Challenges of software localization

Localization isn’t easy. Any localization project contains so many details that it’s no surprise if the project sometimes seems as easy as tightrope walking. There are some basic characteristics that make the localization projects challenging and attention demanding. They aren’t impossible though. Planning and consistent workflow will help. Here are some of those challenges.

Different lengths of languages – Some languages are longer than others. It’s a fact and it’s a challenge to software localizers. The seed of this problem is rooted to the decisions made by the developers who write the software in the first place. They set the limits of text lengths by defining how much space is given to the text. Buttons, boxes, navigations and other items can be too small for the localized text. If the space size can’t be changed, the second best option is to tell the translator how much space there is. This way it is possible to modify the translated text to fit the space. The worst option is to have unfit text cut randomly so that the software looks sloppy and the reader can’t read the whole text.

Changing directions of languages – In addition of varying in length, languages differ in direction. The goal of a successful localization project is to make the software feel natural and original in all the target languages. If the natural direction it to write from top to down or from right to left, it needs to be taken into account in the localization project. This challenge is also related to the process of making the software. If the original software doesn’t accept any changes to the text direction, the localization project needs to take the long road with more changes to the code. Any shortcuts won’t lead to the goal.

Different alphabets and characters – Furthermore, many languages have special characters that make the software localization challenging. There are very many alphabets in the world. The English ‘A-to-Z’ alphabets are not enough even in most western languages, and the rest of the world uses totally different characters. The software localization project will end up in a dead end if the software isn’t able to show the alphabets of the target language.

Variety of project participants – Software localization should always involve someone who is a professional in translation. In addition, the software localization process is always more or less technical and thus an engineer is often needed as well. Without being stereotypical, it is obvious that translating and software developing have very little in common. Still all project participants need to share a certain overall understanding of both professions. Only this way the communication could work well enough to enable high localization quality.

Combination of technical and natural languages – Any translator involved in software localization should have some technical knowledge. Although the translatable material would be totally code-free, the context of the material will certainly be technical as it’s a part of software. This is why the translator should be able to understand what the software does and how it is used. There are some well-established practices, like certain vocabulary and expressions, that the translator should know. Likewise, it’s important to recognize whether some weird combination of numbers, letters and special characters is actually a piece of the programming language or just a typo.

A tiny error might have a huge effect – This may not be a challenge but a threat. The challenge is to be very careful with all the details. If the code is being modified during the localization process the software will probably stop working or at least work incorrectly.

Here are the challenges that should be considered in every software localization project.

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