The Incredible Language Shrinker

The Incredible Language Shrinker

One of the wonders of the world is the linguistic diversity of Humanity. This can create professional challenges in many ways. A beautiful learning opportunity!

When translating user interfaces from English to Dutch, one easily becomes aware of how much 30% can be. The English language uses some 30% less space than Dutch (or German, for example). So that one dialog box in an app can be perfectly fit for the appropriate English text; creating a fitting Dutch translation can be rather challenging. See the picture for an example. The source expression is “Set new passcode”. In the target language, the accurate translation would be “Stel nieuwe toegangscode in”. But this takes up too much screen real estate. In the end, we ditch the verb, and “Nieuwe toegangscode” will have to do the job. It’s missing a concrete CTA, though. And if it has to fit in a button, it will probably be too long again.

I have learned something cool

Why am I telling you all this?

One, I want to share with you that I have learned something cool from translating UIs. I have learned how to be efficient with language. What is the most compact way of getting the message across? What is the minimum use of language needed for creating a connection with the reader or user?

Two, I want to emphasize the importance of language-aware design. If your app, website, flyer, or technical documentation will be published in several languages, then make sure that the designer uses a ‘long’ language, not English, in their base design. Or make sure that the design is easily scalable – not always evident when it’s about print.

Please reach out to me if you need someone to translate or edit your text with the restrictions of the design in mind; or if you need someone to design your publication with multiple languages in mind. I might be able to do it for you, or I can help you with outsourcing the job successfully.

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