The Importance of Software Localization

Benefits of software localization

Only being the best in your neighborhood is not good enough anymore. The present-day market is international. Even if translating software into other languages costs serious money, this allows companies to access foreign markets that would be otherwise difficult to penetrate. Also, the rumor according to which ALL foreigners understand English is a myth.

Most software nowadays is localized in order to be available on larger markets. If you plan to develop your software in several languages, or if you plan to start developing the software in your own language and afterwards in other languages for foreign markets, it's best, from the very beginning, to take into account certain localization and translation issues.

The best-case scenario is to do that before the software is even written. It is certain that keeping localization issues in mind while working on the specifications of the project will most certainly help reduce costs and will ease the effort associated with the localization of the product on foreign markets.

Localization: A Definition

Software localization implies more than just the mere translation of the product's user interface. Companies require that their software to be adapted to the culture of the target country, so that they can reach a larger audience.

Localization, in this case, stands for the complex operation that consists in translating the software and also in adapting it according to the linguistic conventions and cultural specifics of the users from the target country.

This process often requires a lot of work hours and tremendous effort from the development teams, but there are a number of tools that were specifically created in order to simplify the localization process. Also, many of the localization projects are outsourced to specialized companies in order to reduce costs.

Tips for Software Localization

Software must be written in such a way so that it would be quite easy to adapt (i.e. translated) later, according to necessities, into different cultures and languages. Localization and internationalization go hand in hand.

Internationalization consists, basically, in developing a product in several languages. All the parts of software that need to be translated are separated from the software itself and adapted to the specifics of the country for which the software is meant. It is best that the concerned software to be designed with this aspect in mind from the very beginning as the process of re-writing the entire software which was designed from the start with just a narrow target market in mind, is time consuming and expensive.

Concerning the translators, ideally, they should perfectly master the target languages and have a very good knowledge in the technical field and be proficient with the specific vocabulary. Last but not least, they should be familiar with the software in order to fully understand the context of the phrases.

Sometimes, this can cause problems for the people in charge with the translation: there may be rare occasions when the entire translation team is needed, or just some "know-it-all" genius. Anyway, the translators should collaborate with the development team at all times.

Software localization is a process that requires specific knowledge and some serious project management skills. For each project, its manager, in close collaboration with the engineers, should develop a schedule that indicates all the necessary steps required to make the localized software lucrative.

A high-level description of the localization process would include the following steps:

  • The identification of what must be translated from a software, and adopting a localization strategy based on the sales estimates.
  • Establishing a strict schedule for the localization process, including deadlines for each stage in the process.
  • Finding and recruiting adequate, professional translators, preferably with recent, significant experience in the target countries.
  • Establishing a close collaboration relationship with the translators to ensure the accuracy and coherence of their work.
  • Consulting the development team on aspects that could facilitate the localization process.
  • Defining a properly internationalized product that won't need to undergo changes for each of the envisaged foreign languages.
  • Testing the product for each and every one of the languages in question.

Software localization mainly concerns the three basic components of a product: the graphical user interface, the on-line help and the documentation.

For the user interface, of great importance are the resource files, having the extension .rc. They contain what the user is most likely to see and displayed in the form of menus, dialog boxes, error messages, cursor shapes, bitmaps, etc. There are usually just segments of the resource files that need to be translated.

Some examples would be the text that appears on some of the most common bitmaps, the splash screens, or the text strings that are displayed in menus and dialog boxes / error message boxes.

Help files, initially in .rtf format, are compiled and converted into hypertext format. Most of what is included in such a file will be translated. What should not be translated is the hidden text that represents hyperlinks, as well as the "#" and "+" footnotes.

The documentation, which usually raises no issues for the translation process, includes readme files, Word processing and DTP files (documentation files per say), client-prepared file formats and incidental files.

Readme files are usually in .txt format, and contain information that was not included in the documentation, setup information or additions to the user manual.

Documentation files are the highly formatted user manuals that must reach the target users. The information in these files is usually overwritten during translation.

The Benefits of Localization

Software localization is beneficial for both developers and customers. We should take into account the fact that the number of non-English speakers that use localized software is in a continuous growth.

Most software users expect that their software be written in their own language. Even if localization is done at a certain cost for software companies, it entails obvious benefits: the users that perfectly understand a product can manage it more properly, can use it more efficiently, and are less prone to making costly mistakes.

All these have an influence on the final result. More competent and efficient users translate into fewer costs for support and customer service.

Localization allows users to interact with software in their own language via an intuitive configuration for them.

To exemplify:

  • Messages are in their native language.
  • The entry fields are formatted in a manner that is common to their respective country (name, address, date, hour, etc.)
  • Different types of keyboard are taken into account for entering information.
  • The error messages in the native language guarantee quick solutions for the problems.

Competition in the software sector is fierce, with numerous high-quality products fighting over the same market. It is not possible anymore to gain advantage over the competitors by blowing fairy dust in the customer's eyes.

The winning scenario is the one where the customer's needs are met in the best way possible. Software localization proves to be the key of a strategic advantage over one's commercial adversaries.

Mistakes in Software Localization

  • Neglecting the length of translated words, which would require redesigning the software to fit the foreign language version, and thus losing valuable time (and money).
  • Disregarding localization (i.e. specific countries / regions) and their particular, characteristic elements (e.g. date format, number format, address structure, postal code length and structure, calendar format, etc.).
  • Failure to use simple, concise text, familiar to most people and, primarily, to possible users of the software.
  • Failure to provide clear, accurate text in the target language, rendering the instructions and commands in a nonsensical way or hard to understand.

Conclusion

Software localization practically equals to a guarantee that your software "speaks" the language of your customers. In the present context of globalization, localization might just make the difference between success and failure on your target markets.

With the commercial environment becoming more and more competitive, the stringent need to adapt software, documentation, on-line help files, Web pages and user manuals has arisen, so that they meet the cultural and linguistic needs of each and every customer.

Read also our article about software product documentation.

Localization has really turned into the price that must to be paid in order to be able to perform commercial activities on a global scale.

We also recommend reading an article about how to keep customers happy.

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