4. Language

This section has two subsections 4a. Language impact on Layout and 4b. Translation Options

Language localisation is not the same as a direct translation such as that offered by Google Translate  nor is it quite the same as internationalisation in terms of product development as can be seen in the diagram below, where items and services are developed for a general global market. Testing AT (products and support systems) for localisation issues during the design and development phase with those who have disabilities is sometimes hard to achieve.  However, it is crucial for success and this must be undertaken in the environment in which the tools and services will be used.

The globalisation and internationalisation of AT design and development is rapidly increasing – a few years ago text to speech was available in a limited number of languages now companies developing computer generated or synthetic speech systems are offering over 40 languages with over 100 voices being available. However it should be noted that:


It would take 83 languages to reach 80 percent of all the people in the world, and over 7,000 languages to reach everyone. (Common Sense Advisory, Evolution and Revolution in Translation Management, 2008) Why Localise (GALA)


In terms of assistive technology support, currently most sophisticated screen readers for those with visual impairments are only available in up to 28 languages.  This is also true of desktop text to speech programs that can support those with reading difficulties.

56.2 percent of consumers say that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price. – (Common Sense Advisory, Can’t Read, Won’t Buy:  Why Language Matters on Global Websites, 2006) Why Localise (GALA)

Easy Language Checks

  • Localise for meaning not just choosing word for word translation and ask a local to proofread the outcome as well as using the appropriate language and voices for text to speech or a screen reader to ensure easy reading for those with print impairments.
  • Keep the message simple – clear statements in the active voice e.g. ‘Select the arrow icon to start the recording’  rather than ‘The recording will be activated when the arrow icon has been selected.’
  • Keep complex terminology consistent and provide a glossary  – assistive technology may be known as supporting technology (ondersteunende in Dutch) in some areas of work, with differences in health and education. Terms such as ‘handicap’ may be accepted in some languages and special needs or impairment may be used others – UK British may use the term  ‘disabled person’ – USA ‘person with disabilities’.
  • First person and second person rather than third – Academics encourage the use of third person but when writing instructions or simple guidance it may be easier to translate when first and second person is used. e.g. ‘You can increase the volume to listen to quiet speech‘ rather than ‘Quiet speech may mean that the volume should be increased‘.
  • Avoid metaphors, colloquialisms, slang, acronyms, e.g. It is raining cats and dogs when it's raining cats and dogsusing the local expression in Dutch would be ‘ it is raining ‘pipe stems’ or in French ‘ropes’
  • Check spelling and grammar matches that of the standardised written language of the country such as Modern Standard Arabic
  • Beware the gender and quantity and how this can change a word or the context of the word.  In English words rarely change to show gender so we may think of a ‘ship‘ as ‘she‘ but we do not change the word or the article ‘a’ or ‘the‘ to show that gender,  whereas in French it would be male and ‘le bateau’ . To show a quantity in English the letter ‘s’ may be added but in Russian,  according to www.ibabbleon.com the ending changes depending on the number of pages.Russian text changes
  • Punctuation use differs across languages and needs to be used carefully.  Abbreviations, acronyms or short forms may be recognised by the use of the full stop or period in English but not for instance in Arabic.  Adding a full stop between individual letters to show a short form can aid the screen reader or user of text to speech, as otherwise these are read as whole words.
  • Watch out for the apostrophe.  Not only can it cause problems with coding, but it can also be hard to replicate in another language.  In English it may be used where letters are missing such as ‘it’s’ for ‘it is’ or where something belongs to someone – John’s coat which can be said as ‘the coat that belongs to John’
  • ‘The’ can be used incorrectly at times in written language – In English you may say ‘the 5th of March, 2013‘ but you would write ‘5th March, 2013‘ in French the ‘le’ or ‘the’ stays in place.
  • Take care with accents and diacritics if required for pronunciation purposes such as in Arabic – Their use can help with the accuracy of text to speech and screen reading but they are often avoided on web pages to reduce clutter.  Most literate individuals have internalised the language so can read sentences without the need for diacritics where they replace short vowels such that a sentence written as ‘ I cn go to the cmpng shp‘ could be read accurately even though ‘shop‘ may be ‘ship‘.
  • Check how numbers, measurements, time and dates are presented and make sure they appear correctly on the screen when saved in the translated language.   A date such as 3/4/2013 in America is 4th March, 2013 and in UK represents 3rd April, 2013.
  • Make sure you are aware of the protocols for addresses. Address layout (as shown in  Wikipedia) differs widely between countries, postal codes or zip codes may not lead precisely to a house, but may relate to an area. Post Office boxes may be used rather than house addresses where people go to collect their mail such as in villages in Kenya.  In some areas street addresses are limited so at times landmarks may be used as guides rather than formal addresses.Chinese address layoutRussian address layout
  • If you offer an alphabet search system note that not all alphabets have corresponding letters to A-Z and some will have several options for one letter and differ visually depending on their position in the word such as in Arabic.
  • Avoid the use of technical or localised words that are not in the dictionary of the language you are translating.
  • Do not make it hard for the translator by using overly simple but ambiguous links in web pages such as ‘read more‘ or ‘click here‘ as not only does this not help the screen reader user (who will not know where he or she is going) but also the translator who needs to know what is going to be read or the link title.
  • Know your audience and understand their knowledge and literacy levels.


  1.  Globalization and Localization Association (GALA)  http://www.gala-global.org/