Insights, Localization

Spreadsheets for localization: One step forward, two steps back

Here’s a familiar scenario in the translation industry: a company wants to offer its products or services in many languages; a project...

Written by Pedro Souto · 1 min read >
localization spreadsheet

Here’s a familiar scenario in the translation industry:

  1. a company wants to offer its products or services in many languages;
  2. a project team is assembled to support the localization project;
  3. translators accept the project’s terms and deadlines;
  4. developers extract the strings (text) for translation;
  5. finally, everybody dives into the enormous spreadsheet.

We all accept it as a necessary evil and prepare ourselves. Long hours of combing through emails for the right instructions. Blind-guessing the context. This makes up a fraction of what ticks people off. Using Excel and Google Sheets back and forth will lead to errors. 

Working with spreadsheets can feel like taking one step forward and two steps back. 

We keep wondering if there isn’t an agile way to do this. And there is.

For translators: Spreadsheets provide little to no context

Normally, developers compile localization files. They are the ones who extract the strings of the original software into a spreadsheet.

Since they designed the product, the context is very clear for them. Developers know exactly what words such as “next”, “continue” or “proceed” mean.

The problem is, translators don’t. They need to rely on the context information (such as pictures, links, etc.). For instance, game scripts are notorious for being hard to translate. Developers know and see the dialogue chronologically. Yet on spreadsheets, it’s like playing a guessing game: there are no names, no order, and very little context.

It’s no wonder why translators hate spreadsheets. Who wouldn’t?

For developers: Organizing spreadsheets takes too much time

Developers have to export strings into a format accessible to translators. In the best case, they add some extra explanations using links or descriptions. Providing background information is a long and monotonous work. 

The spreadsheet file needs to be checked and updated repeatedly. This is a time-consuming and thankless task. Developers need to divert their attention from other, often urgent tasks. This can lead to frustration and a visible drop in productivity.

Too many parties involved in managing spreadsheets

The same spreadsheet file is edited by developers, designers, product managers, marketers, translators, and proofreaders. It is a very time-consuming process, plus you get a higher probability of human error.

On the other hand, translation management software, like Lokalise, enable better team collaboration and execution. As a result:

  • Project Managers better manage the translation tasks, resources and deadlines.
  • Developers can automate localization workflows and reduce the number of tasks.
  • Translators get visual context and leverage translation memory.