Poor software localization can create a stilted user experience, which users will then associate with your brand. We’ve compiled a quick and easy-to-read list of questions about software localization to explain how it works, and why it’s necessary.
The word “seamless” is used so often these days in software development, you may even question marketing copy that promises a “seamless” experience. Why state the obvious, right? But that’s exactly what software localization does: it creates a seamless experience for your users, regardless of their language. Below we’ve answered some common questions about software localization and explain why it’s not a matter of finding word-for-word equivalents.
“Seamless” is precisely the word used to describe software that has been successfully localized. When users in the target language use the software and don’t get any sense that a foreign company developed it, the project is successful. This means that the product is—to use that word again—seamlessly adapted to the linguistic, functional, and legal norms in the target markets.
Ultimately, it helps them work faster and more accurately. Your imagination is the only limit in defining what this means for your company: fewer support tickets, improved accuracy in data entry, consistency in customer ratings globally…and all of these are related to costs and improved market share. For example, if you operate a multi-lingual customer service department, allowing your employees to work with your software in their language will reduce fatigue and errors caused by on-the-go translation.
Another added bonus: if you develop software to sell, your customers’ users would share these same benefits.
No one likes using software that bumps along a road like a wagon with square wheels. Localizing software smooths the corners, and before you know it, you’ve removed a good deal of stress from each user’s day.
Highly regarded English linguist David Crystal estimates that, including those who speak English as a foreign language, the language is spoken by 1.5 billion people worldwide.
Which leaves about 5-6 billion who don’t speak English.
Now look at Chinese: Statista reports that 1.3 billion people speak it natively, compared to 379 million who speak English as a first language. Although English is perhaps the most widely spoken language in the world, it is not the language spoken by the most people.
Consider the word “manual” for a moment. Was your first association the opposite of automatic? Or a booklet of instructions? English also has many words that can be verbs and nouns, and only context tells you which one, e.g., chair (sit on a chair, chair a meeting), or screen (your computer screen, screen job applicants).
Incorrect translations usually happen because the context for a word is misunderstood. To eliminate these errors, translators who localize software require the resource files and not just a list of words to properly translate. If you’re concerned about privacy and proprietary information, a professional language services provider will sign your NDA.
Machine translation speeds up the translation process considerably. However, AI has not developed enough yet that machines can carry out translation on their own. Humans are still needed and the main reason is this: Context.
Human minds understand and see context more completely than AI can. Take for example the simple word “key.” When you see the word by itself like that, you may drum up associations in your mind, but if someone simply said to you, “Key,” you would ask questions to clarify what they want.
After receiving your answers, you’d parse them together to form the actual request: “Please give me the key for the supply cabinet so I can unlock it and stock a new employee’s desk before they arrive.” That’s very different from, “Press the ESC key to exit that process.”
So, although machine translation is improving, humans are still needed to evaluate and improve the results.
To save the most money and drastically reduce the number of headaches your team experiences during development, include software localization at the beginning of your development cycle. This is actually called internationalization: you develop your software so that it can be “re-created” in a variety of languages.
We’ll explain why this is important.
For example, suppose you ask your graphics designers to visually represent a chronological process. According to Lera Boroditsky, a researcher in cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, language even dictates how people think about time.
So, English speakers refer to the future as being ahead and the past as being behind. However, to speakers of Mandarin, earlier events are “up” and later ones “down.” This kind of knowledge can affect the graphic being created.
If internationalization is done right, localization costs only a fraction of the original development cost and has high potential for additional revenue.
Sometimes it’s necessary to state the obvious, because you only know something is obvious when you experience its absence. A seamless user experience is the gold standard for any software solution, but what’s often forgotten is that language and culture form part of that standard. Effective internationalization coupled with professional software localization will help your company reach that gold standard in any language you want to serve your users in. That can open up multiple new markets for your company.