Translation of software and websites – how to do it well?

Companies producing software, developing applications or websites, have internationality in their DNA. After all, there is nothing more international than the Internet and all new technologies. If software is your company’s main export commodity, sooner or later you will have to look for software translation services, or actually – software localization.

The popularity of IT studies is growing, developers are highly demanded on the labor market and Polish IT companies are increasingly more successful on international markets. And although English is the dominant language in the global village and the software developers’ world, you should also consider other linguistic options. Remember, however, that software or websites require something more than mere translation.

Software translation and localization – what are they all about and why should I care about them?

Translation agencies have also something much more valuable to offer, namely software localization.

This process goes beyond software translation and helps you better adapt your product to the target market. Software localization is adaptation of a given product to the cultural and linguistic reality in the target country. What does this mean in practice?

Language is dynamic. It changes, evolves and adapts to the conditions in which it happens to “live”. What is more, being part of culture, language is affected by it. Language reflects our (as a social, ethnic or national group) emotions, customs, traditions, habits and values. This explains the multitude of words describing snow in Eskimo languages (as snow is an inherent and very important part of these peoples’ lives) or the existence of expressions that can’t be translated into all languages used around the world. Hence each language consists not only of words, but also of their meanings. Literal translation does not work when it comes to IT translations – that’s why localization, in other words expressing the meaning, not necessarily the word itself, in a way adapted to new cultural constraints – is a must.

In the case of IT translations, localization serves one more purpose – it makes software compliant with applicable technical parameters. Software localization does not apply to text strings only, but also the code, user interface, graphics, legal documentation and technical specifications. Localization of these elements will make the user perceive your product as one developed in its own country.

Localize, but what?

In order for the software translation and localization to be considered complete, more elements than just text strings have to be taken into account. It is necessary to change units of measurement and formats of numbers, time and dates, to ensure compatibility of fonts and meet the requirements relating to copyright or data security procedures and solutions applicable in a given region. Payment methods and currencies also have to be localized.

The same applies to the user interface. The worst thing (as regards localization) a developer can do is to leave no free space on the screen.

First, space occupied by different languages varies. German, for example, is a language in which extremely long words are used. English, on the other hand, is one of the most concise languages. You should also remember about translation of your software into languages using alphabets other than that in which the source text was written. If Polish software is translated into Japanese or Arabic, the screen will look completely different. The content and buttons should also be moved accordingly. That’s why the layout of the user interface must allow for any alterations.

Localization, internationalization… what??

There is one more extremely important process that we need to tackle, namely internationalization. In fact, we should have started with internationalization. Or actually, localization should have started with it. So what is internationalization?

Internationalization is a process that facilitates localization. At this stage, all source elements are prepared (or created from scratch) to be translatable. This applies both to the creative part (the design) and the technical one (the code). Internationalization involves, for example, installation of appropriate extensions that will automatically adapt the screen layout to the language, or encoding in Unicode/UTF-8 (which works perfectly in most languages, although when it comes to Asian languages, it is better to use UTF-16).

A separate article could be written about software internationalization, but the most important lesson you should learn right now is: the quality of source content is of key importance to the quality of localized ones.

Why do I need it all?

Localization is a particularly important process when it comes to software, applications or websites. If you want to please users from another country, using a different language and raised in a different culture – do localize your software. IT translations are definitely not the easiest or cheapest ones. That’s why it is important to treat software localization not as an extra, optional element of the encoding process, but one that makes this process complete.

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