This, friends and readers, is a tale of localization gone wrong.
As some of you might know, Canada has two official languages: English and French. In Quebec, French is the de facto language for all communications. As per provincial law, in order for an item to be sold in Quebec, there needs to be a french translation for all literature accompanying that item.
Last night, at the gym, I decided to try a different cardio machine. I had heard good things about the Nautilus Treadclimber. So I gave it a go.
Starting up the machine, I was delighted to see that the interface had been translated to French. Actually, I always find it delightful when I notice that there was a localization effort put towards equipement sold in Quebec. Anyhoo, I input all my information (age, weight, time of workout, etc.), then workout begins.
About one minute in the workout, the machine starts prompting me with peculiar messages: «Pédales à minute à 3:00» (Pedals to the minute at 3:00), «Pas besoin courir entrain. L forme» (No need running worko. L shape», «Le bon travail» (the good job) and my favourite of all «Est votre vitesse OK entrainement? Appuyer fleches pedales pour ajust.» (Is your OK workout speed? Push pedal arrows for adjust.).
I’m generally quite good at deciphering badly structured French, but this machine found me seriously confused. What’s worse is that it kept prompting me with messages that I could not decrypt and leaving me with no idea whatsoever if I’m using the machine properly. After about 10 minutes, I just gave up and decided to do my cardio on the good ole treadmill.
This is what bad localization does though, doesn’t it. It creates unnecessary confusion and alienation. It drives user adoption down. In such a case, they would have been better off just leaving the original UI text on the machine and providing a translated leaflet of some sort.