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Dating a Translator – How to Format Your Dates for Translation

When writing your English content, one of the many things to keep in mind is how to write days/dates. This can be especially important in documents such as press releases, memos, blog posts, and newsletters. Knowing the date that a document is referring to is very important, especially when translating into a different language.

Writing and translating the day/date can be very different, depending on your native language, and where you are in the world. For example, the American style of writing the date (dd/mm/yyyy) is different from how dates are written in Europe (mm/dd/yyyy). If possible, it is best to not use either of the above example formats when writing the date. This completely numeric format can lead to a lot of confusion, especially when mixing both styles. For example, should a translation into German follow the source English format, or localize the date for their audience in Europe?

When writing the date in your source document, the simplest way is the best way, especially when content is being translated. Our suggestion would be to write the date as shown below:

January 31, 2019

Now, you may be wondering, is the above the same as writing “January 31st, 2019”. The short answer is no, and the reason is because of how a Translation Management System (TMS) will read the text and formatting. What may appear as a subtle difference (the “st” in superscript) is actually treated very differently in a TMS. See the screenshot below:

date formatting TMS day month year

The example above is how the text is displayed in a TMS, and as you can see, they are not exactly the same. While they are similar, please note the two grey “T1” tags. Those tags affect the Translation Memory (TM), and how the translator will translate the content.

For example, in many Asian languages, superscript text is not used in reference to dates. So, that would throw a wrench into the TM. As part of our quality assurance process, all tags must be maintained in the translation. So, if a language does not use the same formatting as the source in terms of tags, the segment in the TM will have to employ a workaround. For this one, the translator for an Asian language would likely have the tags not surround any text, and thus superscript nothing. As a best practice for translation memory maintenance, we recommend not using workarounds which could adversely impact translation memory reuse which would decrease consistency and increase translation costs for our clients.

Our suggestion when writing dates, or any numbers, is to try to keep things as simple as possible. A recent example that is similar to everything mentioned above is that one of our clients was celebrating a 200th anniversary. In their text for translation, the segment 200th appeared. The preference for translators would be something along the lines of “the 200-year anniversary” which avoids the superscript tags.

The end-goal of keeping dates and numbers simple is to avoid any grey area with translators. The preference is to have something cut and dry with no room for misunderstanding. If there is a grey area, it can yield questions to the client, which can slow down a project. It can also possibly lead to the translators taking some liberty (making it what they see fit). This usually isn’t a problem but is an important consideration in a multilingual project. As a project manager, it is our responsibility to make sure all languages take the same approach, so the translations are consistent for the client.

If you would like to learn more about translation best practices, download our e-book “Top 10 Things to Consider with Translation Projects” below.

The e-book will help you:

  • Evaluate quotes from translation service providers
  • Determine localization needs
  • Set up UI projects
  • Identify regional considerations
  • Obtain internal approvals and reviews
  • Ensure proper translation memory
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