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Tips & Tricks: Foreign Language Cards

April 19, 2012

International artists at GCU have an advantage – they can include foreign language cards (non-English) in many categories. We do it, and try to incorporate cards in other languages with every new design if we can. But unless you’re a native speaker or studied a language in school, it can be downright impossible to get that non-English phrase right. Here are some tips that may help you.

TIP: Do not – and I mean, do not – rely on Google Translate, Babelfish, or any other on-line translation program. Such programs rely on literal translation, which is often incorrect. If in doubt, stick to basic phrases like Happy Birthday and leave well enough alone.

TIP: Don’t show up in translators’ forums or language forums and ask folks to help you with free translation services. Most of these people translate for a living and they charge for their time. Asking them to do it for free makes you look like a shmuck. And if you do it anyway, you’ll be interrogated as to why you’re asking in the first place.

TIP: If you want to do cards in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Greek, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Sanscrit and other languages that don’t use a Western-style alphabet, you won’t be able to see the characters unless you download and install an appropriate font. And don’t assume that using romanization of a phrase (that is, phonetically spelling out a word or phrase as it sounds in the Western alphabet as opposed to using Cyrillic, for example) is going to fly. Most of the time, it doesn’t. Why? Because there’s little standardized spelling when converting to a Western format.

TIP: I’ve created several .psd files in Photoshop which contain, in layers, phrase such as Happy Birthday or Happy Easter or Merry Christmas in many languages, so it’s very easy for me to create a new series of foreign language cards from my design. Just pop them out assembly-line style! 🙂

The Translation Assistance thread in the GCU Forum is a good place to start. Ask fellow artists for help and you’ll likely get an answer along with the reassurance that a native speaker is giving you good information.

You can find Happy Birthday in many languages here.

Phrases and common words in a number of languages are available here.

Need to use diacritical marks? That’s the two dots over the a, the slash above the e, the wavy line above the n, etc? Don’t have or don’t know the keyboard shortcuts? Litetype’s Virtual Keyboard makes it cut-and-paste easy. And no, you can’t just drop the marks altogether and say good enough. You may be changing the meaning of the word if you do.

Now you should have a better idea of the do’s and don’t’s involved in creating foreign language cards. Good luck!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. naquaiya permalink
    April 19, 2012 6:09 pm

    Corrie, Can you explain how to use the Litetypes Virtual Keyboard? I don’t get it.

  2. April 19, 2012 8:30 pm

    You pick the language from the list. Once the virtual keyboard is there, you locate the symbol you want – the SHIFT key will bring up different symbols as well – and click on it. The symbol will appear in the big blank box. Then just cut and paste to your document (I’ve done it in Word) or on-line (like in a blog post).


  3. naquaiya permalink
    April 19, 2012 9:05 pm

    OK, thanks, I was foolishly thinking it would translate for me too. Wow, wouldn’t that be something! Well, this is great and I appreciate it, I know I’ll be using it. have a great day!

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