translation style

This case study deals with the translation of software text. We start with the software as it is normally the first component to be translated. The language pair featured in this case study is the English > Italian combination.

To localise a new product, a translator must have access to the software programme, run it and get acquainted with it as much as possible. This has to be done in conjunction with close study of the related documentation content and structure, and with the scanning of Help file components. Care must be taken to ensure consistency with each programme element and between one element and all the others. Having taken stock of the architectural structure of the original language product, the translator must decide whether to adhere to it or not in the light of current practice in Italy, and if so, to what extent.

General Style Guidelines

Punctuation in and around brackets

The two most common cases are:

  • When the brackets enclose a part of a larger sentence, punctuation marks belonging to the text outside the brackets are placed after the closing bracket.


Il programma può essere utilizzato su computer diversi (come indicato nella Guida di installazione).

  • When the brackets enclose a self-contained sentence, punctuation marks are placed inside the brackets. Of course, the sentence which precedes the brackets is ended by a full stop. This use, however is not to be encouraged as the brackets are often redundant, anyway.

Esempio: Il programma può essere utilizzato su computer diversi. (Per ulteriori informazioni, consultare la Guida di installazione). Use of hyphen Replace dashes with colons as much as possible (or with brackets as applicable). Delete unnecessary hyphens (example: “backup” instead of back-up as much as possible, and be consistent). Abbreviations Follow Italian abbreviations rules by always ending an abbreviation with a consonant. Numbers Remember: The decimal point becomes a decimal comma in Italian. En.  3.4 It.    3,4 Always use the full stop as a thousand separator En.  15,000 It.    15.000 Accented vowels In Italian, the grave accent is used on monosyllabic words to distinguish them from similar words: è, e; né, ne Grave or acute accents may be used to stress final vowels: poiché, perciò. Please be careful to use the correct grave/acute accent. Capital vowels also need to be accented. Incorrect:    ATTIVITA’ Correct:       ATTIVITÀ. Miscellaneous: Spell check every translated file you deliver. Follow the translation given in the glossary files provided. In case of doubts, words not found, inconsistency detected, please ask the lead translator to check and answer your queries. Standard translation Attention          Attenzione Caution            Avviso Important        Importante Note                  Nota Tip                     Suggerimento Warning            Avvertenza Help system     Guida in linea Italian sentence structures must follow Italian rules and usage. To achieve this, do the following:

  • Use noun format for titles even when in English the gerund is used or “How to” expressions.
  • Invert sentence to conform to Italian rules (“see Chapter 6 for further information” must read: “Per ulteriori informazioni, vedere il capitolo 6).
  • Keep the use of gerund form to a minimum and conform this to Italian grammar rules (the subject of the subordinate clause must always be the same as that of the main clause).
  • Use capital letters only for the first word in section titles, chapter headers, option names, index entries, etc.. Never insert a full stop at the end of a header. Never insert an article before the first word of a header. Alwas use a noun, or, when this is not possible, the infinitive of the verb (Example:”Creazione di un oggetto” o “Incollare un oggetto”).
  • Check cross references within each component and between the various project component.
  • Clarify sentences by adding extra words, if necessary (i.e. “Selezionare l’oggetto [posto/che si trova] a sinistra sullo schermo).
  • Names of options for other products should be translated only if you have the Italian version of the product or an approved glossary from the manufacturer. If not, leave them in English and enter and Italian translation between brackets.

Don’t do the following:

  • Do not write sentences with singular/plural alternative (i.e. “Il(i) formato(i)…”), as the plural in general covers and implies the singular already.
  • When in doubt as to the meaning of the verb “Enter” in a descriptive situation, (i.e.: “digitare”, “inserire” or “immettere”), use “specificare” or other equivalent term, instead.
  • Avoid using capital letters for words which are not parts of tools or function names proper (i.e.: “premere il pulsante Avvio”, not “premere il Pulsante Avvio).
  • Don’t be taken in by false friends (“actual” does not mean “attuale”, and “eventual” does not mean “eventuale”) or misappropriation of foreign words (“confetti” in English does not mean what “confetti” means in Italian).
  • Don’t assume that the prepositions used in English are equally serviceable in Italian (“The cost for a hardware component” should read “Il costo di un componente hardware” and not “Il costo per un componente hardware”).
  • Avoid everyday expressions such as “bisogna”, “ci sono”, “non si trova” in a technical context (i.e. software strings and dialogs). Use “è necessario”, “sono present/disponibili”, “Impossibile trovare”, “è possibile trovare”, etc., instead.
  • Don’t translate words such as “please”, “sorry” etc., in technical texts.
  • Don’t use a comma before conjunction “e” or the disjunction “o/oppure”.

Translating Software

Menus are translated first. The translator ascertains under which Operating System the programme runs and makes sure that menus are translated to comply with its terminology as much as possible, including use of short cut keys (File, Modifica, etc.) and verbal structure. Menu are not normally set in their context, and if unclear, must be checked on screen. They usually come in .txt format or Word tables, but can come in other formats, including the most common resource tool formats. Menus items are normally :

  • Translated in the second person singular in Italian (Inserisci, Chiudi, Apri) etc..
  • Kept short by dropping prepositions, articles (Apri file, Chiudi sessione) etc..
  • Capitalized only in the first letter of the first word (Annulla modifica, Copia file).
  • The ampersand & indicates the underline below the letter that follows it. This letter must be unique within each menu or dialog box in which it appears. In case of conflict, change the ampersand position. In general, the underline position must follow MS practice (wherever possible) and should never involve letters with long, below-the line, stems such as p, q, g…and avoid as much as possible thin letters such as l).
  • Translate the dialog box name using the same menu item entry from which it is open. For example, if the menu entry Insert Object (Inserisci oggetto) opens the Insert Object (Inserisci oggetto) window, the two dialog box headers must, as far as possible, be identical.

Dialogs are translated second. These provide more context and follow the guidelines set out above. Strings are translated last. These provide an explanation for actions performed by pressing a key, command or other activators. Often they go in the 3rd person singular in Italian, but can be hard to tell from more prescriptive sentence in the impersonal form as the infinite is often used for both in English. A clue is the presence in the area of option names. Messages such as “Are you sure you want to delete…?” must be translated with the infinitive (example: “Eliminare…?”).

Translating Help Files

Help files usually come in Rich Text Format (Rtf) with hidden text, reference jumps and codes to be skirted around and index entries to be translated. Rtf help files also have notes which must be translated separately by opening View/Notes (Visualizza/Note) in Word and translating only the entries preceded by $ and K signs. Text for the notes must be as close as possible to the translation provided in the main body of text. Special instruction sheets on how to tackle Rtf files are supplied to inexperienced translators. Help files are normally :

  • Translated in the infinitive/impersonal form (unless otherwise stated).
  • Kept as close as possible in style to the rest of the product. Avoid redundant repetitions or superfluous expressions such as “se si desidera”, “è inoltre possible”, “potrebbe essere necessario” which are generally used to translate commonly used English expressions in the original text such as “you may need”, “if you wish”….
  • References to software, documentation and cross-references must be quoted literally. Never try guessing their actual wording.
  • Converted in their title components from verbal to noun format (“How to Print/Printing” to “Stampa”), unless the “How to” structure is iconized and needs to be followed by the infinitive.

Translating Documentation Files

Many of the guidelines described above apply to doc files as well. In addition to them, one must be aware that manuals contain copyright information, introductory notes, chapters and sections, references to other documents, screen shots, graphics, icons, reminders, notes, index entries and index tables and lists.

  • The “Tables of contents” (Sommario) may or may not be generated automatically. If it is to be done manually, it is best done at the end of the translation process, when the section names have been translated according to their context. Chapter and section headers must follow standard noun construction as outlined above, as much as possible.
  • The Copyright information is best done in conjunction with the client legal office or according to similar and existing texts (preferably from MS documentation).
  • The introductory notes are important and must be translated in the best and most fluent style possible to win the reader’s attention.
  • References to other documents, sections, paragraphs, page numbers, software options, help topics, manual titles and screen shots, must be checked and thoroughly reviewed before delivery.
  • Chapter headers and footers, and page numbering must be checked for accuracy and completeness of translation.
  • Icons, screen shots and figure table must be checked for accuracy and consistency with software and the surrounding text.
  • Manual title pages must be checked before sending to print to make sure that references to it throughout the documentation and in the Help and other documents are consistent.
  • Figures, measures and such items must be translated or converted into their local equivalent (i.e. inches to centimetres, miles to Kilometres, etc.), unless otherwise instructed.
  • Entries for standard entries such as Caution, Warning, Attention, Tip(s), See/See also must adhere to standard MS terminology and when not present in this, agreed with SDL’s lead translator on the given project.
  • Index entries must follow the noun structure described above and follow standard practice for capitalization (Main entries in capital, sub-entries in small case).
  • Lists of items or steps must follow the English format or, when in doubt, that of Italian MS products. These normally list entries beginning with a capital letter even after a semicolon (this goes against Italian rules, but has become common practice in technical translation).

Graphic Images and Captions

All captions must be translated either directly into the graphic frame or picture or, if this cannot be done by the translator, this must provide the translation for the captions in a separate document for the DTP specialist to insert in the right place.

Translating Scripts and Voice-Over Text for CD-ROM

Translators must look at the CD and familiarise themselves with the game play, check similar games, if necessary, and do all research to make the script good read for the actors involved and minimise any last minute review. Use the second person plural unless otherwise instructed (for example when this is different from the format previously used by the Client in older versions of the game). Or when the script features a dialog between two people who are in intimate (or abusive) terms, and other similar cases. Convey as faithfully as possibly the original text’s style, spirit and content without any drop or heightening of emphasis, but make sure that you place it in the local context and conform it to idiomatic and national usage (especially with regard to the atmosphere the script wants to recreate). Remember that usually these are games for children or youngsters set on enjoying themselves, e so all the instructions and the game tips must be as clear as possible on the one hand, but also fascinating and involving for the user on the other.