Are you here because you want your software to be translated into several languages and you don't know how to pick the best translation company?
Do you need Japanese, Korean, Chinese, German, Spanish and French translations for your app?
Do you want to work with multiple freelancers or one localization company that can handle it all?
Or maybe you already have some of the languages translated but you are not completely satisfied with the project? The provider seems to be nice but you suspect they are not the best choice for your software localization?
For the last 15 years, we at ATL have heard many stories of our clients' past experiences with software localization. Often the case was that the company that worked for them was friendly and cheap but the translations didn't meet their requirements. The post-translation stage took ages and the reworking consumed considerable amounts of money.
Related content: A Guide to an Efficient UI Software Localization Process
If you want to avoid being trapped in a business relationship with a bad software localization provider, this article is for you. You will learn the signs that indicate that the company is not up to the challenge. You will also learn what to expect from the translation company that will localize your software and what you can take for granted when paying for software localization service.
Bad software localization providers do not ask about the character limits. Software is one of the trickiest content types when it comes to character limits.
Software consists of various texts. It can be an option, error message, command, or a field description. It can also be a label or an instruction.
There are many places where the text in the software is visible for the end user and it needs to be localized when you want to sell the product to a broader audience. It doesn’t necessarily mean selling abroad. You may want to provide a separate language version for your domestic users in order to sell your product or service to people living in your country, but speaking a different language.
Providing the translated version of your software content is strongly linked with the user-experience phenomenon. You want to create your product in a way that meets your audience’s needs and preferences.
Related content: How to Prepare for Software Localization
Translating the content is one thing, but making software understandable in another language is yet another thing.
The English language is considerably shorter than Spanish, Polish, French or German, for example. It also uses a different number of characters than Chinese or Japanese. Therefore, it is important to take that into consideration during translation.
Otherwise, the translated text may be cut off by the software and the truncated text may be difficult to understand, or even end up meaning something completely different than intended.
Related content: 15 Languages for Translation That You Should Know About
It requires an experienced software localization expert to do it right. Professionals not only have a vast experience in translating apps and UI messages, but they are also experienced in linguistic testing, so they can spot potential localization hiccups in advance.
A reliable localization company will ask about a character limit. It can be a direct question or the company can ask about the list of UI terms to be provided separately with a certain context and space where these will be used.
Another issue that can be introduced into your localized software through carelessness is inconsistency.
It can easily happen when the localization team doesn’t cooperate based on the localization best practices, or doesn’t follow the processes recommended by the ISO 17100:2015 standard for translation services.
Inconsistency means that a certain portion of the text is translated differently in various places throughout your content. This is not limited to UI or software files.
Inconsistencies can be introduced between the software content and documentation, or between the documentation and the marketing campaign. It doesn’t matter if the inconsistency occurs only within the software files. In any content type, there will be consequences.
Translations that are not consistent can mislead the end user. This could be in terminology, formatting, style, etc.
You might have seen it before; for example, all the commands being written in capital letters, but one command happens to not be capitalized. You may receive a bug report or hundreds of emails asking the same question about the formatting of that message.
This may lead to additional time needed to investigate, correct the error, and explain the reason for it.
Another example is an option translated with different terms in different places in the app. This can be the CONFIRM button. It can be translated with various alternatives in a different context. But when it means exactly the same thing in the same context, it has to be translated the same way.
Moreover, even if there are several possible translations (for example synonyms – different terms meaning exactly the same thing in a given context) only one can be used throughout the whole project. Often the first time the term is translated it becomes the reference, and all other translations follow that lead.
The translation should also be consistent in style. If some of the UI options are not supposed to be translated, they should remain in English everywhere in the project. They should not be translated in one place and left untranslated in another.
Also, when it comes to addressing the reader, if you use an informal tone of voice (you), mixing it with the formal tone (Mr., Mrs.) should be avoided.
Overlooking consistency can lead to a situation when the user is confused, doesn’t understand instructions, and can not only find it difficult to use the software, but the software will not operate how it is expected to in the hands of such user.
Professional translation companies start with a glossary and UI (user interface) translation. Then, they closely follow those references and keep the UI translation convention identical throughout the project.
They also treat reference material seriously. Translated UI and approved translation of key terminology is maintained throughout the project, no matter if it is software that is being translated, product description on your website or in your catalogue, the FAQ section in Help, or a note in the software documentation.
A bad software localization provider can cause a lot of trouble by messing with placeholders.
Placeholders or variables are pieces of text that help the app find correct data (usually another piece of text) and replace the placeholder with the appropriate data. For example:
Rule number one is to not translate placeholders. Otherwise, the software won't recognize what to do with the data stored in the database. Anything other than the original English language used as a placeholder will break the software operability.
Rule number two is to always mind the grammar rules of the language of translation when dealing with placeholders.
There are languages that use several versions of a first name, depending on the context. In short, it's about declination. So, in Polish for example my first name, which is Joanna, can be used in several forms:
As you can see, there are different suffixes used, and for regular software, it may be too complicated to manage that.
Also, for a regular business it can be financially unjustified to include such operations. Instead, a good software translation provider will find a way to use my name as the user, and do so in a natural but grammatically correct way.
If your localization services provider doesn’t offer localization testing, this means they may not be very experienced in software localization. Testing translated software is one of the steps of a professionally-handled software localization project.
Translation companies provide linguistic or localization testing as a separate service. This stage often happens after the translation is back in the app and is ready to be tested in context.
If the software is not tested properly for localization correctness, the end user can be unhappy with their linguistic version.
Related content: Why Website and Software Testing Is More Important Than You Think
There may be truncated text left behind. In that case, the translation may need to be shortened or replaced with a better alternative when verified in context. Some parts of the software might have been skipped during localization preparation and need to be sent for translation, etc.
All these issues are spotted during the testing stage. The localization team can quickly correct them so don't let the buyer spot them instead.
Translation software, often called CAT tools (Computer-Assisted Translation) is used to speed up the translation, for quality control, and to provide it at a lower cost.
These tools enable you to save money on translation and receive the translated content faster. That is possible thanks to a core feature in the translation software, which is dividing the whole content into smaller pieces and storing those smaller pieces of text together with their translations in a database. The database is called a Translation Memory.
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Thanks to the fact that the translations are stored together with the original sentences, the CAT tools can scan documents sent later and compare the original with what is stored in the TM. Then the stored translations are shown to the linguist.
The fact that all the translations stored in TM pop up to help the translator choose the right words generates yet another advantage. There is very little probability of introducing inconsistencies.
Glossaries are attached to CAT tools either as a separate integrated solution or (most often) as a built-in module.
Related content: 15 Myths About Style Guides and Glossaries for Translation
With the glossary attached to the translation project, the approved translation is suggested to the translation team every time the piece of text they are working on includes the key term.
Lack of integrations between your content and the translation company through customer portals, or directly to the translation tools, is a massive waste of time and effort.
The time devoted to preparing and sending files, collecting them back, using various ways of organizing versions, and trying to keep it structured, is simply wasted.
Related content: A Lack of Translation Integration With Your System: Trouble Alert
Be sure to avoid investing in translation technology that is not flexible. The best solutions allow flexibility and further integrations with other systems.
A bad software localization provider will not understand your workflow, your business model, or your needs.
If you need two or three words update on your project for the next day, they should provide you with translations that are consistent with the remainder of your project, and follow the usual instructions.
Ask your potential localization company how they handle content updates to make sure you will not end up wasting your time reminding the team about all the rules, preparing glossary, and sending all sort of reference files again and again.
Your involvement in passing all the new context and updated instructions is priceless but working with a team that treats you and your update like a completely new project instead of a continuation is a misunderstanding.
Software translation is not a piece of cake. It takes time and money, and requires additional budget. But translating software shouldn't be a localization nightmare for you nor your team.
Related content: 7 Tips to Avoid Wasting Your Translation Budget
There are many translation companies that offer software translation as one of their services. Make sure that they can really support your company with a proper service and workflow, and optimize your process.
Ask them about solutions like integrations, the ways they test localized software, the tools they use, and whether they facilitate the opportunity for you to save on the localization process.
Make sure the company is experienced in software translation by checking their portfolio for clients and projects similar to yours. Check testimonials on their website or success stories that they have shared.
Do not leave any question unanswered to make sure you partner up with a software localization company that is the right fit for you.