Join Dennis Meyer for an in-depth discussion in this video Localization is more than translation, part of Localization for Developers.
- As a software developer, let's say you have an application and you or someone at your company is starting to think about how that application might do in a foreign market. You might be asked about this in many different ways. You might be coming into this with very little information. Perhaps your company has no immediate plans to distribute their product in other markets but they're starting to do research and they've come to ask you questions like, "How much will it cost to prepare our product for other languages and to expand on it?" You might also be coming into this with a lot of information.
If you're at a larger company, perhaps your marketing team has already identified a high interest for your application in a particular foreign market and they've come to ask you questions like, "What's it going to take to get our product ready for the Japanese market?" Or perhaps you're an independent developer and you're asking yourself questions like, "I want to distribute my app in foreign markets but where do I start?" The process as a whole can be divided in two parts: internationalization and localization.
Now, before we talk about these terms, first I'd like you to understand a term called locale. A locale describes a group of target users. Locales almost always include a physical location, a language and any associated preferences those users may have. Locales help us distinguish between very different groups, like users in France and users in China, but they also let us target different groups that have a lot of similarities, like English speakers in America and English speakers in Canada, who have a few differences as well, like currency and units of measurement.
Now that you understand what a locale is, localization is the process of taking a product and tailoring it to a specific locale. You may sometimes see this referred to as L10n, which is just an ISO standard that lets you abbreviate long words by giving the number of letters in the middle. Internationalization is the development and engineering work that happens behind the scenes that prepares a product for the localization process.
Similarly, you may also see this abbreviated as I18n. One of the questions people ask when they hear the term localization for the first time is, "Oh, is that just a fancy name for translation?" Well, translation is just one part of localization. It's certainly the most visible part, but there are a lot of other processes that are just as important or maybe even more important. Many products are localized.
It's not just software. So before we start talking about many of the developer-centric needs surrounding the localization process, I'd like to give you a non-software, non-developer example that might help expand your view of these processes. Let's say that you're a car engineer. Your company makes a fantastic car and you want to sell it in Japan. Your company needs to do a few things to prepare that car for a foreign market. Well, first up, there are, yes, language translations.
You'll need to translate any language used in the car itself, so the dashboard, any warnings or labels in the car and the user manual, into Japanese. You'll probably also need to translate things like brochures, marketing materials, technical specifications, websites and more. Next is unit conversions. Most of the world uses the metric system, including Japan, so you'll need to make sure that your dashboard can show speed in kilometers per hour as well as miles per hour and that the fuel tank indicator, if it's labeled, uses liters and not just gallons.
Next are social conventions. In Japan, they drive on the left side of the road. If you're working for an American car company, your cars are designed for driving on the right side of the road. Now, even though driving on the left in Japan is a law, you could still try and release a car with the driver's side on the left, but it's not what the customers are used to. As a result, it may only appeal to those drivers who like driving imported cars.
Lastly, there is legal regulation to consider. How do local laws affect your product? Japan has different emissions standards and different safety standards, and cars on the Japanese market also typically have limiters that make sure that the car can't exceed 180 or 190 kilometers an hour. So this starts getting less into translating a product and more into adapting it. The reason that I point all of these out is that with physical products, people understand that there's more than just translating the language to consider.
To relate this back to development, there are a number of engineering and design changes that you will need to make to your product behind the scenes before it will be ready for a foreign market. Now just like cars, some languages are read from the right side and not the left. Some systems may need to be reworked to accommodate foreign money, foreign measurements and foreign formats. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, safety standards and laws can apply to how your users use your product in other countries.
- Timing internationalization and localization efforts
- Researching localization targets
- Evaluating and localizing text
- Internationalizing media
- Converting to Unicode
- Supporting right-to-left languages
- Working with translators
- Testing your localization