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       Transitioning from a local to a global application

Turning an application written in one language into an application in dozens of languages

The ideal internationalized application is one that is designed to be global, that is prepared to shift from one grammar set to another and from one code branch to another as new languages are added. However, “ideal” is rarely reality. More usually, an existing application is a hit – albeit a small hit – with a global company, and the developer receives the order to take their application global with the customer supporting the effort.

From a linguistic perspective, some developers’ approaches may help save time and pain when first going global.

Application Localization

Linguistically, most applications tend to be designed with one single language in mind, thus there often appears to be a mountain of code rework required to correctly call a second, different language: new grammars, new dates, new times, new numbersets, new TTS, new voice prompts, new video, new text.

Banking applications, for example, are perhaps the most under-appreciated systems in the world – and the most difficult to translate. They were a bear to create in the first language, and can become a nightmare when translating into Asian languages, Middle Eastern and Slavic languages. Much of the pain associated with localizing such applications is due to the fact that the sentence order of other languages has almost no relation to the application’s original language order. Dozens if not hundreds of sentences and phrases in the application fall apart on both the recognition side as well as the playback side because foreign languages speak the sentence parts in different places.

Tricks of Pre-planning Software Localization

For companies without a bevy of specialists with experience in speech application internationalization, some stress may be mitigated by internationalizing application code using English (or original language) content before tackling the foreign. Also, significant organization and problem-solving can occur pre-coding through linguistic analysis of the documentation and identification of potential issues that may require code changes for other languages. The majority of issues tend to fall chronically into the following categories:
• Names of people and places as subject
• Date / times and the “little words”
• Numbers as a set
• Currency amounts as decimals positions


Names are variables for which programmers generally breathe a sign of relief assuming <fullpathaudio> can use preexisting code. Upon translation, however, a spoken name may well produce the wrong version of a name for your user. The name “Helen”, for example, can be spoken in 5 different ways in Russian, Czech, Polish: Elena, Eleny, Elene, Elenu, Elenou. In the documents, if the application code inserts a spoken name, verify the name sentence position, and if the name is not the subject of the sentence, mark these areas as “may be affected”. Asian and Slavic languages must reword phrases such as “transferring to…<name>” or “received from…<name>”. Slavic must be reworded so that the name becomes the subject – not object – of the sentence, and Asian languages will speak the name first: e.g. “<name> to transferring”. Adding comments or placeholders in the code in advance may help prepare the code landscape for languages in which the prompt/variable order digresses from the original.


In globalizing an application, rework may be spared by using only one date pattern – select either with or without weekday plus with or without year. Simply by not using weekdays and years on a whim, much effort and correction may be spared in certain other languages. Importantly, marking the “little words” that may trip a system in other languages and cause code rework can simplify the globalization effort before it begins. The “little words” are those that appear before dates and times like “at”, “by”, “is”, “will be”, “before”, “to”, “from”, “between”. Some languages use different date/time formats for each of these words. For certain languages, it is recommended to re-word the application text to use only one or two of these “little words” before variables, and inform the translators - who never have a clue - of the constraints of the system prompts available for dates/times.


Most developers are familiar with Spanish “un, una, uno”, although few systems are prepared to recognize or play audio file concatenation according to a numberset. But Japanese has 12 basic numbersets, Chinese has 15, Russian 25. The concept of a numberset is a priority for good system recognition and playback. Also, many languages have more than one plural, so not only “messages” but also “messagi” and “messagu” are used. Which plural to play will be based upon what is the last number of the digits, thus “23” plays the plural associated with the number “3”. Preparing and testing the 3 English numbersets (one, first, single) and additional new plurals may save rework later in the cycle.


Higher numbers require close inspection in a system’s code. From a programmer’s perspective, each decimal point needs to have an equivalent, rather than the current approach by groupings where 10,000 = <ten><thousand> and 100,000 = <one hundred><thousand>. For example:

<Your account balance is> <one hundred><eleven thousand> <eighty> <dollars> <and one> <cent>

<eleven mon> <one thousand> <zero> <eighty> <dollar ><zero><one> <cent> <your account balance is>

<Your account balance> <one lak> <one mon> <thousand> <eighty> <dollar> <one> <cent > <is>

When reality is not the assumption

Developers build great systems upon reality. What is frustrating about language is that there is a different reality - different from the assumptions passed to developers through books and college courses and “best practices of programming”. A complete linguistic analysis of the application’s textual structure can clarify the new reality before inserting foreign text or grammars, and testing code first using a variation on English data can save developers significant time coding to foreign languages.




Sue Ellen Reager is CEO of @International Services, a translation and software solutions company that performs translation, voice recording and global system testing for speech and Web applications as well as media localization.


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We make our home in the multimedia universe. @International Services has developed innovative techniques for controlling translation online and for casting foreign language voiceovers – tools and techniques that offer more possibilities than ever before.   In response to requests received from multimedia directors and producers to provide an improved way to audition foreign language voice overs , a way that will increase their success with the global projects and customers, @International Services developed a software specifically for this purpose.    The requests for support also included desire for assistance in casting foreign language voice over talent side by side with clients who like to participate in the process.   To meet these requests, @International Services created the Director Center.   The Director's Center is an online software specifically geared toward foreign language voice talent auditioning plus very special presentation materials for directors and producers to use to help them close more deals with global corporations or international clients.    

The Center includes tips on mixing the tracks you receive of the foreign language voice talent.   The tracks will be perfectly timed, to just drop into your project.   But after inserting those tracks, there are a variety of mixing techniques that may enhance your impact, plus certain other multimedia localization techniques such as music localization and special effects that may make a difference in the final impact. Combined with a fine translation of the script and screen text, you will look great in your customer's eyes.

The ability to personally direct international recording sessions around the world with your chosen foreign language voice talent is also taking a major turn for the better.   If you desire to direct or participate in foreign language voice talent voiceover sessions in any of 90 countries, @International Services is developing the online software to enable you to direct anywhere in the world – in English.   And your clients can join via the web in the foreign language voice recording session exactly as they happen “live” in their native country.   Clients can join you at your studio to watch via computer monitor, or join via their laptop.   You'll be able to comfortably direct sessions with the @international Services talents and studios located in 90 countries around the world for about the cost of a phone call to Chicago.

We live for multimedia translation, providing perfectly timed voice tracks of foreign language voice talent, subtitle edit lists and graphic files, plus lip sync recording. Our multimedia translation team translates scripts, training, presentations, Flash and subtitling. Another team records voices for technology and product demos. Multimedia translation is our passion. The experience we bring is only the groundwork from which we have all learned what works - and what does not work - when translating media and casting foreign language voice talent. Each and every one of us prefers corporate work to major media. We all see the enormous benefit that corporate work adds to the world economy. Corporate multimedia adds to global sales, to training, and to communications between leaders and branches. The combination of audio, visual and message makes our world go 'round.

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