top of page
  • Writer's pictureBrad Miller - Director of Operations

Software Translation Challenges: The Big Three

This is the Introduction to our comprehensive series on software localization processes. In it we explore the common questions and challenges we encounter with this complex process. See the entire Series here.

If you’re selling your software abroad, then you’ve probably had talks about localizing it into the language(s) of your customers. Or maybe you’ve already tried localizing it and experienced some of the following software localization challenges yourself. This post outlines three of the most common challenges of software localization, along with some tips for solving them.

1) Context and Software Localization


Hopefully you’ve externalized your software strings so that it’s easy to pass them along to your translation vendor. But the strings, often delivered in an Excel spreadsheet, typically lack context. Context is important for translators understand where the strings fit into the interface. For example, depending on the context, the word “Print” might be a noun or a verb. Maybe your software is targeting the real estate market; does “Home” mean the home page of the application, or does it refer to a house? Such lack of context can often lead to mistranslations which then lead to delays and additional cost.


Give your translators the context they need. You can do this right in your Excel spreadsheet by adding contextual information or via screenshots, or even by providing direct access to the software. Another option is to have a training session with your translation vendor and/or the translator to walk them through your software before they localize it. Plan ahead to create a feedback loop where you can respond to queries from the translator during localization.

2) Display and Software Localization


Once the initial translation is done and the translated strings are reintegrated back into the software, you’ll have another challenge on your hands: Display. Text expansion is a very common result of the localization process. This occurs when words or phrases that are shorter in one language appear longer in another. On the flip side, some languages may contract. Think Chinese or Japanese. A generally accepted rule of thumb for expansion is approximately 20% for Romance languages and 30% for German. The impact of expansion on a tightly designed UI can be drastic and lead to significant rework and/or re-translation.


Plan ahead for expansion. By creating an interface that can expand or contract, you’ll be able to account for most expansion concerns. Another less-favored option is to provide string-length limitations that indicate how many characters translators are limited to for a given string. This can present significant challenges to the translator and may lead to less ideal or confusing translation.

3) Testing and Software Localization


Just like your native language product, your foreign language product will need to be tested. Issues will arise during the testing step and if you don’t plan ahead to effectively handle them they will likely lead to time and cost overruns:

  1. There may be text left in English, such as strings that were not externalized, hidden error messages, etc.

  2. There may be display issues in the user interface

  3. If the software is not tested on the foreign language operating system, by a user that speaks the language, it is likely that additional issues will arise later on


Plan to test! In our opinion, testing is mandatory. The best approach is to run the same testing scenario for your foreign language versions that you run for your native version. You will want to plan ahead to think about how extensive the testing should be and how the translators will access your software. Many translation vendors will offer testing as a service where you provide them the software and they provide the testing environment and translators. Some clients will opt to do the testing in their office in which case the vendor will send a translator to work on-site. Another option is to set up remote access to the software via VPN or another similar service.

Almost everyone will face the three challenges during software localization. The good news is that with some simple planning these challenges can be easily managed. If you’re interested in getting out ahead of the Big 3, and other challenges that you may face when localizing, talk to us. We can help you navigate your way through the process. Learn more about our software translation and localization services.


bottom of page