Software Localization: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

Software Localization: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

It takes a lot of guts and determination to build a successful software business. It usually involves plenty of hard work, too.

What makes the process worthwhile is the potential payoff at the end. Whether it’s on the web or through the App Store, software companies have the opportunity to reach clients around the world. This means there is almost no restriction on future growth.

In order to take full advantage of this opportunity, however, you will probably need to optimize your app for many different regional markets. This is known as software localization (l10n).

In this guide, we’re going to take a closer look at the process, including how to overcome the key challenges.

Why Software Localization Is Important

If the benefits of localization aren’t immediately apparent, consider this question:

When was the last time you used software in a language you don’t understand?

For users, the experience is bewildering at the least and often quite frustrating. You end up clicking random elements in the interface, in the hope of striking lucky.

Software localization can prevent such problems. This is the process of adapting and optimizing your app for a given language and location.

Translation is an essential part of this transformation, but you may also need to adapt your content to suit the target audience. This includes everything inside your software, along with your support documents and marketing materials.

Successful software localization has many benefits:

  • Users will have a better experience and leave more favorable reviews
  • Localized product descriptions and keywords drive more sales, with 72% of consumers preferring to buy in their own language
  • Better accessibility will lead to a reduction in support requests

Developing software takes a great deal of time and effort, so it makes sense to maximize the global potential of your product.

benefits of Software Localization

Software Localization and Translation: Step by Step

The case for software localization is pretty compelling. But what exactly does it involve? Let’s break down the process into five clear steps.

1) Create a Strategy

Software localization demands attention and resources, so it’s important to think carefully about how you wish to proceed.

Background research can help you decide which markets to prioritize, and your technical team should come up with an implementation roadmap.

This should include finding a suitable platform or provider, and considering which content needs to be localized. Using a software translation specialist is likely to make the process smoother, as they will be familiar with the process and any technical requirements.

2) Prepare Your Content

Most software localization platforms ask you to upload content from strings files. Some can detect strings automatically, while others ask you to highlight the key passages. Either way, you may need to prepare your files.

Of course, strings aren’t the only part of your software that will need to be localized. Audio, images, and videos should be adapted, along with dates, times, and currencies. Each localization service has a different workflow for these elements.

3) Work With Your Translators

What separates localization from translation is culture and context.

A good localization specialist will not simply transfer words from one language to another. Instead, they will tweak the content so it sounds natural to a native speaker.

For this process to work well, you will need to provide your translators and localization experts with context. This means explaining the purpose of each string, submitting screenshots, and answering any requests for clarification.

4) Integrate Localized Content

How you import the localized content into your software will depend on which solution you use.

Some services will provide you with the text, which you will need to insert manually using a TMS (translation management system).

More advanced solutions, such as OneSky, provide an end-to-end workflow. In this case, you can download a new strings file that contains your translated content or import your strings via an API.

5) Localization QA

Testing is an essential part of any localization process. Professional translators are not infallible, so it’s vital to have some native speakers to check the translated content — ideally professional QA experts.

Just as importantly, you will need to ensure the translations fit neatly into your existing interface. For this reason, you should try to include some on-device testing.

software localization process

What Are the Main Challenges of Software Localization?

So, that’s the localization timeline. All seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

As with any development project, the roadmap doesn’t include every challenge along the way. Here are some of the key issues to look out for.

A World of Languages

According to expert linguists, there are over 7,000 languages currently in use around the world. If you start including dialects and local variants, that figure multiplies rapidly.

Even for the likes of Microsoft and Oracle, translating software for every one of these languages is an impossible task. Instead, they focus on only a select few.

Of those 7,000 languages, optimizing your app for just 23 will help you reach half the global population. The top four account for more than a quarter of the people on Earth.

With these stats in mind, you should be very selective when choosing languages and locations. Consider where you will get the most return on your investment, and prioritize these areas. In general, it is better to cover the most common locales within a particular region rather than leaving out half the population.

(A locale is a language and location pair, such as Australian English).

Whichever language and location pairings you choose, it’s a good idea to pick a localization service that can handle them all. OneSky offers access to machine and professional human translation for over 50 languages.

Cultural Differences

You have probably heard of the phrase, “lost in translation.” It refers to problems that can sometimes occur in direct translations, where the original sentiments go missing.

As an example, the Danish word “hygge” describes a happy, cozy, warm feeling of contentedness — but according to Google, the closest English translation is simply “fun.”

These linguistic problems are tricky to solve. But cultural differences cause just as many problems.

Everything from pop culture references to common courtesies can change as you move across borders. This is where a localization expert earns their money, transforming a direct translation into something that seems natural for native speakers.

This doesn’t only apply to text. Even perceptions of color vary between different cultures.

OneSky has a team of over 500 localization specialists who are familiar with all the potential pitfalls. They can help you optimize your app for any market, so that your users feel at home.

Adapting Your Interface

As mentioned previously, translations don’t always play nicely with interfaces.

Translated content often has a different number of characters from the original. The characters may come from an entirely different writing system, with text that reads left to right, right to left, or top to bottom. Such changes have a habit of breaking certain parts of the UI.

The best way to prevent such issues is by designing with localization in mind from the start. Avoid hard-coding text into the interface; wrap it with strings instead.

If possible, don’t split sentences across multiple strings. Even the most gifted translators will have difficulty working on half-sentences and making them fit within a character limit.

Once you have wrapped the majority of your text content, you can upload the strings file to your localization partner. OneSky cuts out some of the work by recognizing strings automatically and extracting the content for translation.

design for localization

Technical Roadblocks

When you factor in every available programming language and framework, there are countless ways to make an app.

Almost all are now set up for internationalization (i18n) — that is, displaying content from more than one language. However, they all take different approaches.

Depending on the mix of technologies in your code, you may have to use libraries or save localized strings in a rare file format. This can slow down the localization process, because not every platform supports every language. As a result, you may have to convert content before and after translation.

In addition, most modern applications now store various types of data in different places. Error messages and form inputs are unlikely to come from the same repository as user-submitted content, for example.

The best localization platforms help you overcome these challenges by providing support for multiple file formats. OneSky supports 40 formats, and provides integrations for most major frameworks (incl. Android Studio).

Time and Money

In the end, all of the challenges mentioned equate to time and money. For small teams, this equation is particularly obvious; instead of fixing bugs and working on the next version, your finite resources go into adjusting interfaces and testing your translations.

This is why choosing the right solution is so important. While basic translation services can be cheaper initially, you may end up wasting time later on when you need to edit or import the content.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that time is lost and problems often emerge when you start breaking software localization down into chunks.

With the OneSky API, you can complete the entire software translation and localization process in one seamless workflow.

Content is imported directly from your source code to your platform, and translations come back in the other direction. You can then add on-device testing as required.

A Seamless Software Localization Solution

Like everything else in development, software translation and localization comes with some challenges. However, you can make your path much smoother by taking the following steps:

  • Code with localization in mind
  • Create a strategy
  • Build a localization kit
  • Work with software localization specialists
  • Commit to plenty of testing

Want to get started? Sign up free with OneSky to begin optimizing your app today.

Jac Wong

Chief Technology Officer, OneSky

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