As the world becomes increasingly connected, it's more important than ever for software developers to create their products with localization in mind. Providing users with a good experience regardless of their culture or language is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s a necessity if you want to stay competitive.
But what exactly is software localization? And what does it take to get your product ready for the global market? In this article, we’ll answer these questions and more. Let's dive in!
What is software localization?
Software localization is the process of making a software product ready for use in another culture or market. This usually involves translating the user interface and documentation into another language, customizing the user experience to account for locale-specific preferences, and, sometimes, adapting the content to reflect cultural differences.
How is localization different from globalization, internationalization, and translation?
If you’re new to the world of localization, you might be overwhelmed by the multitude of terms used to describe the various concepts and processes involved. To help clear things up, let’s start by defining some of the most commonly used terms:
Globalization is an overarching strategy for entering and succeeding in global markets, from market research and target audience analysis to localization.
Internationalization is the process of making engineering, design and copywriting decisions that will, down the road, make it easier to localize a product.
Localization is the process of making a software product ready for use in another culture or market, from translation to customizing the UX for locale-specific preferences.
Translation is the process of converting text to another language, usually done by a professional translator who is fluent in the source language and native in the target language.
As you can see from the image below, localization is related to globalization and internationalization, and has translation as one of its key steps.
Why is localization important?
There are many reasons to localize your software product. Here are just a few:
Localization will open up new sales for your product. According to Yahoo! Finance, the Global Software Market is expected to grow by $ 250.35 billion during 2021–2025, while just 17% of the world’s population speak English.
Localization can improve the user experience of your customers. According to a study by Common Sense Advisory, 76% of consumers say they are more likely to buy a product that is available in their own language.
Localization can help you find unexpected success. Sometimes, a product that isn’t successful in its home market can go on to be a huge hit elsewhere.
Who is involved in software localization?
Software localization is a complex process that involves many different people and teams. Here’s an overview of the main roles involved:
Project manager: The project manager is responsible for coordinating the localization process, from start to finish. This might involve working with the client to establish requirements, coordinating with translators and developers, and making sure that deadlines are met.
Translators: These professionals translate text from one language to another. Depending on the type of content, you might need different translators for different domains. For example, you might need a technical translator for user interface texts and a marketing translator for app store listings.
Editors/proofreaders: Editors and proofreaders review translations to make sure that they are accurate and read well. From checking for typos or grammatical errors to making sure that the meaning is conveyed, editors and proofreaders play a vital role in ensuring the quality of translations.
Linguistic quality testers: Linguistic quality testers run the localized software through a series of tests to make sure that everything is working correctly and that the translations are accurate.
Developers and devops: Last but not least, you need someone to make sure the localization process is smoothly integrated into the software development process. This might involve working with localization experts to establish requirements, setting up continuous localization workflows, and setting up integrations with software repos.
What steps are involved in software localization?
As we already mentioned, localizing a software product involves more than just translating the text into another language. Here are some of the key components involved in the process:
This is the first step in localization and usually happens early on in the product development cycle. It involves making engineering, design and copywriting decisions that will make it easier to localize the product later on.
For example, internationalization might involve using Unicode, or designing user interface elements that can be easily translated without affecting their layout or functionality.
Internalization also pertains to copywriting: If your copy is full of local jargon and cultural references, it will be much harder — and more expensive — to translate. Writing plainly in a concise style that can be easily understood by people from other cultures is key if you want to make your product localization-friendly.
Further reading: Internationalization: What it is, why it matters, and where to start
This is the process of converting text from one language to another. As mentioned, this can be done either by a professional translator or with automatic translation tools.
The choice of translation method will depend on the context and quality requirements. For example, if you’re translating a marketing website or app store listing, you might be able to get away with using automatic translation tools. But if you’re translating critical user interface text such as error messages, it’s important to use human translators to ensure that the meaning is conveyed accurately.
There are a variety of tools that make it easier to manage and automate the translation process, such as Smartcat. These tools can help you streamline the workflow, keep track of progress and ensure that translations are high quality. Choosing the right tool can be just as important as choosing the right translation method, so it’s worth doing your research before making a decision.
This involves adapting the user interface and user experience to another culture. This could mean translating text elements such as labels and error messages, but also making sure that the overall layout and design of the user interface makes sense to users in the target market.
Developers with no prior experience in localization will sometimes hard-code things such as currency symbols or date formats into their software. This can make localizing the product difficult and expensive later on. To avoid this, try to educate yourself and your team about the importance of internationalization early on in the product development cycle.
This is the process of adapting the content to reflect cultural differences. This might involve changing references to local landmarks or celebrities, or even rewriting parts to make sure that it doesn’t offend local users. For example, a software product designed for use in Western markets might need to be adapted for use in Asian markets, where attitudes to things such as privacy and security are often quite different.
Cultural adaptation is a complex process that requires a deep understanding of the target market. It’s important to work with not just translators, but also localization experts who can help you navigate the cultural nuances and make sure that your product works well in the new market.
Translation is a unique service in that the customer doesn’t always have the ability to check the quality of the end product. This is why it’s important to have a process in place for linguistic quality assurance, also known as linguistic testing.
Linguistic testing involves running the localized software through a series of tests to make sure that it functions correctly and that the translations are accurate and fit in the context. This might involve testing aspects like the layout of the user interface, or checking whether error messages are displayed correctly and are translated accurately.
While some of these tests can be done by software engineers (e.g. detecting and replacing chunks of untranslated text), others (e.g. symbols or cultural references) will require manual testing by native speakers of the target language. This is why it’s important to have access to a network of professional linguists who can help you test your localized software.
What are some common challenges faced during the localization process?
Localizing a software product can be a complex and challenging undertaking. Here are some of the most common problems that businesses face when embarking on this journey, and how you can overcome (or, better, avoid) them:
Too much jargon, vernacular or idioms in the source text
Jargon and buzzwords, especially newer ones (think “disrupt” or “pivot”), can be exceptionally difficult to translate, and you may end up with a translation that doesn’t make sense, or is simply incorrect.
It’s therefore important to avoid using jargon and idioms in your source text as much as possible. If you absolutely have to use them, make sure to provide clear definitions and context so that translators can understand what you mean.
Lack of standardization in terminology
Imagine you’re a translator, and you come across different terms being used to describe the same concept in the source text. What do you do? Do you just pick one and go with it, do you translate each one separately, or do you reach out to the client for clarification?
All of this unnecessarily complicates the translation process and can lead to errors in the final translation. To make things easier, establish a set of standard terms that everyone on your team — from developers and designers to copywriters — can use. Glossaries and translation memories can be very helpful in this regard.
Lack of context/communication channels for the translators
Translators are not mind readers, and they can’t always tell what you mean just by looking at a word written on a button, for example. Sometimes they won’t even know whether it’s a button or, say, a title on a form.
Providing as much context as possible when sending text for translation will help prevent these issues. You can do this — if your TMS allows it — by adding comments, attaching screenshots, and providing links to relevant documentation. Naming variables in a meaningful way is also a good idea.
UI element size/placement issues
This is a common problem when translating user interface text: The translated text might not fit in the allotted space, or it might be placed in an awkward position that makes the user interface look cluttered.
That’s why you should think about the length of your translated text when designing the user interface. If your TMS has an integration with e.g. Figma, this can be a really helpful way to catch these kinds of issues early on.
“We need it yesterday” mentality
Your software production pipeline consists of a dozen different stages, and each of them often takes longer than you had anticipated. By the time it reaches localization — which is often the last stage in the process — you might be feeling the pressure to get things done as quickly as possible.
It’s important to remember that localization is a complex and time-consuming process, and it’s not something that can be done overnight. Trying to rush things will only lead to errors and frustration on both sides. It’s therefore important to plan ahead and give yourself enough time for the localization process.
Ideally, you should adopt a continuous localization process, where translations are done incrementally as new content is added, rather than all at once at the end of the development cycle. This can help you avoid last-minute rushes and get your product to market faster.
This deserves a separate section, so let’s get on to it.
Continuous or waterfall localization?
There are two main approaches to software localization: continuous localization and waterfall localization.
In the conventional, waterfall approach, localization is done in one go, usually at the end of the development cycle. This can be a good option if you want more control over the process and if you’re working with a limited budget.
However, waterfall localization has significant drawbacks. The most important one is that it can take much longer to get your product to market — sometimes weeks or even months. This is because all the content has to be translated at once, which can be very time-consuming and expensive.
The other main drawback is that it can be more difficult to catch errors and mistakes as there are fewer opportunities for feedback and iterations. Once the content has been translated, it can be very difficult — and expensive — to make changes.
In contrast, continuous localization is an agile approach in which translations are done all the time as content is added. This means that you can get your product to market much faster — sometimes even on the same day. Continuous localization also has the advantage of being more flexible and iterative: You can make changes to the content as you go, which means that there’s a lower chance of errors and mistakes.
Keep in mind though, that continuous localization can be harder to manage and coordinate, as it requires a tech-savvy localization team that’s comfortable working in an agile environment. You also need tech tools that are up to the task.
But, in the long run, continuous localization is a more efficient and cost-effective way to localize your software product — especially if you’ve already adopted an agile development process.
Avoiding the pitfalls: How to get software localization right
Now that you know the basics of software localization, it’s time to start thinking about how you can apply this knowledge in your own business. Here are some tips on how to get started:
Start early. The sooner you start thinking about localization, the better. This will give you more time to plan and prepare, and it will make it easier to integrate localization into your existing development process.
Educate your team. Localization is a complex process, and it’s important that everyone on your team understands the fundamentals. You can do this by reading articles or attending industry webinars and conferences.
Choose the right tools and processes. Localization requires significant coordination between team members, and it can be difficult to keep track of everything without the right tools. There are many different localization management platforms on the market, such as Smartcat, that can help you streamline the process.
Finally, take localization seriously. Don’t think of it as something that you can just “add on” at the end. The benefits of planning your localization right from the start might not be obvious, but in the long run, it can make a big difference in terms of your brand’s success.
Localizing with Smartcat
If you’ve read this far, you now know how important localization is for your business. But how do you get started?
Smartcat is a cloud-based translation management system (TMS) that makes it easy to manage and automate the localization process. You can:
Integrate with dozens of content management systems and software repos.
Translate faster and at a lower cost with translation memories and machine translation.
Streamline the workflow with automated tasks such as assigning work to translators or sending notifications when a task is completed.
Find new vendors for your localization process – select from a 500,000-strong integrated marketplace.
Get higher-quality translations with built-in quality assurance tools.
Forget about payout hassles thanks to integrated payment automation features.
We wish you all the best in your localization journey!