Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Translating a Crochet Pattern when you're not a translator

Isn't she adorable? I love Hello Kitty and so do many fans throughout the world. I think there's a small army of folks putting out amigurumi, sweaters, granny squares and other such things into the world.

Unfortunately, sometimes they're in a language that we don't speak, read, or understand. This causes many crocheters and knitters to fall into the temper tantrum phase "Why isn't it in English? Why can't everyone write in English?" is a common refrain in online forums and stitching groups. Warning: this may get a little long but its got lots of pictures! :-)

At this point, you have two options:

1. Get a translator. Pay someone, barter with a friend, write to the designer and hope they know someone.
2. Try to translate it yourself. You don't have to do it alone! Let's try to do some together before sending you off on your own.

We're going to use a pattern called "La Petite Sirène Kitty" by Tiamat Creations. You can find the PDF at her website here.

Starting at the beginning, make sure to load up Google Translate (http://translate.google.com/). Make sure the language is set to "Detect Language". If its not, clicking it will activate it. Also make sure the end language is English.) Tiamat's patterns are a good place to start to teach you two things:

1. Google Translate doesn't directly translate PDFs.
2. Google Translate doesn't translate pictures.

Start by typing in the name of the pattern, "La Petite Sirène Kitty". We find out that this is "The Little Mermaid Kitty". Cute!

Now a lot of you have probably said "Great! What's this "fournitures" section?" and went ahead and typed it in exactly as it is on screen.

This is what came out (a portion) when I typed it into Google Translate exactly as it is (with 2 intentional errors). Many people give up at this point and figure that Google Translate just doesn't know what it's talking about. Here's the thing: you need to know a little about how to computer thinks in order to make this work. The translation software looks at the words that are typed into it. So something like a dash could make all the difference. The second is, this is NOT spell check. It's not going to tell you if there's a problem. It *might* tell you if you missed an accent, but more than likely its not going to tell you anything.

When I put a space after each dash and correct my spelling error in aiguille, it magically becomes:

Success! We now have a supply list for what we need for the project (I've not copied everything here, but you can easily type this short list into Translate. You don't even need to worry about the accents.

Wait...but what if you want to do the accents? If you know your alt key codes, go for it! If not, I generally recommend copying and pasting the letters at this website for use in Google Translate.

 So now we're at the part of the pattern that is actually the pattern. The first couple sentences translate easily.
Corps (Body)
faire une boucle, en jaune (do/use the boucle, in yellow)

Go ahead and type into Google translate what the first two lines say. What pops out in English is this:

Kudos to you if you remember what I said earlier about Google Translate reading exactly what words you type into it. That's the problem above - it can't find a word combined with numbers. So I'm going to clean that up and we get this:

Alright, this is looking better! It's starting to resemble crochet instructions. But what does "put your score" mean? And what's "aug"? And why do all the rows end with a number and "m"?

If you're an experienced crocheter, you might have guessed what the "rg 1" "rg 2" "(12 m)" and "(18 m)" mean. Sometimes experience has its benefits! Here we stumble again upon the limits of automatic translation: it doesn't do abbreviations. It has no way of figuring out what the meaning of an abbreviation is.

At this point, you have to find a way to find out what the abbreviation is. Sometimes a pattern will have a key (especially if its from a major publisher). Many independent patterns like this, however, do NOT have a key. So we have to make an assumption that the designer is using a standard language that they know everyone French knows already. We can use this assumption to our advantage and use one of the many published term glossaries that are out there. My favorite is from Garnstudio because I can play with many different ways of listing the translated terms. For example, here's the English to French dictionary. But this is only from UK English to French. If I want to get US English to French, I need to do a little work.


See the en and fr in the link above? If I change en to us I get US English to French. But that's kind of annoying, because I need a French term to go to English. If I tweak the link one more time, I can get a list of French terms in alphabetical order translated into US English:


Isn't that cool? It's very useful for doing patterns in many languages. It will work for any language they offer, including:

So we can scroll down the list and find "aug" means "augmenter" which is "increase" in English. You can then run through the list and fill in the other terms in the Google Translate box. To save us time I'm going to go ahead and write out the lines:

This then gets you, in English:

As you can see now, we've got a perfectly readable pattern, albeit with some stylistic differences from how we normally see it. BUT there's a trick here! In both line 1 and line 3 we have the abbreviation "MS" which means "maille serree". Yet in one line, it is SC and in the other line it is DC. Here's where we find the last fault of Google Translate: it is not going to tell you what's correct, it will only tell you what the most people do. In the US, we would use SC, and in the UK, they would use DC ... FOR THE SAME STITCH. So Google Translate tries to be helpful and tell you both ways that you can translate it.

A savvy stitcher needs to be watchful for these types of "friendly" errors! In this case, Tiamat graciously provides a chart so we can double check and see that with the X symbol on the chart for single crochet, she means do single crochets throughout the pattern.

If you use Google translate to do the rest of the pattern, you can both change this option AND help your fellow stitchers.

If you click on the words, you can see alternate translations for the term that you're selecting. You can then make the correction. If you're like me and a stickler for wording, you can then clean up the English by clicking the "wrong" button and submitting the cleaned up version to the Google Translate database. When you do this, your translation will turn blue, like this:

Now you can continue translating the rest of the pattern. After awhile, you'll get used to what the repeated abbreviations mean and be able to write it out without translating first.

Eventually, you're going to come upon terms that don't translate at all, or terms that aren't in the DROPS dictionary, or a phrase that you don't understand. At that point, you have some options:

1. Try a different term dictionary. Not every dictionary is perfectly, 100% complete. There are always local variations, too, like between Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese, or Caribbean French and Canadian French and regular French, etc. Try the String or Nothing dictionary, its quite useful.  Or the Proz site.

2. Try a different online translator. Babelfish translates differently than Google Translate so I use it often to double check troublesome phrases. Sometimes Babelfish can make sense of it due to the way its programmed versus the Google Translate programming.

3. Go for help! The folks at "Excuse Me?" on Ravelry can help with troublesome phrases (just don't ask for the whole pattern to be translated without permission - we're not going to violate anyone's copyright!), networking native speakers with the people who need translation help. Try your Facebook friends. Or sites like Yahoo Answers can network you with people who can help you translate those troublesome phrases.

At this point, you should be ready to crochet. My last piece of advice to you is to have patience! Trying something like this for the first time (and for the tenth time, and the hundredth time...) can reduce your usual stitching confidence level. Errors might happen, typos happen, and design changes can happen along the way as you get used to how the pattern is written and how you liked to stitch. Hopefully you end up with a beautiful mermaid Kitty just like this one by Fredsy.
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