If you plan to market your software solution globally, translation and localization are essential steps. From the outside, the software localization process can look like a “black box.” Opening up the box and explaining the process provides insights into how best to prepare your software for translation and localization.
Translation: replacing text in one language with text of equivalent meaning in another language.
Localization (L10n): includes all of the changes needed to adapt content for a particular market, taking into account variations in local time, date, and currency formats; cultural preferences about content; UI and design choices.
Internationalization (i18n): Preparing software and websites to ensure a smooth and error-free localization process. Internationalization is the first step toward a successful localization project.
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Internationalization best practices
The first step toward localization-friendly software is protecting the code from corruption by separating it from the content. Keeping the content separate also allows access to a wider pool of reasonably priced language talent. You’ll pay more for professional translators if they are also required to know your coding language.
Other rules of thumb for building internationalized software include:
- Don’t hard-code dates, times, measurements, and currencies.
- Don’t concatenate strings to form sentences. Remember that grammar and word order varies across languages.
- Don’t embed text in graphics.
- Support different character sets by using Unicode.
- If certain features won’t be used internationally, make them easily disabled options.
- Store strings in resource files.
In addition to being easily separable from code, the source content should itself be translation-friendly:
- Design for text expansion. An English-language string can expand up to 40% after translation.
- Don’t use slang or culturally-specific references. If needed, a later round of transcreation can capture your brand voice in a way that works for your audience.
- Don’t use the same string variable or sentence fragment in different contexts.
- Develop a termbase or glossary to ensure consistent terminology in UI strings. Creating a termbase is also a useful first step for developing and researching keywords for international marketing and SEO.
- Design inoffensive icons (for example, the American “OK” sign has different meanings across cultures).
- Avoid using keys and symbols for shortcut combinations that won’t be suitable for international keyboards.
- Provide context for translators to clarify the meaning of individual strings.
Keep in mind that sequences of images depicting an action or narrative will need to be reversed (mirrored) for languages that read right-to-left.
Most (if not all) language partners use CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tools to manage the translation process. CAT tools extract translatable text from common file formats to present the translator with a “clean” source text free of code and formatting. In addition to making the translator’s work easier, CAT tools provide cost-saving benefits to the client. If certain segments of text appear multiple times across the content, these will be translated once then subsequently auto-populated to save time and effort. Built-in termbases and QA tools ensure consistency, and translation memories facilitate re-use of repeated content or partially updated content.
Not all software formats are compatible with standard CAT tools. File types supported by the market leader, SDL Studio, can be seen here. Prior to the actual translation, a localization project manager works with clients’ files to convert strings to compatible formats, usually XML or XLIFF. This task, coupled with testing to be sure that all translatable text is exported, is part of a step generally referred to as “localization engineering.”
Software localization engineering
Localization engineering can be a complex process, even for companies with good in-house IT and development support. Most popular website CMSs allow for the export of content into XML files that can be translated and then loaded directly onto target language websites. Clients will often need assistance with this process, as updates to the CMS software or third-party extensions will sometimes be needed.
For websites requiring frequent updates, or for older or less flexible websites that don’t support content export, proxy solutions facilitate the seamless capture and translation of website content on an ongoing basis. Similarly, for apps undergoing frequent updates, emerging platforms support continuous localization. These include solutions like Phraseapp, Transifex, Mojito, and Serge (this last solution is open-source). For clients unfamiliar with the localization process, automated solutions can look like black boxes themselves. MTM LinguaSoft’s localization engineers can help you sort through the process and identify the best fit for your needs.
The upsides to online platforms for localization include ease of use and rapid turnaround of translations into the field. A common downside is that their embedded termbase, translation memories, and QA tools generally cannot match the quality and reliability of the standard CAT tools used by professional translators. The purpose of a translation memory is to ensure consistency across all platforms and media (mobile app, website, documentation, sales materials) and standard CAT tools allow that flexibility. The costs of automated solutions can also present a downside: the best of these requires a significant investment. We recommend continuous localization platforms if the client needs translation as part of an agile development process. In such situations, we would assemble a translation team to use the tool according to the client’s preferred workflow.
After a localization solution is chosen and configured, pseudo-translation provides a useful check by simulating how the content will look in its final translated format. This helps confirm that all the text has been extracted. In addition, pseudo-translation indicates where more space is needed to accommodate text expansion, and whether the character encoding is appropriate to the target language’s writing system.
Running the pseudo-translation also simplifies final pre-live testing, which is the review of the localized application by native speakers of the target language before public release. Pre-live testing can require several iterations of close teamwork and communication between the client and project manager.
Successful localization starts with good internationalization. When software is designed with localization in mind, the translation and localization process proceeds smoothly and efficiently. Opening the localization black box helps to bridge gaps between programmers and UX designers, linguists, and localization engineers.