Software Translation and Localization: When Is It Necessary?
The fast answer is: it depends on whether you want to open new global markets
Before we address the necessity of translating software, let’s take a quick look at what is involved, because it can get complex. The aspects of a software application that may require translation include:
User Interface elements including controls, and basically anything with a label on it, including tooltips and directions
Software Strings. Is the software highly user-configurable? You may need to localize some of the underlying code, including comments.
Customer Support Materials. This is probably the most complex aspect of software translation, because it can encompass content in a variety of applications and publishing scenarios:
Knowledge Base software apps
Training, including video
Sales and Marketing materials including website content, collateral, content marketing pieces, etc.
Subject Matter Expertise (SME) on the part of the translators and reviewers is critical
Tech writing, for example, is a very specialized kind of structured writing, requiring training, experience, and knowledge of the subject matter. Obviously, translating code elements requires coding knowledge to avoid ‘breaking’ things. With popular languages in more technologically sophisticated markets, finding translators with this combination of skills is easier. But if you’re addressing an emerging market, it can be challenging to find native speakers with the required experience. And they are going to come at a higher rate because of that rarity. Other factors that can complicate things are government and military requirements, often associated with security issues.
When does the return on investment (ROI) justify the expense and time required?
The decision to skip translation and localization can keep you out of major global markets, with their growing demand for software tools
If you go under the assumption that English is ‘the language of global business’, you can build a case for not bothering with translation. However this is increasingly looking like a major strategic mistake across all global industries, as language cultures are less likely to accept products and services that are not delivered in their native tongue. The decision to skip translation and localization can keep you out of major global markets, with their growing demand for software tools. We’re seeing large software developers emerging in countries that directly compete with legacy applications that have not embraced their language. This can cause major market disruptions as these companies grab market share by being language and culturally native. Translation and localization can be a defensive move against upstart competition.
More than user interface (UI), the issue is user experience (UX)
The strategic decision to invest in global market expansion should be driven by the experience your users have with your software. If they are using it as a mission critical tool, UX will be a driver of acceptance. And if they are using it for entertainment like gaming or streaming, they are less likely to have enough knowledge of the language you develop in, making acceptance unlikely when there are native language options available.
Look beyond English and Spanish, especially if you’re US-based
The third most spoken language in the US is Chinese (one of the many dialects), followed closely by a large assortment of up and coming languages (Hindi, Urdu, Vietnamese…). It’s too easy to fall into the trap of ‘getting by’ with the two language pairs (English>Spanish, Spanish>English) most Americans see as logical defaults. Things like borders are really imaginary political constructs erected to protect culture and assets. But languages represent actual barriers that can only be bridged with accurate translation and localization.
Do you have questions about Software Translation and global market expansion? We’ll be happy to discuss your requirements and help you define a path to a successful globalization strategy.