Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking to myself : how much translation do you need to get the jist of a user interface ?

I mean, if you can’t read English, but were presented with a UI that has simple dictionary lookups of English words placed in brackets after the original text, is that interface better or worse than just seeing the English interface ?

As I’m a native English speaker, this is a tough one for me to get my brain around, so as an experiment, I wrote some code to wrap itself around calls to gettext (and other i18n message calls), tokenize the input into words, and perform dictionary lookups on the fly. Here are results of me running gedit against a cz-CZ dictionary : would this sort of thing be helpful to non-English speakers ?

dynamically generated interface, from a dictionary lookup of tokenized strings

I know that the ideal state would be properly translated messages for an application, but in the absence of those, does this help at all ? Going further, I can’t see any reason why I couldn’t the same thing to a non-internationalised application – wrapping calls to GUI-text-drawing primitives, etc… Specifically, I’m wondering if this helps make computers more or less accessible.

Thoughts and comments welcome !