If you’re heading a start-up company with limited resources and an unproven product, going international is probably not at the top of today’s agenda. But your product may have potential to sell in global markets, and you will be better positioned to realize that potential if you keep localization in mind from the start. This kind of long-range planning can also impress potential investors looking for indications that a business has good growth prospects.

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Even if you don’t plan to localize and translate your product and marketing materials right away, you may be surprised at how quickly localization begins to make sense. Here are steps you can take now to prepare.

Internationalize your software

Software internationalization is the process of designing software so that it can be adapted to various languages and regions without engineering changes. Internationalization ensures that foreign character sets are supported and that local differences in date, time and currency formats and left-to-right or vertical orientation will be accommodated.

Internationalization has value even if the software is never actually localized, and it will prove invaluable when it comes time to localize. Some of the biggest problems in software localization come from having to re-engineer code when a translated version of the software doesn’t work.

Provide context for software translation

Providing context to guide the translation team will speed up the translation process. If the translator doesn’t have access to a working version of the app, send screen shots of all UI screens and describe the context. The shorter the string, the more difficult the translation, so it is important to give as much detail as possible. Below are some helpful suggestions and guidelines on what to include:

  • which element of the interface it is: button, title, error message, list item, etc.
  • whether it is a placeholder or a variable (List all the different values that variables may take at runtime. Nouns and adjectives in many languages take gendered and singular/plural forms, impacting the fluency of translation.)
  • explanation of ambiguous terms appearing alone or without context
  • part of speech
  • character limit

A professional language partner will build and use a translation memory for ease of updates and consistency of terminology across all translated materials and product’s releases.

Plan for international marketing

Your documentation and website should be written and designed with translation in mind. Writing for translation is a good practice regardless of whether you plan to use professional translation services. If you expect foreign customers to rely on google translate, writing for translation will give a better result.

Materials that are designed for translation avoid complex layouts, use common fonts, leave plenty of room for text expansion, and don’t use graphics with text embedded in them. These practices are also helpful in adaptive web design. Some content management systems (CMSs) are more translation-friendly than others; build your site with the expectation that you’ll eventually need to make all text available for translation.

Find the right foreign-language keywords. Your list of English-language keywords cannot be translated verbatim into a target language without context. Keyword research by an in-country linguist helps optimize your website for your market’s preferred search engines. And make sure your language partner follows best practices for core international SEO.

Choose the right translation partner

When money is tight, as it is for most start-ups, you may turn to the cheapest possible option for any translation that needs to be done:

Relying on Google Translate may be tempting, but it’s not a good option, especially for UI, because context is so important. Google translate now provides good fluency for some language pairs, but it’s become harder to spot inaccuracies when they occur. If machine translation is used, post-editing by a bilingual reviewer will produce the best result.

Another option is using bilingual employees. This may make sense in the short term, but it isn’t a sound long-range strategy. Your employees have other work to do. Translation will either take them away from that work or get done very slowly. In addition, employees might not have the tools and writing skills of professional translators.

You could contract directly with freelance translators. You’ll need someone in-house to screen the translators and manage the process, which becomes burdensome if you are translating into multiple languages.

Ultimately, the best route is to choose a reliable language service partner to work with you on localization projects. A language partner will have a process in place to screen and assign the right translators; can handle translation into multiple languages at the same time; and will perform quality checks. A language partner provides services such as website and software localization, advice on core international SEO, and multimedia localization. They can also ensure consistency and save you money over time through the use of translation memories and other translation technologies.

Get ready to go global

Translation is not the end of a global strategy. It is often the beginning. As your startup gets serious about an international strategy, there are many considerations to take into account. Don’t wait until the last minute to consult with a language partner. Being prepared for localization will put you ahead of the game and save you time and money in the long run.

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