While software localization is not as epic a task as building a program from scratch, it does present unique challenges that cause many headaches for everyone involved.
Applying foreign language to code is very difficult for programmers unfamiliar with the localization process—and even more so if it involves special characters like those in Chinese or Farsi.
Most of the problems involve the back-end of the program, and are dependent on variables unique to every region being localized. Here are five of the most common areas that need extra attention:
1) User interface
This is the first thing people will notice when looking at a localized program. And although it is the most obvious to check, it is also one of the most difficult in terms of thoroughness.
Programmers doing localization need to convert window labels, displayed text and menu choices. Quality assurance staff needs to go through every menu and verify that all of the relevant text has been converted—and that means checking every available menu option and item. It’s a long process, and tracking down any wayward typos or mistranslations can be an exercise in patience.
2) File structures
When localizing software, one also needs to convert the folder names in the program’s file structure — one step that is often missed during the localization process. Not only is this important for consistency reasons, but also for user experience.
The end user likely is not going to know your language, and they will have a difficult time navigating the program files if they don’t understand what each folder and file name means.
3. Error messages
Localizing error messages is probably one of the biggest favors a programmer can do for the end user. Regular error messages normally spit out a string of code and numbers, but they’re usually accompanied by text that provides some sort of context for them.
Can you imagine what it would be like for a German-speaking end user to get an error message in Korean? They wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a “Save your document?” prompt and a fatal error message!
4. Operating systems
Different regions of the world sometimes work with unique operating systems. Software development teams should take this into consideration when localizing a program, and perform tests to see if the regional operating system will cause any problems.
One of the potential problems for the development team will be obtaining a copy of the operating system and being able to navigate the foreign language menus. Fortunately, linguists experienced in computer localization will be able to help developers through this process.
With all the focus on the code and user interface, software teams shouldn’t ignore the non-coding aspect of the software: documentation.
User manuals and FAQs need to be converted into the target region’s language, but in a way that is consistent with the technical changes the team is introducing. After all, menu structures may change based on language and regional user requirements, and a technical translator needs to be able to keep up.
Despite the hurdles, localizing software is an integral part of increasing software sales. Foreign markets make up a huge slice of a software publisher’s profits, and managers need to make sure that software localization teams are supported by linguists with technical backgrounds.