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Text in Other Languages

Whenever there is text in another language it’s very important to properly identify the language of the text. This ensures that screen readers, braille displays, and other assistive technologies can render the content accurately and read the content according to the pronunciation rules for that language. When no other language has been specified for a phrase or passage of text, its human language is the default human language of the book.

In some cases, though, it's not desirable to markup the change in language as it actually negatively affects accessibility.

When there are frequent switches in languages in a book, the text-to-speech voice will also change, and this can be a bit jolting if it occurs frequently and depending on how different the voices are. For example, the reader might have “Apple Alex” set as the default English voice and “Apple Amelie” for the French voice. So, if it’s not necessary to mark up the language, then it’s often best to leave it. Just something to keep in the back of one’s mind.

Do not mark up the language in these cases:

  1. Proper names
    1. Examples: Bellevue, Pierre
  2. Technical and Scientific terms
    1. Examples: Homo sapiens, Alpha Centauri, hertz, and habeas corpus
    2. Most professions require frequent use of technical terms which may originate from a foreign language. Such terms are usually not translated to all languages. The universal nature of technical terms also facilitate communication between professionals.
  3. Words or phrases that have become part of the language
    1. Examples:
      1. "Rendezvous" is a French word that has been adopted in English, appears in English dictionaries, and is properly pronounced by English screen readers.
      2. "Podcast" used in a French sentence. Because "podcast" is part of the vernacular of the immediately surrounding text in the following excerpt, "À l'occasion de l'exposition "Energie éternelle. 1500 ans d'art indien", le Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles a lancé son premier podcast. Vous pouvez télécharger ce podcast au format M4A et MP3," no indication of language change is required.
    2. Frequently, when the human language of text appears to be changing for a single word, that word has become part of the language of the surrounding text. Because this is so common in some languages, single words should be considered part of the language of the surrounding text unless it is clear that a change in language was intended. If there is doubt whether a change in language is intended, consider whether the word would be pronounced the same (except for accent or intonation) in the language of the immediately surrounding text.
  4. Words of indeterminate language
    1. In the rare case where, for one reason or another, we cannot determine what the appropriate language information is, then we just leave it as is (do not mark it up). This might be a situation where we're not sure if the text is non-linguistic. We haven't come across this situation in an ebook yet!

For more info please refer to the WCAG page on languages through this link.

The important thing to keep in mind is why the guidelines exist. This guideline is for non-visual readers who use audio (text-to-speech) to access the text. I sometimes find it helpful to ask, “would this negatively affect reading comprehension if it were voiced in English or in French?”. You can easily test this out by activating the TTS on your Windows (Narrator) or Mac (VoiceOver)

Links for Windows Narrator:

Links for Mac VoiceOver:

How to Work with Languages in Word

The following is a list of the different ways to mark up and approach languages in your workflow.

If something is not clear, look at the Q&A Archive below. If you are still can not find an answer, ask on the Production Q&A. There is never a bad question!

Q&A Archive

Q: This question is about how we treat Indigenous languages. I have a book where there are just a few single words in an Indigenous language. They aren't phrases so I haven't marked them as per the new procedure. My question is, do I still include a Prod Note at the beginning identifying the language and explaining how they won't be pronounced correctly?

A: Yes. For Indigenous languages always include the producers note, and do your best to identify the language as precisely as you can.

Q: Question regarding The Hanging of Angelique. THe text refers to Fala de Guine, a creole language that is a fusion of Portuguese and African languages. One paragraph of the text utilizes some specific terms from that language to describe Afro-Portuguese culture such as "mangana", "ye ye" and "zarambeque". I'm unsure of the proper language formatting for these terms… should I leave without language formatting or maybe utilize Portuguese?

A: A note about less common languages: If Word does not have a language in its options for applying languages then we can not apply it. Never apply a similar language as that would be incorrect.

It is good to always check the wiki Language page, and check with me about languages as they can be very tricky sometimes (for example we don't have span tags for most Indigenous languages at this time, but Inuktitut has a set of unicode for its symbolics.)

If you find there are a lot of these words, or longer phrases let me know and we can put in a Producer's Note similar to the one we do for Indigenous languages.

Never hesitate to ask!

Q: In Svaha, there are some Mandarin phrases that are spelled out phonetically with the English alphabet. I've been trying to mark them as Strong and to set the language as Chinese but Word won't let me. (I click "okay" after choosing Chinese as the language and the pop up box closes but then the language is still marked as English). Since they're spelled out phonetically, I'm wondering if they even need to be marked? And if they do, do you have any suggestions as to why Word won't let me?

An example of the type of phrase I'm talking about is: "Wo hen hsiang chien t'a."

Edited to add: Sure, I uploaded it to Cyberduck. I just want to add that I later came across a lot of similarly spelled out Japanese phrases and was also unable to mark them as Japanese.

A: It seems to be an issue with Word since the words are written with english characters. Apply bold style to them, and I will add the language tags manually during conversion. Remember to leave a note for me about the languages in a comment when you pass back the ticket in RT

Q: I was wondering if you could make me a video showing how to add Language mark-ups? I noticed that there is one section of the My Heart is Not Blind book that says a word in Hawaiian, and another that uses the word “nonna”. I looked on the wiki and found these instructions:

Marking up Languages To mark up secondary language:

Select the text
Go to Tools > Language
This will open a pop up menu
Select the appropriate language
Apply Strong style to the word or phrase

When passing the ticket to the Production Coordinator, please make note of what languages you used.

So I tried this, however I don’t think I am doing it right. It’s telling me to download the Italian package for Word, for example, when I select the appropriate language. I think I may be in the wrong section…?

A: It sounds like you need to download the language package to your Word in order to use that language tag. Windows makes you take a few extra steps to add languages you haven't used before. I found this website that breaks down how to apply, add, and use editing languages in Windows. Here is the link: Note: The video at the top automatically stops to give you time to do the task, just hit play again to have it start up again.

Remember, we do not markup single words that are naturalized into English. Nonna is a word that is also pronounced the same in English, so no markup. The Hawaiian should be marked up, but there is no mark up for Hawaiian in Word …. which is just …so wrong… Mark the word as strong so I can find it and see if I can add a tag in the code. This will not be read by screenreaders though, so you can also add a producer's note stating that the book has words in Hawaiian that will not be pronounced correctly by assistive technology.

Q: I am currently working on "" which is a French language play. I understand that for play you are to apply strong style to characters name and place the lines and stage directions in normal style. One of the characters speaks English though, so there are whole sections of the play and a large number of lines in the play that are written in english that may be jarring from the constant back and forth. I am wondering if I still apply strong style and language markups to each of these sections and lines?

A: Always mark up languages with Strong Style. This is done so I can locate the markup easily and check it. I then remove the strong style for language before conversion. This is noted in the wiki section for languages in the note at the end of the documentation for how to mark up languages. I have revised this note to be more clear. If there are large sections of English then they have to be marked up, as per the language rules. It is with single words and small phrases where we have to be more cautious, as this can be jarring. In a multi-lingual play, it is not surprising to have different languages, and it is more cumbersome to the listener to hear entire phrases mispronounced.

Q: I'm working on the play "1 Hour Photo." It contains a few Japanese characters but in the conversion, the characters were changed to Roman alphabet letters instead. The English translation is given for the symbols so I'm wondering if I should just erase the Roman alphabet letters. Or would it be better to insert the proper ideogram back in? If so, how do I do that?

[Here is an example: Tetsuro raises both hands to illustrate the ideogram for "mountain," Ill.]

Another option I thought of was to copy the image of the ideogram from the PDF file and paste it into the Word file. Then, add alt-text to it. What do you think?

A: You should insert the proper ideogram back in. You can do this using unicode. Here are the instructions on how to set that up–but remember, some languages are too complex for this technique. If you feel confident you can insert the correct ideogram, the do so. Remember, we never have text as images, even if it is in another alphabet.

Q: That's the thing, I don't know how to find the correct Japanese ideogram in Unicode. I don't even know which Japanese alphabet to search in - apparently there are several. I don't feel at all confident that I can identify the correct symbol. I know how to insert symbols with Unicode - the missing part is how to identify the specific code for the correct Japanese symbol. I think it would be one of the CJK Unified Ideographs but I don't know which one and I can't just search "mountain" to find the correct one. The instructions you point to on the wiki don't explain that part. To me, this falls under "Some languages cannot be transcribed due to the complexity of that language" which is why I was wondering if I should find a work-around to still include the symbols for people who do understand Japanese. Or, just leaving the symbols out since the English translation as well as the English pronunciation of the Japanese word are both included.

A: In this case, since it is an issue of conversion and you are not confident in finding to correct ideogram, then simply put a producer's not at the beginning of the book explaining that the original Japanese ideograms did not convert to this version of the text, but the translation and punctuation are present–or something better written than that to explain the issue.

Q: I am editing an illustrated children's book that has a sentence where I think I need to indicate a foreign language. It is just a single word but it is clear that a change in language is intended (Page 3 of The Gathering by Theresa Meuse). I tried to follow the instructions for creating a new style but the Mi'kmaw language is not one of the language options. What should I do?

A: Unfortunately, there are currently no language tags for that language. What you can do is put a Producer's Note in the book with something like "This book includes words and phrases in Mi'kmaw language. Text-to-speech software will not be able to pronounce these words and phrases correctly."

Q: I have a book that uses Innuinaktun words, but it also has two images. One is an image of a table with the word symbols beside the sound (no english translation), and the other is a full pieces of text in Innuinaktun. How should I address these images in the Alt-Text? And should I also include a producers note about the Innuinaktun words?

A: Looks like this is the Inuktitut language, according to the publication information. Inuktitut can be represented by Unicode Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics. We will need to translate the images into Unicode. If you're using Mac, enable your "Unicode Hex Input" keyboard (see Language section in wiki for instructions). To type each symbol/letter into Word, hold down the alt key and type the 4-digit number, i.e. 1400.

Q: alfabet / alphabet features several words in Friesian, which is not included in the list of languages available in Microsoft Word. Should I format these as I would Indigenous words and leave a comment accordingly?

A: Great question! Yes, you can treat it similarly to Indigenous languages on Turtle Island.

Q: I'm working on Pilleurs de rêves, a French language book. It has a couple repeated references to Indigenous languages. One is the name of the people: anishinaabeg. Another is a single word said multiple times: nishin. I'll keep my eye out for more. In the meantime, I'm happy to add the strong style to these words, but I'm wondering if it would be possible to get a French translation of the producer's note for Indigenous languages on the Languages Wiki page.

A: Yes, you need to always bold all Indigenous words. I will get that translation and let you know when the wiki has been updated.

Q: Another A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure question: I know that we don't mark up words that have been incorporated into English, but I've noticed in this text that the author does not use the anglicized "pho," but instead writes it as "phở." Should I still leave this alone?

A: You can treat it the same way as the other Vietnamese words as below.

Q: I'm working on A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure, which works in words in Vietnamese, and I noticed that Vietnamese isn't one of the default language packs. I found the guide in the Wiki for adding languages in Windows – is there a similar go-to tutorial for Mac users?

A: It seems like you can not add Vietnamese to Word on Mac. I submitted a new question to the community message board, and will let you know if I hear anything. For now, just bold all the words, add a note to RT when you pass it to me that there are Vietnamese words in the document, and I will manually put in the span tags when I convert it to EPUB3.

Q: Working on Late to the House of Words by Sharon Dolin. Because it is a Spanish-English parallel text, is it correct that I apply language on each Spanish part entirely?

A: Yes, you want to apply Spanish to the full phrases. Remember in the future to include an example in your question.

Q: Another question about Late to the House of Words by Sharon Dolin. There are some italicised words on both the Spanish and English text. Strong style is already applied to the Spanish pieces. Is clearing the format of the particular words and applying emphasis style the correct treatment to the italicised words in Spanish? E.g. Under [No conec cap espai], No conec cap espai que respongui al nom de casa.

A: Yes, we follow the same rules for emphasis for other languages.

WCAG 2.0 - H58:Using language attributes to identify changes in the human language

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public/nnels/etext/language.txt · Last modified: 2022/11/24 10:27 by rachel.osolen