Software companies with an international presence need to ensure that their products provide a great experience for users in various multilingual markets. This means the software has to be adapted to suit the different cultural, linguistic and social requirements of the company’s target audiences and regions.
Of course, we cannot ignore the fact that software localization comes with its own set of challenges. The good news is that there is a way to design the localization process so that it shortens your time to market, optimizes your expenses and ensures a better environment for cross-team collaboration. And there are tools that can help you get there.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Understanding software localization
Software localization is the process of translating software into different languages while bearing in mind cultural specificities and making necessary technical and legal adjustments to delight users around the world.
So, it’s more than just translating text. It’s also about considering the cultural and country-specific aspects of the languages, i.e. ensuring the right spelling and phrasing, the proper date and time format, currency conversions and culturally appropriate graphics are used and much more.
As you can see, software localization is a fairly long and complex process that requires more effort than simply translating ‘Welcome’ into 150 languages.
It’s worth mentioning that, although software localization is complementary to internationalization (i18n), there are still notable differences between the two. In any case, internationalization should precede software localization.
You’ve probably heard of Revolut, a UK-based fintech company. Revolut managed to build a strong global user base of over 8 million users and added 30+ languages to its app in just five years. They started off as a small startup, but quickly grew their global presence by localizing their product for different countries and audiences. This helped them gain a competitive edge, access multiple age groups and increase their market share.
Mapping out the localization challenges faced by developers
As a developer participating in the software localization process, you are likely to face several different challenges. Some of the common localization issues developers face include:
- Synchronizing between translation management systems and the code repository
- Properly downloading translation files (in the right format and structure) and monitoring changes
- Successfully spotting duplicate translations
- Effectively working with plural keys and placeholders
- Enabling translation teams to work on different features in parallel
- Providing context for translators
- Previewing translations in the design stage
Luckily, it’s possible to overcome these challenges with the right tools and processes. Let’s take a quick look at the most common workflows in software localization.
Types of software localization workflow
While it sounds simple, addressing localization issues can be a highly challenging task and it requires the expertise of localization professionals. Ideally, the development team should own the internationalization process at the very beginning and be available to make this process a lot smoother. From waterfall localization to continuous localization, we’ve come far in terms of software localization workflows.
Traditional localization workflows usually follow the Waterfall model where phases are sequential, so each phase or step begins when the previous one has ended. In this scenario, localization only starts when the product is coded and ready for release. The translated strings from translators and localization experts are channelled back to developers. Only then do they manually upload translations and merge them into the software.
In Agile localization, development teams and localization teams are working simultaneously. Localization and translation of the strings are carried out within each sprint. As everything happens in small batches, any issues that may arise can be fixed there and then. Let’s see how this works in practice with the help of the right tool.
The developer pushes new code to the project database. The localization software automatically recognizes new or altered strings and notifies the translation team. Translators work on the texts, the QA teams review them and the translations get pushed back to developers. Everything is synced so that the translations are ready for the release in a timely manner. This is what you’d call a sprint.
With continuous localization, the development and localization processes are simultaneous. While in Agile localization, tasks are completed in sprints, in continuous localization, there is one continuous sprint. Localization service providers work with the content as soon as it’s delivered by the software development teams. Each team is aware of what the other is working on at all times.
Here’s a simple way to understand the subtle difference between Agile localization and continuous localization: with continuous localization, content is always ready for release; with Agile localization, you need to wait until the sprint is completed.
With continuous localization, you can expect faster translation turnaround times. Localization doesn’t impact the development process. In fact, it contributes to quicker releases that can even take place several times a day. The product is delivered to end users faster and without any delays.
Due to these benefits, software localization is gradually moving towards continuous localization as the preferred workflow.
Introduce the right localization tool into your software development workflow
Many companies still rely on spreadsheets for software localization even though switching to a TMS can result in a 75% boost in productivity.
Uniting cross-functional team members with the right tools is a great way to optimize the software localization process. While spreadsheets are a helpful way to keep track of numbers and analyze data, they don’t work so well for managing translations.
Once you integrate the localization team into the development team, you are on your way to reaping the benefits of continuous localization.
If you’re exploring different options for your localization software, here are a few tips that can help you make an informed decision:
- Search for solutions that allow you to automate as much as you can. Features that allow you to automate your workflow can minimize idle waiting time and ensure faster time to market.
- Think about what your developers need. Look for a solution that offers code repository integrations, has features that support complex delivery chains such as webhooks and APIs and enables proper use of key referencing, placeholders and more.
- Ensure the solution offers a good collaborative environment. Think about the different roles that participate in the localization process and how the potential localization software solution addresses each person’s needs.
- Consider quality of storage. Secure, cloud-based localization software is the preferred option for software developers.
- Ask as many questions as you’d like. Your potential vendor should have dedicated product specialists ready to help you with best workflow practices.
Your localization software should centralize your translation efforts and help you reduce counterproductive back and forth communications. Every single stakeholder—UX designers, software developers, translators, LSPs and all the others—needs to be able to seamlessly collaborate. That’s how you’ll prevent unnecessary delays and ensure error-free translations with fast turnaround times.
Key tips for software localization
Are you familiar with the saying “a tool is only as good as its user”? It may be useful to highlight that even though the localization tool is your ally, you still have to do some heavy lifting. After the developers finish the process of internationalization, it’s time to carry on with the next steps, i.e. the actual localization.
Here are some of the key tips to bear in mind:
- Think about adjusting your localization process so that it starts at the design stage. With the right integrations, this proactive approach can significantly shorten your time to market.
- Ensure your visuals and emojis are adjusted to different cultures. The images you include must not be culturally offensive.
- Strive for precision. The more committed you are to adapt to a specific locale, the better your software will resonate with your target audiences.
- Use a style guide. Achieving brand consistency across multilingual markets is not easy, but it’s much simpler when you document tone of voice, audience information, brand guidelines, etc.
Introducing a new localization tool to your established software development workflow can be a challenging task. Depending on the localization maturity level of your organization, it might require a fair amount of change management. It is helpful to have the entire team on board, but to get there, you’ll need to explain how the change benefits everyone.
Remember: your chosen localization software should support your processes or help you introduce new ones. It should help you reduce unnecessary communication and the overall localization-related workload for your developers, shorten the development release cycle and enable faster translation delivery timeframes. Overall, it’s a solid way to ensure you don’t get lost in translation.
Many thanks to Alex Pereverzevs, Product Lead at Lokalise, for this post. Alexander is a tech enthusiast and Lokalise’s product guru, helping many customers make improvements to their localization workflows. In his free time, he enjoys travelling and playing football and basketball.