Hasmin: Welcome and thank you for listening to ROAR: Speedbumps. I’m Hasmin!
Simona: And I’m Simona.
Hasmin: And we are currently graduate students at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey studying translation and localization management.
Simona: If you are unfamiliar with ROAR: SpeedBumps, we are a student led podcast designed to address “speedbumps” or challenges that exist in the localization industry. We speak with industry students, professionals, and educators to learn about these speedbumps and discuss possible solutions.
Hasmin: Today we have with us David Mohr. David is an International Quality Engineer working on Photoshop and related products for Adobe. Welcome, David!
David: Hello! How you guys doing?
Simona: We’re doing great! Thank you so much for being here.
David: Thank you for having me.
Simona: We would like to start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself.
David: So, uh, let’s see. I’ve worked for Adobe for 23 years. I’m the only International Quality Engineer left in North America. I support, officially support all 26 languages that we do. I generally leave the Far Eastern languages to people who understand them better, but I support all of Europe, all the Middle East, and all of Indic. So, um, the languages in and around India. My specialty is text, so I work on the type engine. Which means character sets, it means complex scripts, all that stuff that goes into rendering a language in written form.
Hasmin: That’s very impressive. That’s a lot.
David: It sounds better than it is.
Hasmin: (laughs) Well thank you for sharing. We would like to ask you about speedbumps or challenges that you’ve seen in the localization industry, so any speedbumps that you’ve witnessed?
David: Oh, there’s a ton of them. There’s a ton. So, I will just talk about how I got to where I am. My career grew very organically. I was the French tester for Photoshop. I’m sorry, I wasn’t even Photoshop in those days. I wasn’t even good enough to be on the Photoshop team. I was on the PhotoDeluxe team, working on the French translations of that product. PhotoDeluxe, for those of you who don’t know what it is, nobody probably does, it’s a version of Photoshop aimed at your technologically illiterate grandparents. That’s just a way of thinking of it. “Press this button. Put the picture here. Clip this. Put your grandson’s name there.”
Hasmin and Simona: (laughter)
David: It’s very very like: “let me hold your hand, you don’t know what you’re doing.” As a result, it’s very text intensive because you’re explaining to people what you’re doing, so I had tons of work to do. Fast forward about 6 months in the job, I’m feeling very comfortable, I go to my boss, “Hey boss, I’m thinking about learning another language because I’m bored. Um, I was thinking about learning Italian? Maybe German? What do you think?”
She was like “OH MY GOD, I hate our German tester. He’s terrible! Go learn German!”
“What?” It turned out our tester, he had been fired the week before. So, we were depending on vendors. I didn’t know this. I’m like, “Well you know, I speak some German”
She was like, “Oh really? You’re in charge of German, now.”
“We can get somebody else to do French. You do German. You’re good.” So, I wound up taking a year of German, and I slowly eased in from doing functional testing to actually doing linguistic testing during the second year, and I’m like: “Hey, that’s translated wrong. Ah! The term for Hard Drive isn’t the same here as it is in this document, this isn’t consistent. So I acted a little bit more like an editor, and then I kept going on, getting a degree in German to prove I had the credentials. Whatever. And I picked up a couple of languages. I learned a little Italian. Sorry, Simona, not enough to, to uh sound good! It’s enough that when I’m in Italy, though, I can ask for directions and I can understand what people tell me. It takes me a couple days to speed up and get there, but I can get through it.
Um, so that project went really well. I was also put in charge of all the European, Western European languages. My boss comes to me one day and says, “Hey, we’re expanding into [at the time, what we called] Eastern Europe,” what we now call Central Europe, and she said, “Uh, we’re adding 7 languages.”
And I said, “Oh, that’s nice.”
“You’re in charge.”
“What? You’ve now scared me.” Uh, so I said.. Um, for Western languages I slowly learned them. I lived in Belgium, so I know some Dutch. Um, I know Spanish. I married an Argentinian, I know Spanish. You know, western languages are okay. I’m suddenly confronted with Eastern European languages. So I said, “Um, I’m taking the hardest one on company dime.” I took a year of Russian, which really helped me understand what Russian users are going to want from the product
David: And I realized doing this I wasn’t so much learning the language, because I’m not translating, but I’m learning expectations. Culture. Um, if you’ve taken my design class, the things that every 5-year-old knows, that if you don’t know, people go: “Oh foreign product! Get away from me! You don’t, you’re not addressing my needs.” So that’s what I was trying to do was get my hands around what a 5-year-old in that culture wants.
Two years later, they said, “Hey! We’re going to go in the Middle East.”
I said, “Are you serious? I kind of want to learn something more interesting.”
My boss is like, “No, David, you’re going to learn… Well, I want to put you in charge of it. You’re the guy, so, um, you want to learn Arabic or Hebrew?”
“Hmm, which one’s harder? Arabic. Okay, let me do Arabic.” And so I spent 2 years learning Arabic. Um, my Arabic is terrible (laughs). Ask anybody, I have great stories (laughs). Sometime, I… Get me a beer and I’ll tell you about, about the subway in Cairo on the week they were going to execute their president. So I, I just forgot the word train station. Anyway, um, but yeah, so I keep learning languages to get cultural understanding so I can, I can serve the role on the team of being “Hey, nobody on the team is thinking about design, the cultural aspect of design for those countries. If you’re designing in the Middle East, you put all your important stuff on the right because they read right-to-left, so they look in the upper right first. People who speak Western languages don’t have to think that way.
Or let’s say you’re doing, you’re doing a Japanese product or a Chinese product. Supporting double byte, you know, having a lot of condensed information in just a few symbols is important and something you don’t necessarily have. The great example is Korean. Korean stacks vertical. So Korean increases the complexity of their words, you need to have more rise between one line and the next. Those aren’t things you think about in Western languages.
So that’s a great segue into SpeedBumps. So, my whole career was me encountering speedbumps and building myself up to get over them. I started as the French guy, became the German guy, became the European guy because what I would do is I would log a bug in German, and I would kind of help babysit the guy testing French or testing Italian, and I would say, “Oh, hey! That bug is in French too,” or Italian, or whatever.
David: And so I learned how to identify internationalization bugs that way. And then typically localization bugs are based on bad translations. Oftentimes the romance languages will have the same bad translations. So I, so like, “Oh hey! This was bad in French, let me go check Italian and Spanish to be certain.” You know, my Italian’s not great, but I can usually tell if it’s wrong, right? And I, and part of it is something as simple as I’ll have benders (and this has happened a couple of times), they’ll give me files and say: “Oh hey, uh, this is Bulgarian.”
“Oh cool, this is Bulgarian, uh Bulgarian test files.”
“Yeah, no, this is not Bulgarian.”
“How do you know, David? You don’t read Bulgarian.”
“Yeah, because I can read this, and this is Spanish.”
Simona: That is excellent! I mean, we all know that you’re a talented person, and now all the future listeners will know that too. My question to you is have there been any speedbumps that you haven’t been able to overcome?
David: Oh, yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. So, there are some speedbumps that… Cultural ones are actually the worst ones. I’m going to talk about the Middle East. So, I wrote my thesis on the Arabization and Hebrew-ization of Photoshop. So what we did is we went in and we said “we’re gonna bring Photoshop to this marketplace. We made some decisions, and then we realized as we learned: oh! Those are really bad decisions. We should change them.” And some of the decisions that we made are conventional wisdom: translate the product. Of course you translate the product. Hey, some languages, their language has a religious aspect to it, and so adding words is a no-no. So they don’t wanna translate. And also there’s kind uh, uh, a thought. I think there’s 92% of Arab speakers on the survey said, “No, don’t add words. Don’t make up words. We’ll just use it in another language that has more technical gravitas than our language. Our language is cultural, social, religious. Your language is technical, modern.” And these are divisions we don’t feel maybe as an English speaker, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not super relevant to our customers.
So that’s a kind of speedbump. There are also speedbumps like, so I know you know Arabic. But in Arabic, you have accent marks, and they change the sound of a letter from “ḥ” (back ‘h’ sound like breathing on glass) to “juh” or to “ʕ” (pharyngeal stop, like an ‘h’ sound catching in the throat). You know, that’s one dot, the existence or removing of one dot, right? Those are seen as part of a letter. No argument. You also have vowel markers, though, which are like “ah, oo, ee, um, oon” things like that. Those are not normally written. They’re only written for children and in religious texts. And thanks to the Western models of typography, of modern typography that are computer based, well all text should be in the same color, right? Because there’re no reason to have multicolored text in English or French or Italian. We don’t do that stuff. Vowel marks have been written in red when they’re handwritten in Arabic, in the Quran. Because you need to see how to pronounce that right to understand: is this a first-person passive voice or a third-person active voice? Cuz you only write, otherwise you only write the consonants. So wait, “Thou shalt not be” or “He shalt..” wait, wait, what’s this commandment? I, you gotta nail down the commandments really well, and so it’s really important to an Arab speaker to have these nailed down. Also for a child, and I consider myself a child when speaking Arabic. It’s a beautiful language, but it takes a lot of knowledge that I don’t have because I don’t encounter it every day. Those vowels help me know how to pronounce something.
So, so to know… For instance, If I’m talking to you ladies, I say ‘inti’ instead of ‘inta’ because I have to. You can’t hide gender in Arabic. There’s no way (laughs). Gay man here talking. I’m very familiar with trying to hide my, hide who I’m talking about and what I’m talking about to other people. Because before I came out it was a thing. In Arabic you just can’t do it. You cannot hide somebody’s gender. It’s built into the language. So it’s stuff like that. And that, and those ‘inti,’ those gender markers would be written in the other color because you normally don’t care about them. It’s just children like me who care about them, but they’re really important, and you find in all sorts of texts that those are, are written in another color.
Now I’m going off on this tangent, and you’re like what am I talking about? Well, when I try to get that feature put in the product, I was told, well, you don’t do it. You wouldn’t put two red dots over an ‘e’ and call it German, um uh, black text German and put two red dots for the accents. That’s wrong. Or a red accent mark in French is wrong, so it’s got to be wrong in German. “No it’s not wrong!” Sorry, it’s got to be wrong in Arabic. “No, it’s not wrong in Arabic! That’s what they want. They have a thousand years of wanting this.” They don’t have our conventions.
Another convention that is, unfortunately, fallen by the wayside, which we were able to resurrect, was Kushidas. Kushidas an Urkish term for the, for automatic insertion of the Arabic consonant………. Which is basically spacing between characters. We use white space between our words, they use black space between their letters to kind of stretch out the lines. It’s really interesting, the representation of human forms is forbidden for most conservative Muslims, so typography, you think Japanese calligraphers are OCD? Arab’s got them beat. My professor was one of the pre-eminent um, um calligraphers in North America (…name of professor?). He’s now heading an internationalization company back in Abu Dhabi, I think. He was in charge of Google in Abu Dhabi for a while. He’s a master of two forms, or maybe three forms, and there’s like six or seven forms, right? Nobody masters them all. Calligraphy is such a huge thing, and it has hundreds of years of rules on it, right? You try bringing this to a bunch of software engineers who are thinking “Dude, I’m smart, I know computers” That’s the cultural sell that’s really hard because you’re arguing with them from their own point of success. And so, getting them to agree to cultural things that they think are weird or wrong is hard. In Arabic as a for-instance, you have this idea of geometry for a line, so you want space on a line to be even, both horizontally and vertically. In English, in all other We- typographies, re-flowing a line vertically is a wrong thing to do. Never do that. And I got so much flack from that developer. To this day I still get flack from one of the developers on it. And I’m like, “No, but this is what Arabs want. Because this is their language. It’s not your language, it’s their language.”
And so, it’s that kind of like… being a cultural ambassador are the biggest speedbumps. People want to respect other peoples’ languages, but they don’t often see that culture is part of language, and they definitely don’t always respect that.
Simona: And you would think that culture is a given, right?
David: Well actually, I think, I think where we live is kinda, kinda makes it hard. We live in a very liberal place, where everybody accepts everyone to be different, but as part of that acceptance we forget, well but they are different, and they look at the problem differently. And so we really need to respect their differences.
Hasmin: Yeah, it’s interesting. It seems like