One out of ten customers will not buy a product if it is not localized. Whether your local audience understands English or not, it is good for your business to provide it in new language versions to your international buyers.
Software UI (User Interface) localization means enabling your local buyers to understand your product. It's how your product menus, buttons, and messages displayed on the screen communicate with the user.
If you are a software developer, or a person with technological background, you may consider communication to be irrelevant or secondary. It's a marketing team's job to establish proper communication with your buyers, right?
You influence the communication process a lot. Especially when you are a developer, or when planning your company's global expansion.
Although localization projects are mostly assigned to marketing teams, it's good to know what the process looks like. Understanding how it is connected to the designing stage can put you ahead of the competition, because you can save time and money on fixing costly and time-consuming localization obstacles.
ATL is highly experienced in assisting clients with UI software localization from its earliest stage to final product launch. For the last 15 years, we've been busy, on a day-to-do basis, working on various translation projects, among which there are numerous software localization projects, and UI localization jobs.
We know that understanding the process of UI software localization can ensure efficient and cost-effective project execution. We've seen firsthand the positive outcomes of our clients implementing localization best practices at the beginning of their production process, and as early as at product design stage.
If you are designing your software, or you have started thinking about your software translation, this article will provide you with a guide to an efficient software localization process. It will help you make sure that your product is ready to become a worldwide bestseller in a fast and cost-effective way.
Even if you are starting small and you think of global expansion as something far in the future, like flying cars, this is the right moment to start thinking about your products' global sale.
Why is it so important to start thinking about global expansion at the very beginning of your product development? It is because of the rules of internationalization that need to be taken into account, as early as at the product development stage.
Internationalization means making sure that the software you create is free from so-called localization obstacles. Localization means mostly translation, but it doesn’t only apply to text. It is a broader term.
Related content: The Guide To Understanding Translation and Localization Terminology
Localization obstacles are all sorts of issues that may come up during the translation project, and block or delay one or more of its steps. Even though it is often reduced to translation, the localization process includes a lot of steps and many different teams cooperating with each other.
Localization teams often consist of:
They are there to take all the weight of managing the whole localization process off of your shoulders. They also set up the work environment for the linguists, both from the project management perspective to manage risk, and to evaluate and manage quality, but they also set up the technical aspects connected with translation software, called CAT tools (Computer Assisted Translation).
Now that you know who is going to deal with your translation project, we can focus on potential issues that you may encounter with regard to UI software localization.
One of the issues that may be avoided by planning the global expansion during product development is too much, or in the worst-case scenario, not enough space for the translated text.
In order to prepare the product for localization, you need to allow approximately 50% for text expansion. Allow this space for the text to shrink and grow.
There are languages that are much longer than English, like German or Finnish, but there are also languages that use fewer characters for the same information, for example, Japanese.
Naturally, in all languages there are synonyms that linguists can choose from. It is also used to shorten the UI terms displayed. But you have to understand the consequences of these solutions. Choosing short but less commonly used synonyms can make your product's information sound unnatural.
What we have seen many times is extreme text-shortening, which is really negative for user experience and can make the messages unintelligible.
Related content: 15 Software Localization Myths
Very often, companies use symbols instead of inserting text for buttons or options. This is often the case for mobile apps, or anywhere where there is limited space for text display. This is called Graphical User Interface, and it also needs localization.
Before introducing a new symbol into your App, make sure it is not offensive in any of the countries where you plan to market. The well-known thumbs up is as rude in some places, like Sardinia and parts of West Africa, as the middle finger is in the USA.
For globalization reasons, it’s good to use some symbols instead of using text, which may translate into much longer content, for example:
Another issue that may stand in your product's way to seamless localization is appropriate time and date format.
In order to be compatible with all your clients' ways of displaying time and date, you should consider this in advance.
If your software isn't flexible with regard to this aspect, it may lead to real consequences. 03-05-2020 can be read as May 3rd or March 5th, so that makes quite a difference, doesn't it?
When dealing with time, start with the 24-hour vs 12-hour clock. Some people work nine to five and others start at nine but finish at seventeen. There are places all over the world where a.m. and p.m. are not relevant at all. The nine to five working day, in most European countries, would mean staying in the office for 20 hours!
You already know about the different length of words in various languages. There is one more thing that needs to be considered as early as the development stage: Special characters (e.g.: German, Spanish, Polish), double-byte characters (e.g.: Japanese, Chinese, Korean) or RTL (right-to-left) languages (e.g.: Urdu, Hebrew, Arabic).
While we're talking about selecting content for translation, it is worth mentioning again that planning the localization for product development stage is crucial.
One of the localization best practices is not to hard-code the strings. In many cases, a hard-coded value may appear within the source code several times. All of the values may be difficult to locate. It can cause a program bug if the value is modified in some places, but not in others.
Separate all localizable elements from the main source code. All the strings for translation should be separated into one or more resource files. Isolate localizable resources by placing them in a repository, like for example, a Windows resource file (*.rc) or .Net assembly file.
For example, in an Android app, all your localizable strings will be moved to the .xml strings file and placed into the appropriate locale (particular language) directories. Remember to work in locales, not languages. That means adding the language version spoken in a particular locale, like French spoken in France, and French spoken in Canada, as these languages require different versions to some extent.
One of the most important things is to select all localizable content, while not changing or removing elements of the code. Otherwise, the software may not work properly after the translated strings are imported.
Most of the workload connected with translating key terms is on the localization company's side, but there is also a bit of effort from your side needed.
First of all, you need to ask your localization service provider to create a terminology glossary, or agree when the localization team suggests it as an additional step.
You may also be asked to suggest or approve the suggested translations. Naturally, you don't have to learn several languages. Your role is to cooperate with the localization experts, and either assist them with choosing the best translation, or simply put them in contact with your local distributors or testers that may help. The translation agency may also ask you how you want to address your software users.
It is important to work on the key terms in order to avoid misunderstandings. There are already-existing translations that are familiar to software users on local markets. For example, terms like save or enter are commonly used in all sorts of products, and it would be advisable to follow the common translations and avoid confusing the users.
In most cases, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. If the commands are the same, you may choose the existing translations, and save money. There are public Microsoft UI glossaries, so you can start from there.
Related content: 6 Tips on Preparing Your Content for Translation
The quality of the final product is based on the amount of time provided for preparations. That brings us to reference material, which is crucial for localization process.
UI software is a compilation of strings without any explanation. The linguist has no idea what happens when the user clicks or hits a button.
In order for the localization team to not just guess how your software works, make sure to provide as much context as possible. It’s good to have documentation ready, or to provide as much reference material as possible. All available context should be provided together with the translatable strings.
For the sake of the most accurate translations to support your product's success on the local market, you need to work on providing the translator with as much context as possible or answer the queries. This is especially the case with very innovative solutions.
There is not much for you to do in this step. Choose your localization service provider. Make sure to use all possible automations, that speed up the process and save you time and money.
Don't hold back on giving the green light for too long. Ask for batch deliveries and progress reports. That's it, the rest is done by the localization company.
In order to make the process even more flexible for you, localization service providers can integrate their translation tools directly into your work environment. This can be through content repository, cloud, or whatever fits your needs.
Integrations allow easier content flow and centralized localization. You can benefit by saving time, and from reusing already-translated content. The UI can be reused while translating the rest of your content, like Help or marketing materials.
Thanks to integrations, you can clearly see which translations, into which languages, have been completed. You can check which ones are assigned, or in the testing stage.
Integrations also support continuous localization. For upcoming updates, the connection between your content and the translation team is already set up, so in just a few clicks, the update is localized into several languages without time-consuming file management.
Related content: A Lack of Translation Integration With Your System: Trouble Alert
After the translation is completed, import it back into your application and deploy your localized application with the new translation.
Now, it’s time to test it.
You should not only test your software for its functionality, but also ensure its linguistic accuracy.
At this stage, the testers check to make sure the text is not truncated, that special characters are displayed correctly, that time and date formats are localized, and that the layout is correct for right to left or left to right languages.
Moreover, the testers verify whether users will find the software easy to use, and if the translated UI is user-friendly for local buyers.
Translation of the UI is an important part of software localization. User interfaces that are translated incorrectly can lead to incorrect operation. Product menus that are difficult to understand mean unhappy customers, or no buyers at all.
But luckily, properly localized UI generates more satisfied users, and products that can be understood at a glance. It also reduces the number of troubleshooting issues.
If all of that sounds a little overwhelming, look at it this way: Now you know! You can now avoid costly and time-consuming multilingual software updates. Now, just decide where you want to begin your global expansion .
You know how and where to start, and what to take into consideration while developing your product and easily leave your competition behind.
When they start considering global sales, and begin auditing their software for possible localization obstacles, you will have already introduced your product globally, or launched a new, localized product page on your multilingual website.