21 July 2023

Software localization:
Where to start and tips for success

Software localization:<br/> <strong>Where to start and tips for success</strong>

Software development is an art. Successful developers carefully consider every aspect of the user experience to ensure it’s engaging, intuitive and appealing. In the past, developers might have adopted a one-size fits all approach to their product as it was rolled out internationally. However, thanks to increased competition, there is now high demand for each piece of software to deliver a truly native experience, carefully tailored to each region it’s launched in.

This means perfectly localized content: error-free translations, adaptive UI and carefully considered supplementary content such as FAQs or how-to guides. Good localization shows users that they’re valued and not just an afterthought in a corporation’s ambitions for global expansion.

So, how can software developers ensure that their products are localized to the highest possible standards? Alpha CRC has over 35 years of experience in the world of software localization, and has prepared some tips for those unsure of where to begin, or how to turn their projects into a success.


It’s all in the internationalization

Preparing a piece of software for localization is a process known as internationalization. This involves checking to make sure all of the source files, including any strings and keys, are suitable and viable for localization. Let’s take a look at what that means.

Support UTF-8 encoding

Firstly all text must be UTF-8 encoded – this will make things a lot simpler for localization. Simply put, a piece of software will be able to display characters from a variety of languages and writing systems much more easily, while keeping space usage to a minimum. UTF-8 is already used for over 95% of all websites, meaning developers will probably use it almost as a default, but it’s always worth double checking.

Don’t hard-code text

Hard-coding text that appears in menus or dialogues can lead to massive localization headaches. Translators would have to comb through source code to find sections that actually need translation, and this process typically leads to less consistent translations.

Design for text expansion

Text expansion is an unavoidable result of localization, and can wreak havoc on UI if the software developers have underprepared. Overlapping text, and crammed and cluttered interfaces are just a few of the examples of what can go wrong if designers don’t plan for it. In general, it’s best to leave 50% extra room for labels to grow and shrink.


Know yourself: Style guides and glossaries

Even as software products are rolled out into new languages and regions, it’s important to maintain a consistent tone of voice. A well-prepared, informative style guide will help linguists from multiple locales get a feel for the company’s tone of voice and be able to work out how best to replicate it in the target languages. So, what should be included in a style guide?

Establish a tone of voice

Friendly and familiar? Neutral and authoritative? Where does humour fit in? It’s important to establish a tone of voice early on in the style guide. This will help linguists get into the right headspace from the very beginning. It’s also a good idea to include notes on how the tone of voice might change slightly throughout different mediums – this is particularly relevant when the same linguists are working on both marketing and in-app content.

Product names and terminology

Some services will keep specific product names and terms across all languages, others won’t. Having a glossary of product names, or identifying a location where linguists can find product names suitable for their locale, will ensure there are no inconsistencies.

Identify brand-specific requests

Developers will sometimes have a preference for a specific word or spelling over another. Making these clear in the style guide will ensure fewer rewrites and edits after the translation has been completed.


Context is everything

Many poorly localized pieces of software turn out that way due to a lack of context for linguists. No context means linguists have to resort to guesswork, which is where translation errors can arise. In order to avoid this, development teams should make sure to provide enough information about their software or service from the start. That said, it’s important to check whether the context provided is genuinely useful. Trawling through 15 unrelated screenshots when only two are relevant to the task at hand is frustrating and a waste of valuable time.

Identify the type of content

Language isn’t always used in the exact same way. Titles and headers have different grammar rules and expectations when compared to text that appears in a paragraph, for example. Be certain to identify where a string will be used in order to get the best translation – nobody wants a wordy CTA.

Visual context

Providing linguists with visual context isn’t just about giving them something pretty to look at. When strings are only fragmented sentences, which they often are in software, it can be difficult to identify whether a word is being used as a verb or a noun – take ‘run’ for instance.

Equally, visual context allows the linguist to easily identify if there is only a limited amount of space available. Knowing this in advance means they can search for a short word to use in the translation, limiting the number of revisions needed further down the line.


Professional linguists are not to be overlooked

One of the most common misconceptions about localization is that just because people can speak two languages, they are able to translate between them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Becoming a professional translator capable of creating engaging, natural text from a foreign source requires specialist training and continued dedication and study.


Professional translators are experts in their respective language and have a deep understanding of the nuances and complexities it entails. They also have the skills required to accurately convey the intended meaning of a message, including its subtexts inferred through cultural context. Machine translation tools like Google Translate, while making continuous progress, often miss out on the nuances of idiomatic expression, which can lead to embarrassing communication errors.

Save time and money

Cutting costs by using cheap linguists or extensive machine translation might seem like an attractive proposition, but extended rounds of feedback and error correction due to low quality localization will only drive up costs and impact user counts. Professional linguists ensure that communication materials are accurate first time around, which will save money in the long run.


Human expertise, powered by technology

Of course, this isn’t to say that technology doesn’t have an important part to play in the localization process. Machine translation has helped realize drastic increases in productivity and shorter turnaround times when paired with expert linguists who can provide deep insight into translation quality and thorough post-editing.

Translation memories

Translation memories are databases that store previously translated content for future use. This means that linguists are able to reuse previously translated content, saving time and ensuring consistency across multiple projects. Translation memories are particularly useful for companies that regularly produce large volumes of content. They can be customized to fit specific content types and language pairs, ensuring that translations are accurate and consistent across all locales.


Termbases are databases that contain lists of specific terms and their translations. They are used to ensure consistency in translations across multiple projects, and ensure that the same word is consistently used for key terms. This is particularly important for industries such as finance and technology, where specific terminology and UI keywords are critical.


Open communication is still the key ingredient

It might go without saying, but clear, honest communication remains a must-have for any successful localization project – don’t take it for granted. This means ensuring that the correct people are in the loop for any project launches, responding promptly to queries from linguists, and being open about expectations for turnaround times. It is of course a two-way street – while any linguistic services provider (LSP) will do their utmost to deliver every project in a timely manner, sometimes delays are unavoidable. The best LSPs ensure that the client is kept up to date regarding the status of their project, giving advance notice if any issues arise.

Of course, each project is unique, and each company has its own special requirements, but by bearing in mind these general tips when approaching localization, fintechs are able to take major steps towards ensuring success.