Internationalize First, Everything Else Can Wait
May 28, 2024

Internationalize First, Everything Else Can Wait

You decide to translate the content of your website, app, or software program in the local languages of the region or country you are operating in. You send the content for translation. You launch your product with the translated content. Job done, right?

But what’s this? Users seem to be bouncing off the translated pages. They are leaving angry feedback. They actually seem to be upset with the translated version of your product. Why so?

It’s not that translation has failed. It’s simply that the translation has not been geared to succeed.

For translations to work, the website, app, or software solution needs to be internationalized first. Without internationalization, your investment of time and money in translation is bound to fail.

What is internationalization and why you need it?

Internationalization or I18n, for short, is the process of making one source code work for all languages so that it accommodates any operating system (OS) or browser language. This process makes sure that your product can be easily localized for any culture, region, or language. That’s why it needs to come before localization.

It is a behind-the-scenes process which ensures that your users don’t encounter broken forms, illegible fonts, or other bugs that make it inconvenient for them to use your product. In extreme cases, they may simply not be able to use your product at all.

How it works?

When you internationalize a mobile app or software program, you consider all aspects that can break the user experience (UX) and take care of them. For instance:

• Use Unicode or provide double-byte or multi-byte character support, so that fonts of different languages display properly. About 80% of the world’s websites now support Unicode. Users will no longer forgive junk characters showing up, as they used to a decade or so earlier.
• You may not be currently offering your website in languages that have bidirectional or right-to-left orientation or non-Latin typographic features. But you cannot be scrambling around when your company suddenly decides to open a branch in Israel or South Korea. With internationalization, you are always prepared.
• Make sure that the code can support local linguistic or cultural preferences. For instance, a form for writing names and addresses should be able to accommodate the different formats used in different countries around the world.
• Forms should also be able to expand or contract according to the space required by the target language fonts. Typically, English takes up 30% less space than most other languages. So, provide for 30% more space in localized websites.
• Similarly, serve up the country- or region-specific currency, number, date, and time formats. In many European countries, a comma is used to denote the decimal point and a period is used to separate groups of thousands. This is exactly the opposite of the practice in the US and UK. Imagine the chaos that can be caused on e-commerce sites if number formats don’t reflect the local standards.
• Do not mix up content with source code. Extracting hard-coded content from the source code can be a big pain when you must do it for even one language.
• In the same way, do not embed text in images. These, too, have to be manually extracted and translated. If this is not done, the images will carry the source language text on a translated website, making it look very odd.
• You can enable server-based language-related content negotiation to direct the user to pages in their language. However, provide ways to let the user change languages or region. Offer to remember any choice that overrides the browser settings.

Many of the above may seem like fine details. But the big picture looks good only when you take care of the small details.

For instance, one user of a software that helped researchers submit their research papers complained on Twitter about the problems he was facing with the name fields on the registration form. In the region he hailed from, they used a different name and surname convention than what the form would allow. But he was forced to follow the naming convention that the form dictated. As a result, his research papers would go by his father’s name, rather than his.

When should you start on internationalization?

The short answer to that question is, “Whenever you develop your product”. Because you never know when or which direction your business is going to take on its growth trajectory. Having an internationalized product would just mean that you are ready to enter important markets around the globe. It does not matter when you choose to do that.

There is also a long answer to that question. That is, if internationalization practices are not adopted right from the start, it can be tedious and very resource-intensive to do so after the product has been launched. A lot of clean-up and re-writing of code will be involved. It may also spoil the reputation of your product – and you cannot estimate the loss this will cause.

Why partner with the experts?

Braahmam has tied up with Prudle Labs to offer its customers a holistic internationalization solution. By working with us, you do not have to take on any extra development work at your end. We do the heavy lifting, so you don’t have to. Prudle’s internationalization module covers:

• Reviewing the source code in detail to check for I18n bugs.
• Automating the fixing of a majority of these bugs.
• Developing for internationalization.
• Doing final quality assessment (QA).

Many companies rush into translation with good intentions. They want to be able to communicate with their customers in their languages. And, they think about localization and translation as a process that’s limited to content. That’s only partly true.

However, I18n is a development process. It starts when you write the code for your product. Without internationalization, these companies will fail to deliver the best they can. Do not be one of them: internationalize before all else.

Take advantage of Braahmam’s expertise in delivering multilingual content and Prudle’s I18n solution for success in global markets.

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