Simple Steps Toward Painless Software Internationalization
If only global expansion was as simple as direct language translation! Developers know there is more to internationalizing software than the nuances of the user-facing copy. Between code adaptations and tricky characters, it pays to take the right steps toward software internationalization before releasing it into the international market.
1. Generalize Character Coding
With the development of Unicode for multilingual support, the task of coding software is slightly less demanding. The code gives each unique character its own number, diverging from single encoding systems on a per-language level. It’s recognized as the global standard for linguistic coding and accommodates every language, with plenty of room for expansion.
Industry leaders like Apple and Microsoft already use Unicode, and the trend is going global because of the demand for text translation across every industry. With the number of letters, punctuation, and technical symbols in each dialect, this comprehensive code categorizes each character of nearly every dialect.
The standard includes codes for over 135,000 characters across dialects from all over the world. With its help, text is easier to translate internationally. Also, the system is only additive, meaning no characters will disappear from the standard. Plenty more may be added, as the need for text translation increases.
2. Keep Code Separate
Rather than inputting hard and fast coding that accommodates only English (or whatever your native market is), leave the coding open to location-based adjustments. Numbers, dates, times, and currency are a few items that become confused in translation. Simply sticking to U.S. conventions won’t earn your business fans in international markets. To save time whether you approach globalization immediately or not, keep the essential code immovable and allow for custom data input.
Another element to keeping code clean is the strategic absence of images. As The Next Web’s article on website internationalization notes, Google—consistently a world leader in web globalization—intentionally uses text-based designs. This makes their content easier to localize since there’s no need to adapt imagery to local cultural expectations. Plus, their own translation tool can’t translate embedded text in photos or animations, a key reason for text-only content.
While Google’s practically unlimited budget and large staff allow it to effortlessly translate content into over 120 languages in its search engine functions alone, the global giant is a key example of strategic software internationalization. By adopting their attitude toward localization, your company may grow exponentially as well.
3. Avoid Lengthy Errors
In Lingotek’s internationalization overview, a section explores understanding the formatting changes required between languages when internationalizing software. Regarding layout and spacing, the length of words in translation is a notable concern. While English words are shorter than German words, they’re also longer than words in most Asian languages. Depending on the language you’re translating to, one page of content could become multiple pages or a fraction of one.
Understanding these key differences allows programmers to accommodate for various layouts based on each market’s primary language. Developing software that overlays translated words outside the thematic elements of the program shows a major flaw in localization strategy. Consider layout and design when creating web copy in several languages, especially those that read from right to left.
4. Keep it Universal
While focused localization benefits brands expanding into multiple markets, the underlying structure of software requires some forethought. As the ICU User Guide explains, internationalization is essentially the general coding and design setup of your software. The basic configuration should be adaptable and somewhat generic, allowing for details to customize each market. The trick here is to avoid what the user guide calls “cultural/hidden assumptions,” such as assuming that a particular target market uses the same calendar as the company’s native country.
When the software’s groundwork is built to accommodate custom configuration, it’s easier to adapt to international markets as the business grows. Modifying code later will only cause frustration, while writing the primary code from an internationalization-friendly angle leaves it open to simpler changes. This also lowers costs, as you won’t have to start at ground level each time your brand branches out.
5. Consult an Expert
Merging adaptable software with multiple language translation capabilities is a huge challenge for many businesses. On a smaller scale, it’s difficult for one person, such as a programmer, to digest not only coding and development nuances, but also standards for translation of content. That’s why an expert in translation aids your software’s ultimate usability since their intent is to unite the brand’s message with its customers’ needs.
Internationalizing software can lead your business’s globalization efforts when executed correctly. Localization experts might be native residents of your target locale or adaptive team members who immerse themselves in its culture. Either way, they’ll know more about each global target’s cultural habits, giving your team the ability to adapt its design and content to consumer needs.