Localization should be embedded in your software project if you want to successfully expand your business across borders. But we all know that often it is looked at as an afterthought. Agile development teams work in a structured flow towards the end of a two weeks-release cycle, realizing only then that a production release is halted due to missing, delayed or incorrect translations of the user interface (UI). 

Some might say to just release in English or with mixed-up locales in the user interface. Missing translations are then sent in a language file to the translation agency or possible translation mistakes are sent to an in-country reviewer working at the company. And the updated files will be added in the next release. This is not good practice, in some countries even against the law and by all means unnecessary. 

With a combination of good tools and best practices it is fairly easy to ship your regular software updates localized in multiple languages right on time, every time. Why is this important? For your organization this means custom and undocumented work-arounds are eliminated leading to a more streamlined workflow. For the customers user experience it means a lot to be addressed in their own language with addition of locale-specific components. 

Four tips for success 

1. Build your business case 

Great localization work can be costly and resource-intensive, while results can be difficult to quantify. You ‘only’ end up with fantastically translated work. Still the businesscase can be made by looking at: 

  • Your competitive advantage in international markets. Most users prefer to be addressed in their own language. Nice to know facts in this respect are that more than 50% of global internet users are in Asia, 80% of app downloads are in non-native markets and more than 50% of Google queries are in languages other than English. 
  • The pressure on your call-center. Localized software guarantees a smooth user experience. Users that can easily understand the UI of your software are less likely to call customer support. 

2. Know the stakeholders in your company 

Software Localization is a company wide activity and responsibility. Various departments are involved. Business Development might decide to enter a new market, and Marketing is already designing the campaign the next morning. Realize that adapting your software to the new region needs involvement from Product Management, Documentation and Software Development as well. 

So if the business case looks good, and a new market is on the horizon, make sure you align your go-to-market strategy with all departments involved. And do not start localizing after everything else is ready. 

3. Embed Localization in your development workflow 

To embed the process of localization in your workflow it is essential that your foundation is right. Your software application needs to be internationalized to be able to integrate localization in your workflow. Internationalization (i18N) is the process of designing a software application so that it can be adapted to various languages and regions without engineering changes. Localization (l10N) is the process of adapting internationalized software for a specific region or language by translating text and adding locale-specific components. 

When your setup is right, you can work on your translations almost parallel to the development of new features. Because adding new languages or new translations doesn’t need a code change, translators can work simultaneously with the developers in the same sprint. This means you can release early and often. 

4. Use the right tools 

Having proper internationalized software does not imply that the localization process will be smooth and effective. Your translation units (or: segments, strings) are in specific source files, that can be handed to translators to be processed. There might still be translation agencies that accept to receive the raw XML- or XLF-files, which the will be able to convert to a workable format. But you might want to gain more control over the process and use one of the many available Translation Management Systems. 

These so called CAT-tools help you in setting up your translation project in an environment that keeps track of everything you do during the lifetime of your software. Besides that they give you control over the process itself. You will be able to hire freelance translators, let the review be done by in-country reviewers in office abroad from your own organization, and see progress of your team at a glance. Some of these tools can be integrated in the continuous integration workflow of your development team. This means you don’t even have to worry anymore about the format or the recency of your source files. Translation work will just show up in your dashboard. 

Many of these tools are full featured to localize websites and documentation. For example they offer a translation memory (TM) which comes in handy when translating large chunks of text. Software applications have a slightly different challenge in translating UI-texts. There is no reference text that can be used by a TM. A translator needs visual context to understand what he is translating. Rigi fills the gap left by many translation management systems by providing dynamic visual context for translators and reviewers. 

In summary 

Integrate localization into your entire development workflow to make sure that your translations are correct the day your product-updates are released. This way every end-user understands exactly how your product works.

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