For a couple of months earlier this year, we ran a terminology feedback program to solicit comments and alternative suggestions from our users. This program was specifically aimed at the existing terminology in the Windows Live suite of services (Messenger, Spaces, Hotmail, etc) and in particular on social networking terminology.
The project was live for around 40 languages and the results have been or are being incorporated in new versions of Windows Live – most already implemented in the current language set available at http://download.live.com, for example Brazilian.
This is a small account of some of the more interesting results on a more global basis, pulling in results across a number of languages.
One challenge we have around terminology changes to existing terminology is to strike the right balance between updating outdated terminology and on the other hand maintaining terminological consistency (backward compatibility) for terms may no longer be contemporary, but are widely used. So there’s a difficult trade-off between implementing a community preference and keeping an existing term for usability and backward-compatibility.
This also gets complicated by another consideration: ensuring consistency across different domains for an integrated and seamless user experience, i.e. ensuring that we use the same term for the same concept between consumer products like Windows Live and server products like SQL Server (where this is reasonable for the user, of course).
Another challenge is whether to adopt a prescriptive approach or to follow the terminology actually used in the market, especially where more academically minded users prefer different terms to what’s actually used by a technical community (which often prefer to use the English terminology). As in most other languages, we have many examples in Danish (my language) where English terms - even where there were originally perfectly good Danish equivalents - have been adopted wholesale: chat, printer, software, hardware, browser, and so on.
For the Windows Live localization team, the aim of the forum was to ensure that user expectations were met and that the product terminology closely reflects the local culture. This is particularly important for social networking applications like Windows Live Messenger and Spaces that are exposed to frequent neologisms in English.
Here are some more detailed and interesting findings from a cross-language perspective:
Terminology changes over time
Pretty obvious, of course, but still: For both Polish and Danish, our translations of the term “smart phone” had been established several years ago when this technology first appeared in the market, and at a time when no translation had established itself. For Danish, we originally came up with a translation that avoided the “false friend” smart which in English means something like “intelligent” (in this particular sense), but in Danish predominantly means “fashionable” (although it's not that clear-cut either). We therefore originally translated the term “smart phone” as “intelligent telefon” but common usage in Danmark is now a loan word: “smartphone”. Same thing happened for Polish, where our term “Telefon inteligentny” is now obsolete (and was originally a construct) and “smartphone” is used instead. Determining when a particular term is "established" is of course tricky.
Our national languages won’t be replaced by English just yet
In Denmark and undoubtedly in many other languages, there’s the occasional trepidation that English terminology is increasingly creeping in and is impoverishing the language. Although there is of course widespread adoption of English terms, and this seems to be the majority tendency, the forums did not reveal a universal (or irreversible) trend towards English. The picture was mixed depending on the specific term. It seems that some terms in some languages can seamlessly be adopted where the prefernce is for translation for other terms. In a couple of cases, there even seems to be a shift from English-inspired terms back to the more original local terms:
Some perfectly valid source terms are tricky across many languages
One case in point was “instant message” or “IM” which seems to work fine in some languages, but for Danish and Dutch, the user preference was for another English term “chat” which has become established in those markets.
All in all, the forums were extremely valuable in pointing out and indicating particular user preferences. All results mentioned here are gradually being changed not just in Windows Live, but in other Microsoft products as well.
We are currently running a Windows Live project for the same number of languages, but for new terms in the latest Windows Live version which just released. If you are interested in taking part, read more details here.