So, you’ve decided to go global.
All that is left to do is just localize the interface and then you are all set. At first glance, it might seem that translating a bunch of sentences is something very easy and intuitive. Yet, localization is quite a complex process and it has many challenges.
You might say, hey, this is no rocket science; but sometimes even people having experience in this area are unaware of certain pitfalls. You gain experience by learning from your own mistakes and it may come at a high price. Or, you can take preventive measures. Do a bit of investigation first.
In this article, we shall have a look at several aspects that deserve special attention when localizing your project.
Prepare your text for the multi-language environment
Your app interface is ready and all the captions fit so nicely. Wait, what is it?! Button labels in Portuguese and Arabic are twice wider than the button themselves, and descriptions crawl in all directions!
String length may vary significantly depending on the language. If your app native language is, say, English or Chinese, which is rather compact, you should expect the text to be expanded when translated to such languages as Spanish, Portuguese or German. And, counterintuitively, the shorter the original text in English, the greater the expected expansion.
For languages using non-latin characters, the text may look completely different simply because of how the target character system looks like. Remember the Arabic mentioned above? Not only the characters and the font are entirely different; the reading direction is also right-to-left. You may also come across a situation where top-to-bottom direction is required (e.g., Mandarin).
Consider pseudolocalization for your project: this technique will highlight weak places of the text, such as varying word length, character width, and writing direction. An integration with Sketch or similar software available in your localization environment will save you a lot of time on previews. It will also give your designer an idea of how to arrange all elements in a language-independent way. Layouts, images, buttons, captions and whatever text labels appear in the interface, review and optimize them all for localization before even starting the translation process.
Prioritize the content to be translated
At this point, you need to decide what is more crucial for your project: a complete localization for all target languages at once or early market penetration? Present-day technologies and rapid development suggest that the sooner your customers know about you the better. However, this does not mean it is OK to fudge some machine-aided translation for a premature product launch. This can crush your project at birth.
A more efficient approach would be to identify the key content and localize it first. By doing so, you begin with translating the most essential areas, leaving the secondary stuff to be localized later. Thus, you are ready to start selling much earlier than if you had to await the full translation. By the way, our iOS and Android SDK support instant translation updates so your users do not have to wait for a newer app version to get the freshly translated strings 🙂
Do not rely on crowdsourced translations alone
While crowdsourcing is a great way of leveraging the user community to gain some very relevant input, the other side of the coin might be poor translation quality. The contributed content is often grammatically incorrect or only makes sense for a certain (small) group of people, like a local meme.
Another concern here is timing. If you regularly engage the same community, you already have an approximation of the timeframe required. But when reaching for new multilingual volunteers, it is impossible to predict whether they will respond immediately or delay your project by one month.
The key to success here is communication with contributors. By doing that, you will be able to organize the information flow better and set deadlines for the top priority contents (as already mentioned above). Involve moderators to review and manage the translations. And, of course, hire professional editors to ensure your content is perfectly correct. Divide and rule!
Avoid “out of subject” translations
However, ordering the whole translation from linguists is not always the brightest idea. The result may be an opposite extreme of the one gathered from the volunteer community: perfectly correct in grammar and punctuation but totally lacking context. The more specialized your content, the higher the probability of such an outcome.
To prevent this from happening, provide your translation partners with some background. Sometimes, it is just area-specific terminology that is necessary; other projects require that the translators become familiar with your product. In either case, doing so will save both your time and money.
An even better plan is to combine the efforts of both professionals and amateurs: the community will give you the right material, and competent translators and editors will make sure it is grammatically adequate.
Remember about cultural differences
So, you have got your context proofread, translated, and proofread again. Yet, there are some complaints. What is wrong?
Translation is only a part of the localization. Major, but still a part. Qualitative localization includes taking cultural aspects into account: an elegant joke in English, for instance, may sound offensive for eastern people. We all remember the story about Coca-Cola’s Chinese translation first meaning “bite the wax tadpole” (in fact, the company states this was not their own naming but rather local “homemade” signs): naturally, the last thing you want is the users to laugh at your app’s interface. So, the input of native speakers is important.
Localization also means image adaptation. People love their home sweet home, so make sure to use the country’s own landmarks where appropriate. And, among other things, let your designer spend some time picking fonts for different languages and text directions: this will let you preserve readability and style. And last but not least, check the formatting of date, time, currency and other units.
Lights, camera, localization!
Now that you have taken the express training course by reading this article, hopefully, you feel more confident and ready to go multilingual. Good luck!