Hebrew Localization - Issues and Solutions

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Hebrew Localization

What is localization?

Localization (also known as l10n) is much more than simply translating text from one language to another. It is the process of adapting a product or service (for example, software or website) to a particular language, culture, and location.

In product localization, in addition to idiomatic language translation, details such as time zones, currency, national holidays, local color sensitivities, product or service names, gender roles, and geography need to be considered. A successfully localized service or product is one that has the look and feel of having been developed within the local culture.

Ideally, a product or service should be developed in a manner that makes localization relatively easy, for example, by separating the translatable text from the code of the software or the web page. This enabling process is called internationalization (or i18n).

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Localization and CAT applications

Language translation, a large part of localization, can at times be enhanced with Computer Aided Translation (CAT) tools, such as Trados and SDLX. CAT applications are also essential for translation consistency and for future leveraging. Some CAT tools can handle resource text files directly such as HTML and XML, and software files such as EXE, DLL and COM.

However, these applications cannot handle every single file type, especially non standard files. Moreover, some of these tools are very inconvenient to use in Hebrew and some have limited or no Hebrew support at all.

As a result, I have developed my own set of localization tools.

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Hebrew localization issues

Apart from having its own character set, Hebrew is one of the few languages that are written from right-to-left (RTL). As a result, Hebrew localization is much more complex and requires more expertise than languages that are written from left-to-right (LTR).

Right-to-left means not only that the text is aligned to the right, but that the reading direction and the entire layout is from right-to-left, "mirroring" the Latin text. For example, the leftmost column in an English table will be the right most column in a Hebrew table, while the direction of flow and arrows in flowcharts will be the inverse of their Latin counterparts, and vice versa.

One of the major issues in Hebrew localization is handling intermingled Hebrew and English text. For the text to display correctly, RTL and LTR code or Unicode characters need to be inserted in the appropriate places. This requires extensive experience and expertise.

Some of the Hebrew localization issues that frequently arise include:

  • Text appears as question marks or "Gibberish"
  • Text is mirrored
  • Text is aligned to the left
  • Punctuation marks appear at the beginning of the sentence instead at the end
  • Sentences containing a combination of Hebrew and English text are jumbled up
  • Screen layout is Left-to-Right

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My localization tools

In my experience, I have found that working in Microsoft Word is the best way to handle Hebrew issues, as combined Hebrew-English text can be properly arranged, both logically and visually. Afterwards, RTL and LTR code or Unicode characters can be more easily inserted in the proper places. Another benefit of working in MS Word is instant access to language features such as a speller and dictionary.

Using MS Word as a text editor (not as an HTML or XML editor), enables direct manipulation of the code, and altering of it as necessary. For example, when HTML tags include an alignment attribute (align="left" or align="right"), this can be reversed so that the alignment matches the Hebrew direction. This, of course, requires thorough familiarization with the code structure.

Over the years, I have developed a suite of tools that facilitate localization into Hebrew, which I call RTS Tools. I wrote them in Visual Basic for Applications in MS Word (and WordBasic initially) and also developed several tools for MS Excel.

The RTS Tools enable me to manipulate the code directly and conveniently, marking the translatable and non-translatable text with special character styles (compatible with Trados). The RTS Tools also enable me to work with non-standard resource text files, such as properties (INI) files that include HTML code, and to handle large file volumes.

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