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FileMaker’s Multilingual Capabilities – FileMaker Today

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The Economist published a special report “From Minor to Major: America’s Hispanics” on March 14th, 2015, about a new demographic revolution: “One American in six is now Hispanic, up from a small minority two generations ago. By mid-century it will be more than one in four.” The US workforce composition as well as consumer composition is changing. There are currently 22 million English-speaking consumers whereas there are 24 million Spanish-speaking consumers in the US. (  Given this context, a multilingual software is becoming essential for US businesses.

A software’s multilingual capabilities:

  • Allow adaption to the needs of this new demographic trend,

  • Make internal employer-employee and employee-employee communication easier and clearer,

  • Enable capture of new markets inside and outside the US, and hence

  • Support products/services’ competitiveness

Making software multilingual does not come without its complexities. To demonstrate this point, it is worth pinpointing some differences between Germanic/Roman languages and Eastern Asian languages.

  1. Length: Roman/Germanic words or phrases tend to be longer in length than East Asian words or phrases. In Roman/Germanic languages, a word itself has an independent denotation. Although the meaning can change by attaching a suffix and/or prefix, the suffix and the prefix cannot stand alone. On the other hand, each syllable or character in East Asian languages has an independent denotation.

  2. Grammar: Among many other differences, in Roman/Germanic languages, verbs tend to come at the beginning of a phrase, normally preceded by a subject, whereas verbs come at the end of a phrase in some East Asian languages (Korean and Japanese).

  3. Denotation vs. Connotation: Words and phrases’ meaning depend on cultural context. Across languages, their connotation can differ dramatically. For instance, one of the verbs often used in an English user interface is “Get”. One of its Spanish counterparts, however, you wouldn’t want to appear to a Spanish speaking end user.

DocuWrx’s Kosmas stores all language variables (words and phrases in layouts) locally, which reduces storage and improves software performance. It also does not rely on electronic translators, which are often inaccurate, misleading, and limited in their ability to capture context.

Materials - English


Materials - Spanish

Considering the language differences stated above and our technique used, here are some tips when building FileMaker layouts with multilingual capabilities.

  • Pad space for merge fields, merge variables or strings. Some Spanish phrases might not fit in a space designed for English phrases.

  • Tooltips do not limit the space on the screen, so use them when a translation does not fit in a layout.

  • Electronic translators can be unreliable because of regional connotations and its limitations to interpret words and phrases. For instance, the word “back” for navigation translates into Spanish as “espalda”, a body part, instead of “atrás”.

  • It’s better to be neutral and consistent to express functionality. This facilitates the translation and minimizes its work.

  • Store entire phrases in local variables if it doesn’t make sense to translate individual words such as prepositions into a different language. These individual words that can stand alone in one language may not stand alone in another language. Storing entire phrases helps resolve grammatical differences in different languages.

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