I’m not sure how this post got away from me and became such a behemoth, but my apologies in advance. For those wondering whether or not you’ll find it interesting, here’s the gist: We’re all one Mozilla and we have to work together to make localization awesome. And yes, I did just add copy to apologize for this being too long. I’m helping!
At Mozilla, we have one audience: users. Sure, you can split them up in various ways — demographically, psychographically, geographically, linguistically, ecumenically — but when it comes down to it, we make a product for users. No matter where they are in the world, they should have the same experience with Firefox and any communications aimed at them. This is relevant to a number of different areas of what we do, but I’m particularly interested in how it relates to our localization efforts.
We’re incredibly lucky to have community members who undertake the important, difficult and largely thankless task of localizing our copy (a massive thank-you to all who do!). I come from a family of translators, so I know the unique challenges involved. I’ve even done some translation myself. It’s not easy, but when done well, it’s pretty amazing. It’s the kind of thing that becomes more invisible the better it is. That’s no small feat when dealing with idioms, pop culture and wordplay (among other tricky bits).
(Excuse me for this aside, but imagine translating Month Python’s Spamalot! into Czech, as my father did, and dealing with an opening number where the joke is based entirely on the similar pronunciation of England and Finland. For those who don’t speak Czech, that’s Anglie and Finsko, respectively. Cue brain explosion in three, two…)
There is work currently being done to improve the localization process for all. It’s still early days, so it’s very much a work in progress, but you can check it out to get an idea of what’s on the horizon. In the meantime, here are some general thoughts I came up with as a starting point for localizers:
1) Make it your own. This can be difficult given deadlines and the like, but we’re working on getting localizers involved in the process early, so you won’t just have more time, but also more input. Ideally the copy wouldn’t be a literal translation, but it would capture the same meaning and sentiment. So feel free to pull it apart and put it back together; replace an English expression with one from your native language; Mozilla-fy it for your region.
2) When in doubt, ask. If something isn’t clear — or even if it is but you just want to be extra sure — speak up. You can find us on irc in the #marketing channel (I’m matej, by the way). I, for one, am more than happy to chat about the finer points of grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, idiomization, awesomization or the weather. And I’m always curious to know what kinds of problems you’re running into, which leads nicely into:
3) Help us help you. Pardon the cliche, but this is an important one. We can work to fix the problems we know about, but we can’t do a thing about those we don’t even know exist. (Put another way, it’s not what we don’t know that’s the problem, it’s what we don’t even know we don’t know. You know?) So tell us what recurring issues you’ve run into, what works and what doesn’t — it could be a language thing, a cultural issue or something to do with tone (especially when dealing with languages that have both formal and informal forms). Whatever it is, please pass it on.
Finally, we can’t treat localization like an extra step in the process; it is the process. (I’m not saying we do, but this is a reminder that we’re not just all on the same team, we are the same team.) Although our copy is generally written in English first, that doesn’t mean that localized versions should be perceived any differently. Even calling them versions is problematic. As I said in the intro, everyone everywhere should have the same experience with Firefox, regardless of their native language. If they don’t, I’d consider that a failure. In fact, we all should.