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Old July 22nd, 2009, 06:40 AM   #1
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open letter re: Zoom H4n user manual

dear Zoom,

congratulations on the Zoom H4n having most unintelligible English translation of a user manual EVER.

since native-speakers of English who can translate into English with clarity cost at least $25/hour, and it might require 100 hours to translate the H4n manual into English, i can understand why Zoom did not want to spend $2500 (one-time only) to produce a manual that can actually be understood by the 2 billion people worldwide who are literate in English.

yours,

gaetano catelli

http://gaetanocatelli/com
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Old July 22nd, 2009, 11:30 AM   #2
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I love the Chinese to English translations done with the aid of a dictionary...I bought a 1500 pound floor lathe which came with the adminition "is not putting in the sunshine place" which I assume translates as "stick this lathe where the sun don't shine..." which might pose a problem..../ Battle Vaughan /miamiherald.com video team
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Old July 22nd, 2009, 11:45 AM   #3
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Great post, everyone who uses this recorder should sign on and then let Zoom know about it. Great recorder, horrid manual. John.
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Old July 22nd, 2009, 12:34 PM   #4
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I have to say , this is a source of real irritation to me. Unfortunately, some cultures have complete contempt for languages other than their own. Aside from their own biases, there seems to be real ignorance of why a good manual is even needed. Counterpart to this is an ingrained "cheapness" that is hard to understand.

I think your approach of high profile communications that are intended to embarrass is a good way to get the message across. If they cared, they would have already done something about it. If professional pride in their own product doesn't motivate them, maybe a few good "doses" of embarrassment will.

I wish more publication editors would pay more attention to this. Documentation is very much a part of a product. I believe the quality of the documentation should be included in product reviews - not just a casual aside, but a major "in your face" appraisal.

Last edited by Jim Snow; July 22nd, 2009 at 04:52 PM.
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Old July 22nd, 2009, 04:40 PM   #5
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Well, I didn't get a floor lathe, but I did just buy a 2700 pound Austrian made table saw/planer etc combination tool made by what would probably be considered at least the Mercedes of industrial grade woodworking tools.

Nevertheless, the half inch thick pile of paper is a total waste - half the text seems to admonish one to only use "authorized proceedures" - probably authorized by the Austrian woodworking police. The dozens of photos are unintelligible, and the English is often incomprehensible - - and translation from German to English I think is a breeze compared to Japanese (which I do speak) or Chinese

I think the fundamental issue is that other cultures have different expectations of what the manual is supposed to do and different ideas about good exposition. Then overlay this with failure to hire a native speaker of the target language to at least read through the thing once and find the most ridiculous problems and the result is - what it is.

By the way, we often do have to have technical Japanese translated into English and a few hundred dollars per page is quite a reasonable price to pay for this kind of work

At this price, the English is good, because the company we use has technically aware native speakers for their usual target languages working as editors in Tokyo. Considering the number of target languages involved in a worldwide product release, spending the better part of a million dollars on translations of a substantial manual is not unreasonable.

Interestingly enough, it isn't uncommon for companies to have their overseas marketing units pay for the translation into their local language. The parent company would usually pay for translation into English and make this available to their overseas units as the base for their local translations.

So if the Zoom English manual is bad - what must the Greek translation be like?

Have to say though that most of the manuals for JVC, Sony, Panasonic etc tend to be quite reasonable.
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Old August 14th, 2009, 02:43 AM   #6
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I've just ordered the H4n but did have a peek at the pdf of the manual. It didn't look that bad (as in, no worse than many others I've seen) but perhaps someone might do something similar to that guy who wrote a "United Breaks Guitars" song and put it on YouTube after they smashed his guitar.

So... I'm sure it would be possible to do a musical version of the Zoom H4n manual in some witty way, perhaps adding sound effects at appropriate points?

Hell, I may even do it myself once I get my beastie in the post

Mark
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Old August 14th, 2009, 03:41 AM   #7
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Maybe give them credit for trying.


They might not be so well off to be able to afford to bring in an expatriate translator, assuming the government will let them do so.

A lot of H4n's would have to be sold before the breakeven point on the cost is reached. The translator has to know a bit about the product and not all translators or English language teachers are engineers, probably few of them in fact.

Instead perhaps be a little proactive and feed some information back to the company, re-write parts of the manual you discover deficient or add helpful information on usage where you have discovered things.

Okay, they might be hard nosed business people and their in-house English language specialist might get a bit put out and lose face and nothing happens. That then becomes their problem.

Last edited by Bob Hart; August 14th, 2009 at 03:42 AM. Reason: bad englkish
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Old August 14th, 2009, 07:57 AM   #8
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your post makes no sense

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Hart View Post
Maybe give them credit for trying.
but they obviously *didn't* try to hire a native speaker of English. believe me, translators are *cheap* -- especially in this economy.

Quote:
They might not be so well off to be able to afford to bring in an expatriate translator, assuming the government will let them do so.
there's something called the internet (before that, there was something called mail). there's no need for an expatriate anything.

Quote:
A lot of H4n's would have to be sold before the breakeven point on the cost is reached.
wait ... if this corporation doesn't have the resources to do a proper translation, then how do i have the resources to do it for them?

Quote:
The translator has to know a bit about the product and not all translators or English language teachers are engineers, probably few of them in fact.

Instead perhaps be a little proactive and feed some information back to the company, re-write parts of the manual you discover deficient or add helpful information on usage where you have discovered things.
wait again ... if it takes someone who already knows the product to write the manual, then how can i write it until there's a manual that i can understand?

maybe i should just design the next version (H5?) for them with my own money in my spare time. then i could write the manual for them, since i would know the design. then i could learn other languages and do those translations for them too.

you apparently have personal reasons for making excuses for them. i don't think there's any excuse for this.
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Old August 14th, 2009, 10:24 AM   #9
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Gaetano.


Makes no sense? Maybe true, maybe not? Were my comments made in earnest or made in jest or a little bit of either?

Up to a point, I do support the contention that the manufacturer of this product disrespects the product and the work that went into developing it when the product support package is scrimped upon and falls far short.

Does the management of the company know if their English language manual is deficient. If their in-house english speaker receives and translates any complaint letters, the management may not get to know, at least for a while.

There have been a few times I have bothered to email support@ or sales@ email addresses to advise where something in promotional material is not quite right on a website. A bit of goodwill doesn't hurt.


QUOTE.

"you apparently have personal reasons for making excuses for them."


END OF QUOTE.

Frankly, I found that to be a rather disappointing turn of phrase. My interpretation is that it implies I have something to gain dishonestly by intervening. Maybe I read it wrong.

I have no connection with the manufacturer, nor vendors of the Zoom H4n product. I neither condemn it nor endorse it and am unlikely to be in the market for it anytime soon if at all. I am quite happy with fieldmixer audio direct-to-camera or to a 1993 vintage DAT recorder.

I do empathise with your feelings on the matter. I have been known to stamp my foot and go off publicly when something does not work as it should, so I am the last who should be criticizing the "open letter" method of making opinions known.
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Old August 14th, 2009, 10:34 AM   #10
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clarification

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Hart View Post
Gaetano.


Makes no sense? Maybe true, maybe not? Were my comments made in earnest or made in jest or a little bit of either?

Up to a point, I do support the contention that the manufacturer of this product disrespects the product and the work that went into developing it when the product support package is scrimped upon and falls far short.

Does the management of the company know if their English language manual is deficient. If their in-house english speaker receives and translates any complaint letters, the management may not get to know, at least for a while.

There have been a few times I have bothered to email support@ or sales@ email addresses to advise where something in promotional material is not quite right on a website. A bit of goodwill doesn't hurt.
well said. i would add that a bit of pushback also sometimes helps. i did send Zoom customer support a link to this thread, and received a reply that it would be passed up the line.

Quote:
QUOTE.

"you apparently have personal reasons for making excuses for them."


END OF QUOTE.

Frankly, I found that to be a rather disappointing turn of phrase. My interpretation is that it implies I have something to gain dishonestly by intervening. Maybe I read it wrong.

I have no connection with the manufacturer, nor vendors of the Zoom H4n product. I neither condemn it nor endorse it and am unlikely to be in the market for it anytime soon if at all. I am quite happy with fieldmixer audio direct-to-camera or to a 1993 vintage DAT recorder.
i wrote "personal", not "commerical". i'm sorry if i was excessively blunt. but your comments seemed quite sincere, rather than "made in jest".
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Old August 14th, 2009, 11:25 AM   #11
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I downloaded both the English and Japanese manuals and took a look. The manuals are identical except for the text, ie all the graphics are the same on each page.

I have to say that I didn't find the Japanese to English to be particularly poor - everything I looked at seemed to say exactly the same thing and I thought the translations were pretty good - not many strange English constructions at all. Word order differed as I would certainly expect, but overall I'd give them pretty high marks for the translation itself.

The comment I would make is that the overall organization and information layout/presentation did seem to be more in line with what I would expect in a Japanese manual, ie a lot of information on each page with not much of an organized flow - just a lot of information scattered about sort of randomly on the page. I've had to read Japanese software manuals and this certainly seems to have a family resemblance.

Also, looking at newspaper ads the Japanese idea seems to be similar - ie just splatter the info around until the page is full, whereas the US English approach seems to organize things to provide a flow that gives more guidance to the reader. Or to put it differently, Japanese material seems to look at the page as a two dimensional space, whereas here we would try to linearize it into a more one dimensional presentation

So I think what we're dealing with here is not a translation issue, but a fundamentally different concept of how to present information to the reader.

Just one old guy's opinion for what it's worth.
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Old August 14th, 2009, 05:44 PM   #12
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if ...

i see nothing problematic about the illustrations or the page layout of the manual.

if one is already familiar with digital audio recorders, or Japanese itself, the manual may seem fine. but, if you're dumb like me, you need a version translated by a native speaker of English.

btw, the problem is two-fold: it begins with the difficulty many techies have in empathisizing with someone who is learning a device for the first time. there is a hilarious scene in a 1948 Preston Sturges movie, "Unfaithfully Yours" ( Unfaithfully Yours (1948) ), in which Rex Harrison is trying to puzzle through -- to no avail -- an audio recorder's instructions, which happened to have been written in the King's English. to add insult to injury, the instructions keep stating "practically plays itself !"

now take this inherent problem and add to it a 150-page instruction manual translated by someone for whom English is not a first language, and you've got a $400 device that, in practical effect, can only be used on its default settings.
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Old August 14th, 2009, 07:29 PM   #13
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Manuals?, we don't neeed no steen-king manuals...

Or...

Real men don't need directions...

Personally I only read manuals as a last resort, and then usually just look at the pictures.

I'm somewhat tongue in cheek here, but I find that spending a little sit down time with a new toy and just scrolling through menus and clicking and switching things is almost as educational as the average "user manual"...
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Old August 14th, 2009, 07:33 PM   #14
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Rdm

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... spending a little sit down time with a new toy and just scrolling through menus and clicking and switching things ...
that's what my assistant is for. but, she's (much) smarter than i am, so i need all the help i can get.
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Old August 14th, 2009, 08:15 PM   #15
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Meh. I thought the manual was fine. Had difficulty figuring out how to upgrade the firmware at first, but otherwise it's just a matter of mashing buttons to see what they do. Fun toy.
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