The Challenges of Localizing Software in a Global World
May 16, 2023

The Challenges of Localizing Software in a Global World

The market for global language translation software and services is expected to reach $62.7 billion by 2024, as a result of globalization. With the proliferation of the internet and mobile devices, as well as increasing audience preference to receive content in their native languages, it’s necessary to translate and localize products for a business to grow and communicate effectively.

In our article on digital transcreation, we define localization as the process of adopting a product or an application according to the cultural preferences of the target demographic. The Coca-Cola bottle campaign, for instance, used names like Mike and Sara for American bottles. To cater to the Irish public, however, they used Irish names like Aoife and Oisin instead. Naturally, the demand for these kinds of adjustments extends to technology — and specifically software — as well.

Software localization is the process of adapting software to the linguistic, cultural, and legal requirements of a specific locale. It’s not limited to translate text-based elements; rather, software localization also involves tweaking graphics, layouts, and formatting, as well as satisfying any local laws, data compliance standards, device preferences, and technological trends. These nuanced considerations pose three main challenges:

1. Planning for a different context

Context is essential in every translation project, especially in software localization. In traditional multilingual projects, a translator often gets full texts to translate. For software localization, however, they only get software strings with placeholders and very little context. Some placeholders may even have multiple meanings; in a health app, the placeholder “steps” could mean “the number of steps” or “the steps taken in a process.” With only short sentences or words, there aren’t enough context clues that help translators decipher meaning, and this can lead to quality issues. It helps to prepare an intentional authoring framework that familiarizes translators with the context, and purposely avoids “tricky” words or phrases such as those with double-meanings, metaphors, acronyms, localisms, and more.

2. Creating a localized UX

The user experience (UX) design will vary depending on the country you’re localizing software for. Translated content can display differently because of how many words are added or removed to complete a translation. For example, translating English to Arabic can expand text length by 25%. Visual elements would also need to be changed; a U.S.-style mailbox is not really relevant to other cultures, while common symbols like hands, feet, or animals may have unexpected, even unwelcome meanings. To make the technical changes, some expertise in user experience and user interface (UX/UI) is preferable, as is knowledge of programming languages and computer architecture. Though if you don’t have education in computer science a relevant course or tutorial can help you to handle the basics. However, even if the technical side of things is taken care of, it also helps to have a native translator working with you, as thinking in a foreign language lets you be more objective about your choices. With all of this covered, you’ll be able to internationalize objects or formats, and ensure intelligent character encoding is supported.

3. Translating complex languages

Languages can be very, very complicated. Aside from battling with regional dialects, you have to consider different rules for sentence structures, pluralization, and verb tenses. Some languages read right-to-left, while others are read vertically. Even gender and inclusivity can be tricky to manage — Spanish nouns have their own lexical gender, for instance. And what about words that may not exist yet in a given language? In Africa, young people have recently started to build digital word libraries for 20 languages such as Twi, Swahili, Afrikaans, and Dagbani, after realizing that indigenous tongues like isiZulu didn’t have terms for “facemask” or “hand sanitizer.” Software localization must also pay attention to consistency for words like “Login” versus “log in,” or risk looking unprofessional.

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider! And rather than toiling through it all on your own, you can also choose to deliver the best output with Braahmam’s software localization services.

Don’t leave localization as an afterthought — dominate the global market with your products today.

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