Localization testing: a step-by-step guide and checklist

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Want your website or app to reach potential customers around the world? Then localization is crucial. And testing plays a key role in ensuring that localization is done right, i.e. that you’re offering a quality product in every target market.

Here are just a few reasons why localization testing is so important:

  • Localizing content and the UI to another language may cause bugs and errors.

  • Elements like dates, holidays, numbers, currencies, scripts, etc. must be changed to those used in the target location.

  • Cultural elements, like colors, symbols, etc. should provide a local user experience.

  • The localized version of the product has to be consistent with the original version and function as intended.

Let’s delve into all aspects of localization testing and guide you through the whole process so you can make sure localization works for you.

What’s localization testing?

Localization testing ensures an app or website has been accurately adapted for use in a particular country, area, or region. It’s designed to check that the product makes sense within the cultural, linguistic, and functional setting and meets the requirements of the end-users in the target location.

During the process, you need to answer questions like:

  1. Does the appearance of the localized software correlate with the original version?

  2. Are all interface elements translated correctly?

  3. Is the interface displayed correctly on different devices?

  4. Are the fonts and font sizes consistent throughout all language versions?

  5. Are the dates, number format, currency, measuring units etc. adapted to the local culture.

  6. Is your website or app compatible with the software and hardware used locally?

  7. Have help resources and documents, placeholders, internal links, etc. been translated?

  8. Is the content free of errors and translated appropriately?

As you can see, localization testing requires translation skills, cultural knowledge, and software testing skills. This means many professionals need to be involved, including developers, QA engineers, linguists, and managers. However, if you break down the process and let automation do the heavy lifting, you’ll be able to take a significant load off your team.

Localization testing flow

In its simplest form, localization testing involves the three Ds of website or app creation: design, development, and delivery. But instead of creating new content and functionality from scratch, you work with translations and adapted features.

The process involves creating test cases, reporting problems, fixing them, and retesting the product as many times as necessary until it’s perfect. Let’s take a closer look.

Localization testing step 1: Design

Did you know that Hebrew reads from right to left?

The main goal at this stage is to ensure that you’ve done your internationalization right. This means making sure that the interface of your product is designed in such a way that it accommodates for different languages without any issues.

This is done on the front-end, so the focus should be on elements like images, dialog boxes, toolbar, menus, and dynamic content (e.g. pop-ups).

Test case creation tips:

  • Try to use the extended character sets (not the ASCII) where input and output are expected to make sure the text is displayed correctly. These can be DOS, Unix, or HR printer sets.

  • Set your browser or development environment to derive data from user preferences to ensure dates, times, etc. are correctly formatted.

  • Leverage pseudo-localization results to find potentially problematic areas.

Design testing is the first and possibly easiest step in localization testing as it mostly requires the efforts of the design and development team with minimal intervention from the localization manager.

Localization testing step 2: Development

Did you know that the shortcut Alt+S (Search), as used in the US, is translated as Alt+R (Rechercher) for France?

This step focuses on how well your product works in another country, no matter the language. It covers both frontend and backend aspects such as usability and interoperability.

Test case creation tips:

  • First of all, check if the product is stable after it’s localized.

  • Make sure that any older versions of the product still operate as expected when localized.

  • Try upgrading/downgrading/installing/uninstalling the local versions of the product on different devices.

At this stage, testing is still done mostly with the design and development team and requires little external coordination.

Localization testing step 3: Delivery

Did you know that the use of “B” for the BOLD function is only commonly known among English speakers? It can be confusing and problematic when used in other languages.

The last step is the most important as it can easily mess up all previous successful testing. When we say delivery, we mostly mean linguistic and cultural aspects, such as grammar, spelling, and ensuring we are respectful of local traditions and norms.

From a technical point of view, this step is easier than the previous ones. However, its simplicity can be deceptive as any translation mistakes can roll the whole process back to Step 2 or even Step 1.

Test case creation tips:

  • Try to involve locals in the testing at this step as they can catch any inconsistencies you’re overlooking.

  • Hire a professional to post-edit and approve your translations.

  • Double-check your text segmentation to ensure the translated segments match when the localized text is assembled.

This step requires the efforts of your internal localization team and possibly some freelancers or agencies.

The localization testing triangle and the way out

A key problem of localization testing is knowing when to do it: before, during, or after app/website development? Before and after have some drawbacks.

If you localize and test your content before the product is developed you have no way of seeing how well they go together. And if you do the localization and testing after the product is developed you risk taking the whole development process several steps back when any issues are found.

For example, if a linguist detects a poorly translated piece of content, this will have to be sent back for translation, approval, and another review. Besides that, the development team will have to extract the faulty string and replace it with the correct one. This significantly increases the number of tasks to complete and the risk of human error.

So, what’s best? The answer is continuous localization. It lets you, first, run your testing in parallel with implementation and design and, second, automate the process of checking for and fixing any linguistic issues.

Smartcat integrations allow you to automatically pull the text to translate out of your system (e.g. WordPress, Figma, or Google Docs), perform, correct, and approve translations, and then send them back without any extra effort.

Localization testing tips

As you can see, localization testing brings many challenges. Here are some practical tips to help you overcome these challenges and ensure that localization brings your business the expected benefits.

  • Factor in the necessary time. Plan your project carefully and remember that even the best translators can make mistakes. Be sure to give your team enough time to find them and make the necessary corrections.

  • Test as early as possible. Don’t postpone localization testing until the end of the development process when the product is almost ready. Translation into certain languages, like Arabic or Urdu, can require significant efforts at the design and internationalization stages.

  • Test as often as you can. As well as testing at an early stage, we recommend extending localization testing to the development stage, pre-launch, and post-launch. Small bugs and issues can occur at any moment.

  • Listen to feedback. Asking for and analyzing customer feedback is one of the easiest ways to gauge product performance. It’s also a free source of insight into the problems you and your team might have missed.

  • Respect differences. Not all cultural specifics can be translated. At the same time, negligence can cost you your reputation as well as affect your revenue. So don’t disregard any research or human testing whenever possible.

We wish you the best of luck in conquering the global market with your products. It's not easy but can pay off nicely if done right.