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About Localization

The Everyday Guide to Software Localization

Software localization isn’t the same as internationalization. We’ll talk through the differences between the two and what that means for your localization strategy.


“There’s an app for that.”

The catchy Apple slogan isn’t just a sleek marketing line — it’s a way of life today. From checking Instagram feeds to messaging co-workers over Slack, app usage has become so pervasive in our day-to-day that by the end of 2020, mobile and web app downloads soared to over 218 billion globally.

Increasingly, our world is mobile and global. That includes e-commerce and business, too. 75% of the population will choose whichever service provides them with information in their native language or preferred language. If you’re building an app (and who isn’t?) for a global audience, you should consider software localization as 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 — so that on a code level, you can include foreign languages, other characters and accents, or 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. Localizing content resonates with users because it incorporates relevant cultural nuance 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

The software localization process

The software localization workflow is very similar to other forms of localization, like document translation or web page translation. A software localization project takes every member of the team, from product managers figuring out new app features and pages 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

The old way of software localization workflow starts after design and development are completed, so translators see the finished product with all of the appropriate contexts to complete their translations.

This process looks like this:

  1. Designers create a UI for a new feature or app page, copywriters craft the version in your native language, and development codes the English version of the page
  2. All of the code for a given user interface goes into a spreadsheet, emailed to your language services provider
  3. The agency then emails the spreadsheet to multiple translators for each foreign language
  4. The translators complete their work and send it back to the agency, who compiles every file into one complicated spreadsheet with every string in each row
  5. Each string gets imported manually back into the code by copying and pasting into placeholders
  6. Then software developers search for bugs and other breaks due to the translation and submit re-translation requests as needed for design and translation issues

No wonder 40% of businesses don’t use localization. When done traditionally, it can be a time-consuming, slow, expensive process.

Localization doesn’t have to be like that. Instead, design with localization in mind.

Design with localization in mind

Adding translation to the mobile and web application release cycle causes bottlenecks and headaches, especially because translations can break code due to text expansion or unidentified characters. For example, 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 or character-driven Asian languages like Chinese can completely change the layout.

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, fine-tuning any text expansion before development begins.

Reviewing content internally, merging code, copying and pasting strings, and manually taking and supplying screenshots or other context for translators (a crucial part for accurate, high-quality translations) all add extra time to the process. 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) so you can continually release and deploy new features, products, and more — without worrying about your localization efforts.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Smartling automatically integrates with your content management system, so anytime there are updates or new content, it’s automatically parsed into strings and sent to a translator.
  2. Your assigned translators complete the work, tracking their progress and staying in touch directly with you for prompt communication. This process can include adding anything relevant to your translation memory, making it easier for future translations.
  3. When the translations are all set, it automatically goes back into your CMS, and you click Publish.

And that’s it!

Smartling works with a network of translators worldwide who specialize in making sure your translations are not only accurate but that they also align with your messaging and sound like it was written in the original language. Learn more about Smartling’s translation services here.

Seamless software localization services with Smartling

Smartling’s translation platform was built to address the many challenges inherent with mobile app localization, helping you create the best possible end-user experience for your customer. Smartling’s app localization platform enables you to centralize all of your content across devices and platforms.

  • 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. Smartling's native integrations enable you to connect with your tech stack, making 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 or 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.

Our white-glove project management and automation make localization easy. Try Smartling today.