Episode 9: Local Language Categories

The list of categories that you can use in Google Maps to classify places is designed in English and the category names are then translated into other languages. What is different about these local language categories? What should you pay attention to when using them?




Jan Van Haver 0:05
Hello, and welcome to the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. You’re listening to episode number 9. The topic today is local language categories. The list of categories that you can use in Google Maps is of course designed in English and the category names are then translated for use in the other languages. So what is different about these local language categories? And what should you pay attention to when using them? Before we dive into the content, I want to please beg you to take into account that I only know European languages myself, so apologies in advance if some of the things I say here make no sense for, for example, Asian or African languages. And feel free of course to add your comments. I will share the contact details at the end of the episode, as I usually do and of course also include them in the show notes that you can find on the letsguidepodcast.com website.

Jan Van Haver 1:08
I want to also point out that I have no official affiliation to Google or the Local Guides team. I’m just a local guide like most of you; everything you hear is therefore my personal interpretation of things. This episode is recorded at the mid of July 2019, and the situation you will hear described, including all of numbers in today’s episode, is of course as it is today and might change at any point in the future.

Vanessa P. 1:41
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 1:44
On Google Maps every place, or ‘point of interest’ as it is commonly referred to in the local guides program, so every place has a category, because it’s one of the mandatory fields. It describes what the main business is, or the main function is of the point of interest – let’s say: bakery or dentist, primary school, whatever – that’s the category. Those categories are originally designed, or the list of them is originally designed in English, as Google is of course an American company, and that shows directly in the full list because one of the main differences between the original English list and the list of categories available in other languages is that there are fewer of them in the other languages. That’s of course, because the list is designed based on the situation and the society in the United States, and a number of the categories do not apply or do no longer apply in the current situation in a lot of other countries.

Jan Van Haver 2:53
So it comes down to a the full list in English to 4000 more or less (to be exact 3950 at the time of recording), versus just under or just over 3000 in a lot of other languages, but also varying across the languages. So not each of the languages has the same number of categories. to name some examples: there are 2826 categories in Swedish, 2866 in Dutch, and in Spanish 2910; we go to 2945 in German and finally our friends in France, or the French speaking countries, are more lucky because they have 3148 different categories at their disposal. We’ll get more into detail on that later on.

Jan Van Haver 3:52
As some of you might have experienced yourself already: the translation of categories is sometimes quite problematic. There are a number of reasons for that. The main one is there are different ways, of course, that life in general or society is organized. An example can be: where, in which kinds of shops, is alcohol sold? Where is it legal to sell it? in continental Europe, for example, alcohol is simply sold also in supermarkets; in other countries like US and some other countries, there’s a much more stricter regulation. How is the educational system organized? There are categories referring to different types of schools and in a number of countries the system, or the way those are divided, the types of schools, is different than in other countries. The results is that there are different uses of the categories because the concepts behind those category names are interpreted in a different way.

Jan Van Haver 5:00
Another reason that can lead, or another point that can lead to problems is that corresponding terms in the different languages are often quite close, but not identical. And example here is the category ‘grocery store’, which is translated into German as ‘Lebensmittelgeschäft’, which is literally translated a place where they sell goods to live. And this is then interpreted by the German speaking people, it seems, also as, for example, supermarkets because an entire chain – and one of the biggest chains of discount supermarkets in Germany, Aldi Süd, all of those are marked as ‘Lebensmittelgeschäft’, so if you translate it or if you switch to English interface, you will see those as ‘grocery’. While they are quite clearly a discount supermarket. So, as is often the case in international context, the translation it’s often not just translation, but also a need for localization – but that’s a discussion which really often pops up in an international context.

Jan Van Haver 6:20
The differences between the versions of a language that’s my next point I want to address, because within one single language, which is used in different countries, there can be differences between the versions of those languages. Let me give a few examples for those I have now just confused quite immensely: Dutch, It’s spoken in the Netherlands, but also in the northern part of Belgium. And the almost 3000 categories there are almost identical, but there are just a few examples where there is a different term. For example for ‘Gym’ the version in the Netherlands is ‘Fitnesscentrum’, which is fitness center, and in Belgium they use ‘Sportschool’, sports school. Dutch is also, just like English, a Germanic language, so you might, that explains, I mean, the similarities you might hear between those languages of course.

Jan Van Haver 7:23
Those were just a few minor differences. There’s more differences in another example, which is Spanish, because there’s Spanish as it’s used in Spain, but also Spanish as it’s used in the countries of Latin America. There’s even a difference in the number of categories: there were 2910, if you remember correctly from the intro, in Spain, so: Spanish used in Spain. If you check for Argentina or Paraguay, for example, you will find 2932, so 22 categories more. And also the way the categories are described is different between the two. For example: for the category ‘Golf shop’, which was one of the new ones earlier this year (or end of 2018, I have to check again), it’s ‘Tienda de articulos de golf’ in one and just ‘Tienda de golf’ in the other one. So that’s quite systemic difference between the two.

Jan Van Haver 8:28
If you ask me, they don’t make enough use of this possibility to make distinctions per country. Because if I return to the Dutch example (which is my mother tongue, so I’m most familiar with that one), there are a few differences, but there could be much more, because some of the terms are also used in Belgium, so the Dutch term is used in Belgium, but there’s very clearly a ‘Belgian’ Dutch one, which would be much more clear to the local inhabitants. For example, for physiotherapists in Belgium everybody will say ‘Kinesist’, which is a word that does not appear in the list of categories. Perhaps to improve this, Google can tap into the extremely rich source of local info they have at their disposal – and I’m referring to local guides, of course.

Jan Van Haver 9:27
On Local Guides Connect, the official forum provided by Google for local guides, I found something very interesting with regards to this topic by the level 10 local guide C_T. He writes: ” I have noted that users make a lot of mistakes while spelling the names of a place, while creating a new entity”. And he discovered that the automatic translation of the name then led to wrong category being given. The specific example was ‘Bakery shop’, that he found spelled a number of times as ‘Bakari shop’, so B-A-K-A-R-I, and that translates in his local language as ‘Goat shop’, which is obviously ‘hilarious’ as he puts it. And if you think there are never problems with the English categories, well: think again, those can also be quite problematic. A good illustration is the category ‘Pharmacy’ that was missing for a while in the selection lists. Well, it was still there around as category, but with your interface in English you simply could not select it. There was a workaround: you could switch the screen language to another language you know, and then select the category there. For example French: ‘Pharmacie’, it was in the list; if you switch to German: ‘Apotheke’, it was there. So you could select that category in your language and then switch back to English and you will see: okay, the point of interest was marked as ‘Pharmacy’.

Jan Van Haver 11:05
At this point, I’d like to elaborate briefly on that topic of switching the language of the interface. I made that sound very easy in the previous part. Let’s dig into that, because there’s different ways of doing it, depending on which platform you’re on: the desktop or Android (those two, I can explain to you; if it’s the same on iPhone or not, I have no idea, because I’ve never used a iPhone – perhaps that’s a good topic for an upcoming episode: ‘What are the differences in functionalities between the different platforms?’, but then I’ll need assistance from one of the listeners with a iPhone; just leave a comment if you’re interested of course). On the desktop you can switch the language within Google Maps itself: you just go to the hamburger menu (which is the three horizontal stripes in the top left corner), you open the menu and you just select ‘Language’ – it’s one of the options and select one of the languages in the list. It’s quite a long list. On the mobile device, on Android, it’s not possible in the app, you need to make the switch of the language at device level, so you need to switch your entire phone to another language. Sounds radical but is quite easy. In fact you just open the ‘Settings’ and there you go to the ‘System’ menu item, which is the info icon. There you select ‘Languages and inputs’ (the globe icon) and in the list you then see, you can just drag and drop a language you want to the first position, and within a second or two the entire device will switch to the other language and also everything in Google Maps is that in that language. Should the one of the languages that you want to select not yet be listed in the list, there is an ‘Add language’ button that you can simply use to download or install another language. And that’s also really easy.

Jan Van Haver 13:16
Another challenge, when it comes to categories and using them with another language and English as your interface language in Google Maps, is that some English categories are not translated but still show up in the list if you’re working in another language. Which seems nice – you can still select it – but is quite problematic to use them, because often, if you use one of those English categories, the category will not show up when you use maps in the other language. So you select the category and then you go back and you will notice that the category field is simply empty in the other language and that is very annoying of course, because then it says ‘Add category’ as if there is no category at all for this point of interest. So, be aware of that. And that’s especially the case when new categories are added: it usually takes a few weeks before they show up in the translated versions, but it seems that or it could also take months because the latest bunch I reported, or I found early May, and we’re now mid July and they’re still not available. So: problematic, if you ask me.

Jan Van Haver 14:39
It’s also not always clear why certain categories are translated and others are not translated. Let me give some specific examples. There’s the category ‘Dogsled ride service’. Well, clearly this is not needed in countries where there is no snow – and there’s quite a few of those, I think. But on the other hand ‘Snow removal service’ and ‘Snowmobile rental service’ are translated – weird. Another category is labeled ‘Eftpos equipment supplier’ and that stands for electronic funds transfer at point of sale. I guess that’s very rarely needed and probably in very few countries. Another reason not to translate a category can be illustrated by the example of ‘Fruit wholesaler’ which is not translated, but quite clearly because it was a kind of duplicate for ‘Fruit wholesaler’ so fruits, plural, is not translated, because fruit wholesaler is obviously the same thing.

Jan Van Haver 15:48
Sometimes it’s hard to spot the logic because ‘City Department of Transportation’ is translated in most languages that I checked, but ‘City Department of Environment’ or ‘City Department of Public Safety’, which you will probably find in a lot of places, those categories are not translated. Same goes for the ‘Municipal Department of Tourism’ – is translated, but not so for the departments of sports or culture. Weird, if you ask me. As I said at the beginning of the episode, there is about a 1000 category difference between the original English list and the translations. And in some cases, it definitely makes sense to not translate them, but in other cases it would make sense. An ‘Emergency locksmith service’: well, if you ask me, people forget their keys all over the world, so would make sense to translate, I guess. ‘Fireworks supplier’: also not translated, but as far as I know, people celebrate all over the world. Another one is ‘Glass cutting service’: glass needs fitting in non-standard shapes everywhere, I guess. ‘Jewelry manufacturer’: also not translated, and neither is ‘Medical equipment supplier’ – to my knowledge that can be found everywhere too.

Jan Van Haver 17:13
As I mentioned before, there are also differences in the number of categories available per language. And that obviously suggests that some categories are translated in a number of languages but not in a number of other languages – it’s also not quite clear why. A few examples there: ‘Dessert restaurant’ is available in Dutch, in French and in German, but ‘Dessert shop’ is available in German and French but not in Dutch. University faculties: the ‘Faculty of Law’ is available in all languages I checked, but for example, the faculties of pharmacy and psychology are available in French but not in German or Dutch. And to keep the best example, or the best for the last ‘Nudist club’ is available in all languages I checked, where ‘Nudist park’ is only available in French. What does that reveal about the French?

Jan Van Haver 18:18
And to make things even more confusing, in some cases different English categories are translated with the same word in different languages. For example: in Dutch, ‘General store’ is translated as ‘Supermarket’ but of course also the different category ‘Supermarket’ is translated as ‘Supermarket’. In French, this category ‘General store’ is translated as ‘Epicerie’, but also the category ‘Grocery store’ is translated in French as a ‘Epicerie’. The result: for example in Dutch if you start typing ‘Supermarket’ to find the category, you are shown a list where two times the word Supermarket is marked one below the other, and you really have no clue which one you are selecting. Are you selecting ‘Supermarket’, as you wanted, or are you really selecting ‘General store’? You can only avoid that by switching the language interface as we discussed before – I never said being a local guide was going to be easy.

Jan Van Haver 19:24
Some categories, finally, were created for use outside of US, because they are written in the local language directly and have no real equivalent in English. One I found for Dutch is the category ‘Frituur’, which is a place where they sell french fries and snacks. And finally to close off, I want to also point your attention to the fact that some categories have been added in the past, but are no longer available for use by local guides. You can still find them on points of interest that had received them when the category was still there, but it’s no longer in the list of categories that you can use. So if you want to add it to an existing point of interest or use it when creating a new one, that category that you see on other points of interest is simply no longer there. Just something you need to be aware of.

Jan Van Haver 20:27
For those who wants to have a more detailed look themselves into the topic of international categories, I will gladly include a link in the show notes to a tool that delivers you a list of all categories in any language you choose. It’s really meant for the Google My Business program, and it’s from a company – I have no idea how to pronounce it exactly, but it’s written pleper.com.

Vanessa P. 20:59
What a great idea.

Jan Van Haver 21:03
In ‘What a great idea’ I like to highlight one of the ideas submitted to Idea Exchange, a section of Local Guides Connect, the official platform provided by Google. There you as local guide can submit your own suggestions to improve Google Maps or improve Connect itself. Some of the ideas submitted there will actually be implemented, some already have been. And as it happens, one of my ideas will be implemented as well. I received a notification about that a while ago. And another one got the status ‘Revisit later’, which means “it’s a good idea, but we can’t use it or we can’t implement it right now”. Don’t expect however, that this will happen immediately for each idea you submit. There’s more than 3000 ideas submitted, and I myself have submitted 28 so far -with, as I mentioned, 1 status ‘Will be implemented’ and 1 ‘Revisit later’.

Jan Van Haver 22:06
This week the idea is I want to highlight is submitted by MW Jones and is called ‘Ability to cancel pending edits’. We all make mistakes – except for me, of course, my edits are always perfect… Kidding, of course, you might have picked up the ironic undertone there. And you often notice or realize that you’ve made an error exactly two nanoseconds after the hitting the ‘Submit’ button. So this idea to provide some possibility that you can cancel any edits would be very nice. I’ll of course make sure to include a link to that idea in the shownotes, and then you can vote for it yourself.

Jan Van Haver 22:57
That’s all I have for this episode, but please do reach out to me with your comments and remarks about the podcast. You can just send an email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com; reach out to me on Twitter: you can find me there as localguidesguru, or of course on Local Guides Connect under my real name JanVanHaver. The shownotes you can find on the homepage of the podcast, which is of course letsguidepodcast.com. If you liked this episode it would be great if you could also listen to a few of the other episodes if you haven’t done so, and then obviously leave a rating or a review in your favorite podcasting app – which by the way now also includes finally Google Podcasts. The next episode will be a very special one because then we hit the double digits: then we will have 10 episodes which is quite an important milestone. So for that special episode I’ve also selected a very nice title, that will be ‘Level 5 in a day’.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

One thought on “Episode 9: Local Language Categories

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s