The Seven Righteous Fights: Localization

This is the first fight in my series The Seven Righteous Fights. For an introduction, see The Seven Righteous Fights: Overview.

Are you ever planning on selling this to someone in another country? Or someone who doesn’t speak your company’s primary language?

I’ll tell you right now: Yes, you are.

There’s a big wide world out there, full of people who don’t speak American-flavored English. If you want to reach them and get their money, you’re going to need to speak to them in their language.

Unless you are working for 18F, everyone has the potential to sell their software overseas. Maybe not this release. Maybe not next release. But soon, and you had better plan for it. Hire a localization consultant for a couple days at the beginning of your project and ask them what they wish people would think of in advance. These are the ones I know of:

  • All labels referenced from a list.
  • No words besides the company name embedded in logos.
  • Extended character support baked in.

Hard-coded labels are going to make it very expensive to localize your user interface. Instead of a “normally expensive” translator to look at your labels file, you’ll need to find someone who can use your interface framework, and you will need to do that for every language you want to use. At this point, most people do the work of pulling the labels into a file for reference, but wouldn’t it be great to save that step?

If you have words in your logo, even things like “Professional” or “Edition”, that should get localized along with everything else. That means redrawing/re-rendering the logo for each language, and burning a bunch of artist time.

Extended character support is important so that you can render all the languages you’re going to use, but it is vital that everyone be able to enter their name, the way they spell it. It is extremely alienating to not be able to identify yourself accurately. Don’t make your users feel like you don’t respect their identity at the very beginning of your relationship.

Be careful of:

  • Explanatory videos
  • Humor
  • Fixed-width elements

Videos provide a powerful way to deliver tutorials on a complicated interface. However, even a user who could translate their way through written instructions may have trouble with the speed of video narration.

Humor translates very strangely. It’s very culturally-based and dependent on things like tone, register, and word choice, things that vary with language and culture. A very good (expensive) translator could translate humor for you, but it’s probably best to leave it alone.

Fixed-width interface elements are going to make you cry when you localize. If you want to see why, take a line of English and use Google Translate to take it to German.

English

German

File Datei
Settings Einstellungen
Edit Bearbeiten
History Geschichte
Log in Einloggen

Different languages take up different amounts of space!

If you use a few best practices while you are coding up your initial product, you will save yourself thousands and thousands of dollars when you go to release internationally. Localization estimation is complicated, but in this English to German translation example, the lowest price I found was 12 cents a word, and the fastest an average translator can work is about 2000 words a day. If you could translate 200 interface words in one referenced file, or 2000 repeated and hard-coded words across dozens of pages, which would you rather pay for?


This blog post is part 1 of my Seven Fights series. You can hear me give this talk at The Lead Developer in London next week (June 22-24) or at SpringOne Platform (August 1-4) or Abstractions (August 18-20).

Heidi Waterhouse

Heidi is a mercenary technical writer and travelling salesperson of better process and product thinking. She loves writing herself out of a job and teaching people to save themselves from future pain.

Upcoming appearances

O'Reilly Software Architecture/Velocity
The Lead Developer London
Full Stack Conference London
Texas Scalability Summit