Voice experiences aren’t restricted to a single market. You can publish your experience to additional international markets where Alexa is available. When you do publish to international markets, plan the design of your experience to accommodate language and cultural differences.
You've likely had the experience of reading the instructions for a product made in another country or language that the company translated poorly. The odd cadence or poor grammar makes it clear that the author was not conversant in your language or culture. Poorly translated and localized content negatively affects the user’s experience and trust in that product. When you do a poor job translating and accommodating cultural differences, it negatively affects your skill and it erodes trust with Alexa across different markets.
If you want to offer your skill in different international markets, you must localize the content to fit the language and cultural norms of that marketplace. Even within a country, you can have multiple dialects and cultural differences that you must account for. Different marketplaces also have different technical requirements set by the laws of that country that you must consider. You should design your skill to be flexible enough for the translation and cultural requirements per marketplace. You should consider localization as not simply language translation; it’s a cultural shift in the way Alexa converses with users.
When you design your experience, be sure to explore beyond the native culture and languages of your marketplace. Ask yourself the following questions when you design your skill:
Keep in mind the following best practices when you design your voice experience for international markets.
Long, complex sentences are difficult to translate, and difficult to understand. Be mindful of long strings of nouns or adjectives, or long sentences that work better as short ones. While a given phrase might seem long now, it can be three or four times longer in languages with different grammatical structures, such as German or Turkish.
These cultural turns of phrase might have no equivalent or could be misconstrued in other languages, regions, or even a specific cultural demographic. Work with translators who are native to the region to help you find equivalent terminology only if it’s critical to content of your skill. For example, acronyms like “FAQ” doesn't translate well. Neither does “nine to five," because other countries and regions have different concepts on how long a work day is.
Be consistent in how you present certain names, terms, or actions in your skill. You might have to provide your translator a definition for the terms you’re using so that they help you find the appropriate term in the translated language.
Review all content for geopolitical inaccuracies or sensitivities. Check your skill’s content for culturally sensitive topics or terms that could cause offense. For example, an image in one culture can have a different meaning or can be offensive in another culture. You must check both the verbal and visual content to make sure you’re not offending your users in different markets.
Images have special risks that you should consider:
When you build your skill for other marketplaces, consider the following best practices:
Different languages place words in different order. A noun phrase is a noun plus, optionally, adjectives and articles. Grammatical rules in a respective language dictate in which order these words must come. When a noun phrase (NP) contains dynamic content (variables), don’t concatenate it.
Concatenating strings affects both internationalization and localization. While a common coding practice, don’t concatenate multiple strings to form a sentence. = Although the strings concatenated together might form an acceptable English sentence, many languages have different grammatical rules. Translators might have to change the order of the words in a sentence, which could be impossible to do if you split a sentence into multiple strings.
Don’t concatenate either the subject or the object (code dictates the order of words). Code the string as one string and let translators shuffle the variables in the string (if either the nouns or adjectives are the variables). In addition, the adjectives and articles must agree in gender and case with the noun and its function in the sentence (subject, or direct or indirect object.)
The following table shows an example of word order differences by language.
|English||The big man||eats||a delicious red apple.||English doesn't have genders for nouns. Adjectives don't need to change form depending on case (function of the noun in sentence).|
|German||Der große Mann(Masculine article, adjectives in nominative case, masculine)||isst||einen roten, köstlichen Apfel.(masculine, accusative case)||Same NP word order as in English, but in German it doesn't hurt to put a comma between adjectives. The article and adjectives need to agree in gender and case.|
|Swedish||Den stora mannen||äter||ett gott rött äpple.||Definitive article reflected in two places, adjective agreement. Second NP change order of adjectives to sound|
|French||Le gros homme (The big man)||mange (eats)||une pomme rouge et délicieuse.(an apple red and delicious)||Different word order from English.|
|Japanese||大きくて毛むくじゃらな男の人が Ookikute otokonohito ga||食べています。tabete imasu.||おいしそうな赤いりんごをOishisouna akai ringo o||The word order in Japanese is different (verb at the end).|
|Hindi||बड़े बालों वाला आदमीBade wala admi||खाता हैKhata hai||एक लाल स्वादिष्ट सेबek lal swadisht seb||Just like Japanese, the word order is different for Hindi and the verb is in the end. Also, there are no article in Hindi (the, a, an).|
|Spanish||El hombre grande (The man big)||come (eats)||una manzana roja y deliciosa (an apple red and delicious)||Different word order from English.|
When translators localize an English experience, the user interface and any other text typically require more space due to the different linguistic structures. As a rule, languages other than English have longer words, longer sentences, and might have larger characters (non-Roman characters). In addition, any data, such as dates or numbers, might take up more space as well.
Just like translating the strings in the UI, you also must translate any text in a graphic. If text is embedded into a graphic, it becomes much harder and expensive to update the graphic with translated text when the time comes. The best way to avoid dealing with localizing graphics is to minimize using graphics in the first place or to remove text in graphics.
Use general images that are appropriate and easily understood in your intended countries and marketplaces. Cultural references may not be global. Even literal imagery can feel foreign. For example, mailboxes and tractors look different in Japan. If you use general images that you can use for a worldwide audience, you don't have to replace them when you launch globally or across different countries and marketplaces.
Beyond checking to make sure that images are appropriate for each culture or country, you also should make sure that the images display properly in each locale and if the right images are even displayed. For example, do the translated text overlays display properly on the images?
Account for at least 30% more space on your UI components around text. For example, some strings translated from English to German take up to 50% more space. To make sure you have enough space, test your content strings as soon as possible. Give yourself enough time to redesign the UI in case the translated text doesn’t fit.
Your design should expand to fit the additional lines of translated text without seeming clunky or unreadable, especially for essential items such as navigational elements. If you can’t read the text without scrolling or truncation, have your translator specify where appropriate truncations should occur. You must define line wrap and truncation behavior for all layouts by using the text component. Use the maxLines property in the text component to call out text components that limit the number of lines – single line, two lines, etc.
Button labels should be short and concise so that translated versions can still fit in the same layout. If the English version is too long, in translated versions the button elongates, which pushes other UI elements off the screen. The same problem also often occurs for users that choose to enlarge the UI font size for better readability. Don’t put everything into a button. Break it out into body text above the button and keep the action-oriented text of the button short. For example, “Okay” or “Cancel.” If you can, avoid placing multiple buttons on a single row.
Writers often use font styles like bold, italics, underline, strike-thorough, and capitalization (such as making a label all capital letters) in English or other Roman-character languages to emphasize or visually differentiate certain text. When you use title capitalization or all capital letters, you must allocate more vertical clearance (line height and spacing) because some languages with heavy diacritics need more room to accommodate uppercase letters with accent and descent than in the same lowercase letters. However, some font styles might break language scripts, such as Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and Hindi (to name a few) that don’t use bold, italics, uppercase, and lowercase. Instead, differentiate your text with formatting such as foreground/background color, quotation marks, visible borders, etc.
In certain languages, such as Japanese, words don’t have spaces between them. This difference makes it difficult to process tasks like disabling substring matches. Because there’s no hyphenation or spaces between words, there’s no easy way to prevent "widows" in GUI displays programmatically. For example, the last line of a string might contain only one character.
Allow the line to wrap naturally instead, or break the clause in such a way that the parts are grammatically independent. When a single clause is broken into multiple lines, it can cause grammatically incorrect translations. Translators translate each resource independently and the translations, when visually combined, don’t make sense or has incorrect grammar. This problem can also happen when a string has embedded newline ('\n') characters, which translators don’t know what to do with and don't translate them. This is because many translation agencies don’t see the final on-screen placement of the text while they are doing their work.
If a multi-line clause includes an argument to be substituted dynamically, the translated string as a whole might not make grammatical sense. This is because the placement of the argument is forced to be at a certain position in the clause. To produce grammatically correct translations for such clauses, you must adjust the position of the argument within the clause. Translating variable text in a grammatically correct way requires knowing the grammatical gender and cases of the text being substituted in, which might not be information that is available. This translation also requires a different message template for each potential grammatical gender and case. Instead, try rephrasing the message so the argument or variable element is omitted. If that's not acceptable, try rephrasing into a "subject:predicate-nominal" form. For example, the message, "Sort by <title|author|recent>," often appears as a button or other UI control. The verb "sort" and preposition "by" need to change gender in some languages depending on the dynamic text. Rephrasing into "subject:predicate-nominal" form, "Sort Order: <title|author|recent>" simplifies the implementation for proper localization.
For date, time, phone number, file size, and other general number formatting, follow local custom.
The following table shows examples of dates and times in different locales.
|EN-UK||-123.456.789,988||7 September 2018||Sep||Sat||2:32 pm|
|FR||-123.456.789,988||7 septembre 2018||sept.||sam.||2:32 pm|
|DE||-123.456.789,988||7. September 2018||Sep.||Sa.||2:32 pm|
Different countries have different address field labels and field orders. For example, Japanese addresses start with the postal code, then from largest to smallest region (country, prefecture, city, address).
Japanese names are ordered differently than English names. The order is last name + first name, which is opposite to names in English. Japanese append suffixes to names, most commonly the honorific title "san." Automating this concatenation for names pulled from contact lists or databases generally works, but can fail in various cases. For example, a prompt that says, "Message from Tanaka," should be read "Message from Tanaka-san." There are cases where the <name> field contains "san" or a variant, so that embedding "san" into the Japanese prompt can result in duplicate titles. For example, the Japanese word for "mother" is "okaasan," so if your contacts list has the word "Mom" in it, automatically appending the "san" reads out as "Message from Okaasan-san."
If your prompt uses first and last names, don't build dependencies based on US English conventions for using first and last names. For example, If you have a prompt that says "Call <name>," Japanese are likely to say <last name><first name>(+ "san"). If they use one name, the last name is more likely for casual acquaintances and co-workers than first name.
Note: Alexa may pronounce names incorrectly or convert them to the wrong kanji character, because two names may use the same kanji pronounced differently. For example, you may say, “What is the weather in Misato?” and Alexa might respond “The weather in Sango is….” Both cities are written using the same kanji characters. You must customize your prompts to avoid incorrect pronunciation of certain characters.
Entity matching accuracy may be a challenge. Japanese liberally intersperses English phrases in movie or book titles, musician or band names, restaurant or building names, companies, etc. These words might be entered in romanized letters (romaji) or a phonetic alphabet called "katakana" (or "kana"). Unfortunately, there are multiple accepted forms of kana representation for certain phrases, so you might need to append metadata to your catalogs.
If your visual response contains a list that you sort alphabetically, Japanese words won’t sort properly unless you append pronunciation metadata. There are tens of thousands of kanji characters that don’t have an intuitive visual sorting methodology. Sorting by sound is unreliable because kanji characters can have multiple pronunciations. You should review all lists that you make for proper visual treatment on Alexa-enabled devices with a screen.
If your prompts contain numeric variables, it might generate text-to-speech (TTS) errors. Japanese appends specific suffixes to numbers, depending on the word. This structure is analogous to saying "One loaf of bread" in English. The pronunciation of the number can vary depending on the counter and even the context. For example, the characters 1日 are pronounced either "tsuitachi" when referring to the first day of the month, or "ichinichi" when referring to a duration of one day. In general, TTS should handle these issues for you. The exception is when a space is inserted in your prompts between the number variable and the counter term. In this case, the TTS likely generates an error because it tries to read the number separately from the counter.
Similarity of golden utterances in Japanese may overlap in different ways than in English. For example, in Japanese, the same verb is used for "play an artist" and "call a contact" ("Taylor Swift wo kakete" = "Play Taylor Swift," while "Taylor Swift ni kakete" = "Call Taylor Swift").
For confirmation prompts, such as "xxx, (is that) right?", you should make sure that your skill lets users reply yes or no in different ways. The literal translation "attemasuka" could let them say "attemasu" (that's right), not "hai" (yes) / "iie" (no), which causes error prompts.
It is culturally appropriate to have every error prompt in Japanese (not other languages) begin with "sumimasen" (sorry). This is the case, regardless of whether the English version has it or not. The literal translation of "I'm not quite sure how to help you with that" sounds unfriendly or odd. Although error messages are difficult because there are many cases that trigger the error prompts, they need to be proper for all of them.
In Japan, the address order starts from the postal code, then the largest unit to the smallest unit. In addition, Tokyo is technically a prefecture (equivalent to state) due to its size. As a result, prompts that use city and state information in the US might have unintended results in Japanese. For example, asking for the weather in Tokyo generates an error prompt that asks you to be more specific, in the same way that asking for the weather in Texas would.