Congratulations, you’ve decided to go global! Users prefer apps in their own native languages, and professionally translated software keeps you competitive. Whether you’re dealing with mobile apps or other software, if you want to sell in foreign markets, you’ll need translation and localization.

How do you choose a language partner for software localization? An online search reveals thousands of translation companies, from global conglomerates to local agencies. If you need software localization, you’ll want to know 1) how language service partners (LSPs) work and 2) tips for finding the right one for your needs.

How do LSPs work?

Software localization involves a number of steps. These are the three main roles played by software localization teams:

1. Translators

Unless a language partner only works with one or two language pairs, most translation and editing tasks are outsourced to professional linguists located all over the globe.  This model gives the best results for both clients and LSPs. Why?

Subject matter and language expertise A translator needs specialized training or even a graduate degree in order to translate content related to technology and specialized industry verticals. It’s impossible to expect in-house translators for every language and subject domain variant.

Location matters. Although there are many excellent translators of most foreign languages living in the US, a translator living in the target market will have a better immediate grasp of that market’s cultural preferences and current language usage.

On the other hand, if the target audiences for an app are themselves immigrants living in the USA, and if the subject matter of the app is focused on a US service (for example, a Spanish-language health insurance app), US-based translators may have a better working knowledge of the source content.

A trustworthy LSP maintains relationships with translators in both the United States and overseas.

2. Project managers

When working with an LSP, your point of contact will be the project manager. This role is critical to the success of a software localization project, especially for multiple markets and languages.

Localization engineering. All software translation projects require localization engineering in order to protect the code and provide the content to translators, editors, and proofreaders. We do this because otherwise the translators would need to know how to work directly with the code. By presenting content in an industry-standard format that linguists can easily use, a language partner can ensure access to talent for all language combinations and areas of subject matter expertise. Computer-aided translation (CAT) tools also provide quality assurance functions and create client- and project-specific translation memories for managing content updates.

A project manager can partially or fully automate the process of separating content from code. For a complete discussion of the process, see our post “What is localization engineering?”

Pseudo-translation. Project managers also help find and fix problems in the source content that will negatively impact the finished translation. Using a process called pseudo-translation, project managers generate a fake translation in order to 1) ensure that all of the translatable content has been made available and 2) identify where code may have been mistaken for content and vice-versa.

Pseudo-translation also predicts where formatting problems may occur because of text expansion. Some languages need more characters than others to express the same thing. For example, a Spanish translation may require up to 30% more characters than the English source. Text expansion can lead to certain fields being overcrowded with text; a “heads-up” allows the client and project managers to trouble-shoot solutions (such as using abbreviations) before translation begins.

Centralized communication. Finally, project managers act as the liaison between the client and the translation team, making sure that translators have the context for understanding the meaning and purpose of the app. A centralized hub for sharing information among all the teams streamlines the project and cuts down on excess back and forth.

3. Pre-live testers

Although careful localization engineering  prior to translation helps prevent functional problems with the localized app, native-language reviewers make sure there are no remaining functional or linguistic errors. Whether the localized product is tested with the client’s own reviewers or with ours, close communication with the project manager is key to making sure all issues are addressed and fixed prior to launch.

How do you choose a software localization partner?

As with any vendor selection process, ask for references from software localization clients. If you work for a large organization, find out if other departments have done business with localization providers. It’s always a good idea to centralize translation purchasing, both to save money and to ensure consistency of style and terminology across all the company’s content and products.

When you have narrowed the field enough to request proposals or estimates, pay attention to the questions asked by your potential language partners. Answers to these questions will directly impact the quoted price, and if they aren’t asked up front, the vendor’s quote won’t be accurate.

A language partner should ask the following questions before quoting a software localization project:

What development platforms are you using? The answer will indicate which file formats will be used for the user interface and strings. 

What is your code change process / workflow? Are you using agile or continuous development? How often do you expect to make updates after the app hits the market?

Have best practices been followed in creating the source application?  If the app is not translation-ready, localization engineering will take longer and cost more.

  • Is text stored separately from the code in exportable resource files?
  • Has concatenation of sentence fragments been avoided?
  • Has text been embedded in images? (hopefully not)
  • Will the software accommodate global differences in conventions for writing dates and measurements?
  • Read more about best practices here.

Do you plan to translate related materials for websites and directories?  If so, these can be folded in to the same project to reduce costs.

Who will be the “point person” on the client’s end? Will personnel be available to handle some of the localization tasks in-house? If so, how many hours per week can your team devote to the process?  Taking on some of the localization engineering tasks can reduce your overall cost.

In conclusion

If a language services partner has not asked you these questions, and their fee is much lower than the others you’ve received, don’t be tempted by the price. You’ll either be hit with extra charges down the line or end up with a project that hasn’t received the attention it deserves.

The old adage still works: “you get what you pay for.”  Our clients have watched their localized apps reach new markets and bring in additional revenue. In the end, you may forget exactly what price you paid for software localization, but you’ll remember the quality of a job well done.