By Larry Kunz
posted on June 29, 2012 09:20
It's a good thing our local TV station's web page has a Celsius setting. The forecast highs for the next five days -- 39, 41, 41, 39, and 38 -- look so much better than their Fahrenheit equivalents: 103, 105, 105, 102, 101.
Which brings me to the subject of localization. Even though the metric system is logical and easy to learn, 310 million of my countrymen persist in using the antiquated "English"* system of ounces, pounds, feet, and miles. A few dozen of them might even know how many teaspoons are in an ounce. I don't.
So in our client's training material we wrote "When scanning the barcode, hold the scanner 3 - 12 inches away."
When we translated the material, one translation (French) rendered that passage as 3 - 12 pouces. Ouch. I didn't even know that the French had a word for inches. But I'll bet you a bottle of Bordeaux that no French-speaking reader would prefer English measurements to metric ones.
Another translation rendered it 7,5 - 30,5 cm. Not bad. But half a centimeter? Really? Do we need that kind of precision? I'm pretty sure that even fewer people understand significant digits than understand teaspoons and ounces.
Then there was the translation that had 7,5 - 30,5 cm in the text and 8 - 30 cm in the accompanying illustration.
All of that actually happened on a recent project. I felt a sense of deep satisfaction when I told the writers to render all instances of this particular instruction as 8 - 30 cm -- except in the American version. Now, if the U.S. would just adopt the metric system my satisfaction would be complete.
That, and if the temperature would drop to about 25. 41 is for the birds. Especially in Celsius.
* I put "English" in quotes because even the English have long since gone over to the metric system.
About the Author
Larry Kunz is a project manager and information architect with SDI with more than 30 years’ experience as a writer, manager, and planner. He has experienced the transition from book-based documentation to today's integrated delivery of information both as a writer and a manager. Larry is a Fellow in the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and in 2010 received the STC President’s Award for leading the Society's strategic planning effort.