You have developed an application that sells well in the United States. Now, you want to sell it abroad. You have already decided which foreign markets to start with. What you need is the local language version of your software and documentation.
You'd love to start the localization process as soon as possible, but how much does software localization cost?
There are a few factors that influence the price of software localization and this article will discuss most of them.
At ATL, we work with localization projects just like yours and we help to answer questions just like the one above. We understand this can be a complex matter, so in this article, we’ll explain:
Explaining some of the basics first will help you understand the complexity of estimating the cost of software localization.
The most common ways to calculate costs in translation proposals are per word and per hour rates, as you will see below on the list of software localization-related costs by language:
Per word rate is the usual rate applied for translation services. In this very basic scenario, each word that needs to be translated is multiplied by the translation rate.
For translation purposes, a word is defined as a string of letters or special characters. Numbers ending with space are also recognized as a word.
Software strings (a sequence of characters, either as a literal constant or as some kind of variable) are full of letters and numbers but not all of them need translation. Moreover, the elements of the code are forbidden to be changed. Otherwise, the application may not work properly.
So, how do translation professionals deal with that? How does it influence the software localization cost?
Localization professionals use translation software to separate the elements of the code and to hide them safely out of the translator’s reach. This is done by skipping the elements of code while importing the content to translatable file.
Or, it can also be done by changing the formatting of text that is part of the code so that it is clearly visible for the translator which parts of the content are not for translation.
First, the elements of the code will be separated from the translatable content and only then will the translation word count be calculated.
So, if you have a sample file, 1,000 strings of letters, special characters, and numbers in your file but 700 of them are elements of the code, the word count for translation rate (and the rate you pay) should only apply to the remaining 300 translation units.
Taking the rate of $0.20 for calculation purposes, you should pay $60 for translating the sample file. But it's not always that straightforward. Translation technology can lower the translation cost further, which will be explained later in the article.
Another step that is calculated on a per-word basis is revision. Revision is an examination of the translated text against the original content.
There are two ways you can get revision service with your translation: You pay one rate when you order translation and revision together. You can also buy translation services separately and order revision elsewhere.
The standalone revision step is calculated per hour and in one hour one linguist can revise more or less 600 words.
When you order translation and revision together, you get one rate per word for the entire process. In most cases, the revision rate is calculated as 50% of the translation rate. Therefore, if the translation rate is $0.20 then the revision should cost $0.10.
If you order the translation elsewhere and want to order a revision from another provider, expect the hourly translation rate to be applied for the revision step.
One of the localization services that is calculated on a per hour basis is localization engineering. This is connected to the previously mentioned process of separating the code strings from the content for translation.
Programming files are recognized by the translation software; however, the translation tools sometimes need help with separating the code from the text for translation. This needs to be done for three reasons:
The number of hours needed for localization engineering is based on the complexity of files and is estimated individually.
Another localization service calculated per hour is glossary creation. The average capacity for glossary creation (including glossary translation) is 80 terms per hour.
In this step, localization professionals focus on the key terms used in your product. The aim is to identify words that might be unique to your brand or that have an unusual meaning. For example, the term: 'wizard' introduced by Microsoft in the 1990s into Microsoft Publisher, received a whole new meaning.
This may be the case with your software too.
Software localization is connected not only with strings localization. There is also documentation and help that needs to be localized.
Another service connected to software localization that should be mentioned with regard to rates charged per hour is formatting of all translated materials including text and graphics to match the original content.
This service is called DTP (Desktop Publishing). The number of prepared pages within one hour is mainly based on the tool used and the complexity of formatting.
Last but not least, testing is also a step in the localization project that’s charged per hour. Quality assurance is based on the validation of the translations implemented in the application.
Software testing is about performing various actions that the user might do and testing how the software handles various operations.
The number of estimated testing hours depends on the instructions and complexity of testing. It can be onsite or offsite. It can be functional testing, which reviews how text is displayed in the application but also checks software functionalities.
Testing can also be based on test scripts prepared by you or your development team.
You have already chosen where you would like to sell your software. Does the region of the world where you want to introduce your product affect the software localization price?
Yes, it does. And here's how:
There are places where the pool of professional translators is small and therefore the rates for translation services are higher.
This is the case with languages like Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Finnish and Icelandic. These languages had the highest reported freelance average rate on ProZ.com.
The services provided by translators from countries with a high cost of living are also likely to be more expensive. A good example may be Japanese, which can be charged on average $0.16 per word by a freelancer just for the translation step.
The source language also influences the translation rate. The rate for an English to Japanese translation will be lower (average freelance translation only rate is $0.16) than the rate for Italian - Japanese (an average freelance translation only rate is $0.18).
It is mainly due to the limited pool of freelancers translating from Italian to Japanese compared to the freelancers translating to Japanese from English.
Since there are less professionals translating from one language into another, they can ask for higher rates.
One of the terms associated with localization pricing is translation capacity. The average translator's capacity with regard to documentation and translation is 3,000 words per day.
When it comes to programming translation and UI, the number is lower. An average freelance translator needs about one working day to translate 2,000 words of software.
Lower capacity means fewer words translated. This, in turn, affects the real earnings per hour. Thus, to make the translation profitable, translators often charge different rates for different kinds of content.
The reason for this discrepancy is that translation of a continuous text is faster. It is much easier to translate sequences of sentences that are related to each other.
UI elements are mostly short commands. This requires the translator to check the context and visual reference materials to properly translate the meaning. Since there are not many words like and or because, text fillers, the software requires more time to be translated.
The speed of translation is also influenced by the length limit. The UI elements must fit in a dialog box of a certain size. It often happens that translated term does not fit in the dialog box. If the text expansion or contraction is not take into consideration at the software development stage the translations will exceed the space provided for text and the linguist has to use a different word or abbreviate.
It may happen that the already translated text may require shortening. It is sometimes visible during the testing stage. This requires additional time and results in a lower number of words translated per hour compared to documentation translation.
There are several ways to reduce the cost of software translation.
The use of translation technology can inevitably reduce the translation cost. The translation software is called CAT tools (Computer Assisted Translation). There are many tools to choose from.
All of these tools are very similar and serve the same main purpose - to accelerate the translation process and reduce your localization cost.
The most basic feature of all the CAT tools is to divide the original content into smaller pieces called segments. The translator can focus on shorter parts of text at one time and translate segments one by one much faster.
Related content: A Guide to Understanding Translation and Localization Terminology
If the original text contains repeated expressions, CAT tools help to translate faster by prompting the previously translated content.
CAT tools can analyze the text and immediately prepare statistics showing the number of words within the repetitive segments. On the professional translation proposals, these words are referred to as Repetitions and are charged even 25% less.
The ability to reuse previously translated content is possible thanks to Translation Memory (TM). TM is a database containing all the previously translated segments. It contains both the original and the translated text. As a result, the more you translate, the cheaper it gets.
How is that?
For example, let’s say you assign software strings for translation. There are 20,000 words. 3% of those words are repetitions. You get a quote for 19,940 words paid at the full rate and 60 words paid at 25% of the full rate.
Any words and strings that you have translated are saved in your TM. Next you want to translate 50,000 words of documentation. There are more repetitions (1% of the text consists of repetitions) but it also contains sentences that are the same or similar as those in software strings.
These segments will be presented in the word count statistics. Below you can see an example of statistics provided by CAT tool showing how many segments and words are repetitions and how many of them can be restored from your TM and will be cheaper.
Each of the TM match ranges receives a discount hence the lower cost of translation.
Related video content: Translation Memory Used in Practice
There are more services needed for a successful software localization project.
The localization project usually starts with content preparation. In this stage, content is checked for possible localization obstacles.
Localization experts examine the content and check for possible issues that may happen during translation.
One of the requirements of internationalization is to use Unicode during the software development process. Another requirement refers to the time and date format used in the software. It needs to support the local time and date format. Otherwise the product won't suit the local requirements.
This stage of the localization project is calculated on a per hour basis.
You may think that when you hand something over to a translation agency, it’s a simple assignment. It's not the case as software localization requires project management.
Everything from project setup, importing files, to using TM and a glossary for the project is needed to provide you with a smooth experience.
Project managers also handle reference material preparation and distribution among the linguists.
Last, but not least, managing payments, linguistic queries and risk management are also examples of project manager's tasks.
After the text is translated, the translations are approved or corrected by a reviser. The Project Manager makes sure that only the final, approved translations are included in the translation database.
Otherwise incorrect translations may be populated in future projects. This is called TM maintenance and is one of the services included in translation agency's rates.
After your project ends, the translation companies don't leave you just because the translation deadline is reached. Their next task is to check your feedback, implement it and update all reference materials.
The cost of project management is included in the translation agency's rates.
There are three ways of managing the software localization teams.
1. You can directly cooperate with freelance translators.
2. You can assign the whole localization project to a translation agency.
With the agile development, you need to export and import the files for every software or documentation update.
3. You can cooperate with a translation agency and integrate your systems directly with their CAT tools. Integrations help with:
Related content: 50+ Translation Integrations You Should Know About
There are many variables that influence the total cost of the software localization project.
Now that you know what the factors influencing the software localization costs are, and what tools and resources are involved in it, it’s time for you to figure out how you want to approach the translation of your software.
Are you going to use a bunch of freelancers, an in-house team, or a professional translation agency?
Make sure you look for translation services providers specializing in software localization and offering you all the perks of having a team of professionals on your side.
If you're in market for software localization, you'll also want to make sure your translation agency doesn't overcharge you. You'll probably want to make sure that you know what you are paying for and what the cost really includes.
If you already have a cost estimate and still have any doubts, ask away. We’re happy to estimate the cost of your software translation for you to compare.