thanks go to Nicolas Devaux, who, whilst translating 28 HTML5 Features, Tips, and Techniques you Must Know into French, pointed out that <hgroup> has been deprecated and should no longer be used! We’ve since updated the article.

5. Google Translate Isn’t Good Enough

Don’t get me wrong, Google Translate is an incredible tool. And, thanks to the massive community which keeps it updated, it’s improving on an hourly basis. However, it isn’t good enough for our purposes—we can’t rely on automated translation to provide accurate, multilingual versions of our content.

I’ve mistakenly relied on Google Translate a couple of times during this project (just for missing details) but each time have quickly been shown the error of my ways!

The Last Word

I’ll leave you with a quote, taken from a conversation I had with a translation volunteer. He says it far better than I can.

“I believe that teaching people all over the world is very important … everyone must be able to learn new things no matter where they live.” - Recep Emul

Get Involved!

If you’d like to know more about the translation project, have suggestions or perhaps even want to get involved yourself, you’ll find all the details you need on the translation information page.

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