“There’s an app for that.”
The catchy Apple slogan isn’t just a sleek marketing line—it’s a true way of life. From checking Instagram feeds to messaging co-workers over Slack, app usage has become ingrained in our day-to-day lives. To illustrate, by the end of 2022, mobile app downloads soared to 255 billion globally.
Increasingly, our world is mobile and global. That includes ecommerce and business, too. As far as product purchases go, 76% of people prefer products with info in their native language. If you’re building an app (and who isn’t?) for a global audience, you should consider software localization a part of your development process.
What is software localization?
Software localization is adapting your application or software user interface for your target market.
Software localization isn’t just about the act of translating your content from your source language to your target language; it’s about making your product look and feel local as if you created it in that country.
Software localization vs. internationalization
When we think of software localization, it’s easy to confuse it with internationalization.
In the earlier days of software, applications were not built to support multiple languages. Instead, businesses would typically create completely separate instances of their solution to support new languages. This was an expensive and time-consuming process called internationalization.
Preparing your software for localization: Internationalization
Internationalization occurs before any localization efforts begin. Internationalization is the fundamental step to making your software accept multiple languages. It enables you, on a code level, to include or address the following:
- Foreign languages
- Other characters and accents
- Administrative and billing needs like changing currencies
Internationalization creates placeholders for translations (often called “strings”) in resource files that automatically change to the correct foreign language based on your customers’ location. Multiple sources will offer varying definitions of the term but mostly fall back on the same best practices:
- Separation of the UI elements from source code of content
- Support for multiple languages and file formats
- Written text supported in multiple formats like right to left (RTL), left to right (LTR), and vertical
- Support for local, regional, and cultural preferences
- Number formats and numeral systems
- Sorting and presentation of lists
- Handling of personal names and locations
All of this happens before the localization process.
Adapting your application to multiple languages: Localization
Software localization is the process of adapting your application or software to other languages, including translating your content. But translation is only one piece of the localization puzzle. Localized content resonates with users because it incorporates relevant cultural nuance. It’s designed to feel familiar instead of simply replacing English words with translated text.
Software localization generally includes a set of localization best practices:
- Translated text
- UI layout to support different length text
- Culturally relevant graphics and images (like showing the Tokyo skyline instead of the Los Angeles one for a Japanese market)
- Converting currencies and measurements
- Addressing local regulations and legal requirements
Would you like to see some real localization examples?
3 Examples of Software Localization
Check out some ways various brands and organizations have localized their web and mobile apps.
A great example of software localization is Canva, which uses Smartling to reach 30 million non-English speaking users via localization. To illustrate, here’s what you see when viewing the web app in English.
And here’s what you see when viewing it in Japanese.
At first glance, there may seem to be very few differences besides the language. The images and icons are the same.
But notice that there are some differences in text length. And notice the slight changes when the text is translated from Japanese to English. For instance, “Add extra magic as you present” became “You can spice up your presentation” in Japanese. (The latter could’ve been the closest on-brand translation or more appropriate for Japanese-speaking users.)
While these are minor differences, they’re part of a larger localization effort on Canva’s part. The Canva Pro upgrade popup is another good example. Of course, it’s translated. But the accompanying video also shows the Japanese product experience with all copy for the UI written in that language.
When made throughout a software product, these thoughtful adjustments improve user experience and maintain brand consistency
Our next example was shared courtesy of Saggi Neumann, founder of the company behind SFTP To Go. Saggi works with SOS Pets, a nonprofit organization that places thousands of dogs and cats in foster homes while helping them find forever families.
Regarding the organization, Saggi told us: “Up until a year and a half ago, they were stuck technologically in the mid-90s at best. They were doing most everything with pen and paper, and copying data over to a Microsoft Access-based database (e.g. adopters, animals, vaccinations, and vet visits). We had to find a good technical solution to help them manage everything. But one of their most important requirements was to have the app localized to Hebrew.”
Saggi continued: “We were lucky to find an amazing piece of software that was open-sourced and translatable. We translated everything, worked with the main contributor on adding Right-To-Left support, and tested various other features such as PDF generation and reports.”
You can see an example of the translated app with Right-To-Left support above.
Last is another example that showcases what a localized (not just translated) software experience looks like.
In the English version of the GoFundMe platform with the location set to the United States, these are the kind of featured topics you'd see. Notice: They center on top-of-mind topics and causes for English speakers in the US. Things like holidays, recent events, and US-based initiatives.
But what happens when you change the language to Portuguese and the location to Portugal, for instance?
You’re presented with an entirely different set of topics—things that would be of interest to that audience. GoFundMe uses different imagery and directs users to different topics based on languages and locale.
The software localization process
Software localization workflows are very similar to workflows for translation and other forms of localization. (Think document translation or web page translation.)
A software localization project involves every member of the team. From product managers figuring out new app features to project managers keeping everything in line to localization engineers managing the quality assurance (QA) process. Here’s what software localization looks like in action.
A traditional software localization process
Traditionally, software localization workflows start after the completion of design and development. So, translators complete translations after seeing the finished product with all the appropriate contexts. The process looks like this:
- Designers create a user interface (UI) for a new feature or app page. Copywriters craft the version in your native language. Development codes the English version of the page.
- All code for a given user interface goes into a spreadsheet and gets emailed to your language services provider.
- The agency then emails the spreadsheet to multiple translators for each foreign language.
- The translators complete their work and send it back to the agency. The agency compiles every file into one complicated spreadsheet with every string in each row.
- Each string gets imported manually back into the code by copying and pasting into placeholders.
- Software developers search for bugs and other breaks due to the translation. They then submit re-translation requests as needed for design and translation issues.
No wonder many businesses don’t use localization. When done traditionally, it can be a time-consuming, slow, and expensive process. However, it doesn’t have to be this way if you design with localization in mind.
Design with localization in mind
Adding translation to the mobile and web application release cycle causes bottlenecks and headaches. This is especially true because translations can break code due to text expansion or unidentified characters. Languages like French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, and German all expand text by up to 25%. In contrast, right-to-left languages like Arabic and Hebrew can completely change the layout. So can character-driven Asian languages like Chinese.
At Smartling, we integrate directly with design tools like Figma. Anyone using the platform for design can incorporate real or pseudo-translations into the design process from the beginning. This makes it possible to fine-tune any text expansion before development begins.
And all of the following add extra time to the process:
- Reviewing content internally
- Merging code
- Copying and pasting strings
- Manually supplying screenshots and context for translators, which is crucial for accurate, high-quality translations
It can upend months of planning, delaying new releases or language launches.
What's more, it's impossible to fix errors on the fly. You won’t know that there’s a problem until the very end of the translation process.
A new, better software localization workflow
Software localization doesn’t have to be that complex.
Translation management software (TMS) like Smartling enables continuous localization processes (sometimes called agile localization). This way, you can continually release new features, products, and more without worrying about your localization efforts.
Here’s how it works:
- Smartling integrates with your platform. New and updated content is automatically parsed into strings and sent to a translator.
- Assigned translators complete the work, tracking their progress and communicating directly with you. They may also add relevant words and phrases to your translation memory to make future translations easier.
- When the translations are all set, they automatically go back into your CMS. All you have to do is click “Publish.”
And where are the translations coming from?
Smartling Language Services provides human translations from our experts or machine translation customized to your brand. Alternatively, you can also work with your preferred language service provider (LSP). Book a meeting with us to learn more about our translation services.
What software localization best practices should you apply?
Now, let’s move on to some best practices and tips that will help you make a success of your localization project.
Refine messaging and UI/UX copy first
It’s important to have a firm handle on messaging related to your software so that it can be accurately conveyed in other languages. But, beyond that, it’s worth reviewing and tightening up these factors:
- UI copy (e.g. button labels and usage messages)
- UX copy (e.g. text that guides users through the user experience)
Check and optimize all of the above for clarity and simplicity. Conciseness will make the translation aspect of your localization project easier and faster. And efficiency is critical, especially if you’ll be localizing a software product into several languages.
Look for opportunities to simplify complex words and phrases in your source language. Ensure that your overarching messaging is clear. Both will limit challenges related to finding suitable terminology in your target language(s) and confusion about the message.
Facilitate good communication
Communication is crucial for localization projects. A top priority should be keeping lines of communication open with your development and marketing teams.
Neil Paul, Head of Marketing at Airbrush, shared with us why he’s so adamant about this. Neil said, “The development team needs to be able to understand the product, and the marketing team needs to be able to understand the product. The development team needs to be able to understand the marketing team's needs and vice versa.”
Remember: The work of both departments impacts the final product. The copy provided by your writers dictates what your devs will need to code. Having everyone on the same page and enabling transparency goes a long way.
Use a translation memory tool
We also chatted with Oberon Copeland, Owner & CEO Of VeryInformed, about which best practices are most important to stick to. Oberon said: “Understanding the importance of accuracy and consistency is essential. This means the most important best practice when localizing software is to use a dedicated translation memory tool.”
As you may know, translation memory tools recall “content that has already been translated, allowing translators to access those segments and prevent variations between different versions for each language or region.” Why is this recommended?
In Oberon’s words, using a tool like this will “ensure that every version of the translated software is as synonymous as possible with its source material, resulting in fewer errors and improved customer satisfaction. Translation memory tools can not only save time and money but also ensure a higher degree of accuracy throughout all stages of software localization.”
Put quality assurance measures in place
Your workflow must include quality assurance. When managing this manually, you may appoint a Quality Assurance (QA) Manager or committee. They should review everything from how the UI looks to translation quality to the appropriateness of visuals. Ideally, they would be (or work with):
- A native speaker of the target languages
- And/or understand the nuances of the audience you’re localizing for
Smartling automates the QA heavy lifting for you. Within our software, you can leverage dozens of automated quality checks to catch spelling errors, tag inconsistencies, and more. This speeds up the QA process once your designated reviewers jump in to give their final approvals.
Additionally, 100% of our carefully-vetted professional translators are native speakers and local experts. If you opt for our translation services, you’ll have that extra layer of quality assurance built in. Plus, if you are using machine translation, our Neural Machine Translation Hub integrates with seven machine translation engines and will auto-select the best engine for your needs.
Seamless software localization services with Smartling
Smartling addresses the many challenges with app localization, helping you create the best possible end-user experience. And the app localization platform enables you to centralize all your content across devices and platforms. Here’s a bit about what it has to offer:
- Web Proxy. The fastest option for launching your web application into new languages. Smartling’s web proxy can translate any web app into any language with little to no developer involvement.
- Integrations. Our native integrations enable you to connect Smartling with your tech stack. This makes it easy to manage translations using the applications you work with every day.
- API Endpoints. With hundreds of API endpoints at your disposal, Smartling’s app localization and translation software make custom functionality possible.
Software localization doesn’t have to be complex. And it doesn’t have to create time-consuming and expensive bottlenecks for your engineering team. Localization services like Smartling give you one comprehensive solution for all of your translation needs—with the flexibility to include human translation, machine translation, or both.
For more on how our white-glove project management and automation make localization easy, check out Smartling for product experiences.