Software localization: A comprehensive guide

Software localization (L10N) is now a requisite for reaching a global audience and expanding into new markets. It improves user satisfaction, engagement, and adoption by removing language barriers and making the software resonate with users’ cultural contexts.

Successful software localization requires a combination of linguistic expertise, cultural sensitivity, and technical proficiency to create a seamless user experience that feels tailor-made for each market. In our comprehensive article, we will go over key aspects of software localization and why you need it.


What is software localization?

Software localization is the process of adapting a software application to suit the linguistic, cultural, and functional requirements of a specific target market or audience. The goal of localization is to make the software feel native and user-friendly for people who speak a different language and come from different cultural backgrounds.

Microsoft, one of the pioneer companies to shape the concept of localization, considers that the “localization of a product requires that the product be adapted to both the language and the culture of a particular market. (…) In fact, the final localized version of the original product should look and feel as if it had been designed in the user’s home country.”

Consequently, localization goes beyond simple translation of text. It involves modifying various elements of the software to ensure that it’s not only understandable but also culturally relevant and functionally appropriate for users in the target region. This process takes into account a range of factors, including language, cultural norms, date and time formats, currency symbols, measurement units, legal requirements, and more.

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Localization vs. translation: The difference

Localization and translation are related concepts, but they have distinct meanings and implications in the context of adapting content for different languages and cultures. Translation is the act of converting text from one language to another. It primarily focuses on the linguistic aspect of content, ensuring accurate and meaningful conversion of words and sentences.

On the other hand, localization is a broader process that involves adapting content, products, or services to be culturally appropriate, relevant, and usable in a specific market. Localization includes translation as a part of the process, but it also encompasses other elements that ensure a seamless and meaningful experience for the target audience.

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Internationalization vs. localization: The difference

Internationalization (I18N) and localization are two closely related concepts in the process of adapting software and content for global audiences. While they work hand in hand, they refer to distinct stages in making a product suitable for different languages and cultures.

“The purpose of internationalization is to enable a software product, that is, to provide the features so that localizers may conveniently and easily choose the appropriate form of the feature for their particular language.” (Uren, E., Howard, R., Perinotti, T. (1993). Software internationalization and localization: An introduction. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.)

In essence, internationalization lays the groundwork for easy localization by designing the software in a way that separates language-dependent elements from the core code. Localization builds upon internationalization by tailoring the software to a specific culture and language. Both internationalization and localization are crucial steps in reaching a global audience effectively and providing a seamless user experience across different regions and languages.

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Globalization vs. localization: The difference

Globalization (G11N) and localization are two interconnected concepts that businesses and organizations consider when expanding their products or services to international markets. They encompass different strategies and approaches to reaching a global audience.

Globalization is the strategic process of designing and developing products, services, and content in a way that allows them to be easily adaptable and marketable across various regions and cultures. It focuses on creating a unified and standardized product that can be launched in multiple markets with minimal modifications.

Consequently, globalization focuses on creating a standardized product that can be easily launched in various markets, whereas localization involves adapting that product to meet the specific needs and preferences of individual markets.

Why localization is important

Localization is important for several reasons, especially in today’s interconnected and globalized world. It allows businesses and organizations to effectively reach and engage diverse audiences in different regions. Here are some key reasons why localization is important:

Enhanced User Experience

Localization ensures that users can interact with software, products, and content in their native language, making the experience more intuitive and user-friendly. Users are more likely to engage and adopt products that cater to their language and cultural preferences. According to Nimdzi, 9 out of 10 people say that they would disregard a product if it is not available in their native language.

Cultural sensitivity

Adapting content to local cultural norms, values, and sensitivities demonstrates respect for the target audience’s culture. This minimizes the risk of inadvertently causing offense or misunderstanding due to cultural differences.

Increased market penetration

Localization opens up opportunities to enter new markets and connect with audiences that may have been previously inaccessible due to language barriers. It can significantly expand a company’s customer base.

Competitive advantage

In many industries, offering localized products and services can give a company a competitive edge over rivals that have not invested in localization. A localized experience can resonate better with users and create a stronger brand presence.

Higher conversion rates

Users are more likely to make purchases or take desired actions when presented with content that speaks to them in their own language and adheres to their cultural norms. In the aptly named 2020 report, Can’t Read, Won’t Buy – B2C, which surveyed more than 8,000 consumers in 29 countries, the research company discovered that 65% of consumers have a preference for content in their native language, and 40% would refrain from purchasing a product or service that is not offered in their language.

Brand consistency

Effective localization maintains brand consistency across different markets. While the content is adapted, the core brand values and messaging remain intact.

Legal and regulatory compliance

Different regions have varying legal and regulatory requirements. Localization ensures that products and content adhere to local laws and standards, reducing legal risks and potential penalties.

Effective communication

Accurate and culturally relevant communication is essential for conveying information, instructions, and messages effectively. Localization ensures that these messages are clear and meaningful to the target audience.

Customer trust and loyalty

When users feel that a product has been tailored for their needs, they are more likely to trust the brand and become loyal customers. This can lead to positive word-of-mouth referrals and long-term relationships.

Better user engagement

Content that is culturally relevant and resonates with users is more likely to engage them on a deeper level. Engaged users are more likely to provide feedback, use the product more frequently, and become advocates.

Optimized User Interfaces

Localization takes into account UI elements like date formats, numeric formats, and units of measurement, making the software or application more functional and user-friendly in different regions.

Efficient customer support

Providing customer support in the local language helps users get assistance more effectively. It reduces communication barriers and improves the overall support experience.

Who needs software localization

Software developers and companies that create applications, websites, or digital products can benefit from localization to make their offerings more accessible and user-friendly to a global audience. Video game developers too can increase their player base by localizing their games, including translating in-game text, providing localized voiceovers, and adapting gameplay mechanics to different cultures.

E-commerce businesses aiming to sell products or services internationally can improve user engagement and conversion rates by offering their platform in multiple languages and adapting to local preferences. Retail businesses expanding their operations to international markets can enhance customer experiences by localizing their e-commerce platforms and customer support.

Educational institutions offering online courses, e-learning platforms, and educational software can expand their reach by providing content in different languages and catering to diverse learning styles.

Media companies distributing content like movies, TV shows, and streaming services can attract a global audience by offering subtitles, dubbing, and localized content. Let’s take the kids & family movie Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. In Israel, the movie is titled It’s Raining Falafel. The reason is quite simple; the Israelis are not that familiar with meatballs, while falafel is a local food staple.

Government agencies and organizations providing public services can use localization to communicate effectively with citizens in their native languages and adhere to local regulations. Nonprofits that work internationally can reach a wider audience by localizing their websites, communication materials, and donation platforms.

Travel companies, airlines, and hospitality businesses can use localization to provide information, booking services, and customer support in multiple languages. Airbnb as one of the success stories when it comes to travel industry localization. In this article by Salvatore Giammarresi, Head of Localization at Airbnb, we learn that localization is viewed as a foundational asset at well-known home-sharing marketplace, their website content being available in more than 60 languages.

Even small businesses and startups with global ambitions can use localization to gain a competitive advantage and build brand recognition in various markets. In essence, anyone looking to connect with a diverse or international audience can benefit from software localization.

What can you localize?

Operating Systems and System Software localization

Operating systems like Windows, macOS, and Linux are often localized to support various languages and regions. This involves translating the user interface, system messages, menus, dialog boxes, and more, into different languages. IBM‘s OS, for example, offers assistance for multiple languages. This assistance enables users to engage with the system using their preferred language while ensuring outcomes align with cultural norms. Their national language support encompasses two fundamental components: globalization and localization.

App localization

App localization involves adapting mobile apps or desktop applications to different languages and cultural preferences. This includes translating user interface elements, buttons, labels, and in-app content. Developers also need to consider regional differences in date formats, currencies, and other relevant data. Localization improves user experience and makes apps more accessible to a global audience.

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Website localization

Website localization entails translating web content and adapting design elements to cater to specific target audiences. This includes not only textual content but also images, videos, and user interface components. Website localization also involves considering cultural sensitivities and preferences to create a seamless browsing experience for users around the world.

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Game localization

Game localization is the process of adapting video games to different languages and cultures. This goes beyond translating dialogue; it involves altering graphics, audio, user interfaces, and even gameplay elements to resonate with diverse audiences. Game developers also need to be aware of cultural references, humor, and taboos that may differ across regions.

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Aspects of software localization

There are several types of software localization to cater to different aspects of adapting software for various regions and languages:

  • User Interface (UI). This is the most common, where the text and graphical elements of the user interface are translated into the target language. It involves translating menu labels, buttons, dialog boxes, error messages, and other user-facing elements.
  • Audio and video. For software that includes audio or video content, such as multimedia applications or video games, localization involves translating spoken dialogue, subtitles, voiceovers, and other audiovisual elements.
  • Documentation. This involves translating user manuals, help files, online documentation, and other technical content associated with the software. Clear and accurate documentation is essential for users to understand and effectively use the software.
  • Cultural. It goes beyond language translation and involves adapting the software to the cultural norms, practices, and sensitivities of the target market. This might include adjusting visual elements, colors, symbols, and even design layouts that resonate better with the local culture.
  • Date and time formats. Different regions use different date and time formats. Adapting the software to display dates, times, and calendars in the format familiar to the target audience is part of this type of localization.
  • Number and currency formats. Similar to date and time formats, numbers and currencies are represented differently in different regions. Adapting the software to display numbers and currency values according to the local conventions is important for user comprehension.
  • Keyboard and input methods. Different languages and regions might use different keyboard layouts and input methods. Ensuring the software supports local keyboard layouts and input methods is crucial for user convenience.
  • Legal and regulatory compliance. Some software might need to comply with local laws and regulations. This type of localization involves incorporating legal disclaimers, terms of use, privacy policies, and other legal documentation specific to the target region.
  • Testing and Quality Assurance. Each localized version of the software needs to be thoroughly tested to ensure that all elements work correctly and that the user experience is consistent and intuitive.
  • Functional. In some cases, certain functionality or features might need to be adapted or even omitted to align with the target audience’s preferences or needs.
  • Time Zone. Software that involves scheduling, reminders, or time-sensitive tasks might need to consider the local time zones of the target market.

These aspects can be combined and customized based on the specific requirements of the software and the target audience. A successful software localization process takes into account linguistic, cultural, technical, and user experience aspects to provide a seamless and effective experience for users around the world.

Types of localization platforms

Localization platforms come in various forms, each designed to facilitate the process of adapting content and software for different languages, cultures, and regions. One important type is represented by Translation Management Systems (TMS), which are designed to manage the translation of content and assets. They often include features such as workflow management, translation memory, and terminology management.

Content Management Systems (CMS) with localization capabilities are used for managing website content, some CMS platforms offer built-in localization capabilities. Globalization Management Systems (GMS) take a broader approach to internationalization, addressing cultural adaptation, regionalization, and global compliance too.

Then we have the on-premises platforms, which are installed and run on the organization’s own servers. Software localization platforms are tailored for software and app localization, handling technical aspects. Finally, hybrid platforms offer a more comprehensive solution. For example, a hybrid platform might integrate TMS functionalities with marketing localization capabilities.

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Localization in various software development methodologies

Waterfall development

The Waterfall development model is a linear and sequential approach to software development. It’s characterized by distinct phases, each of which is completed before moving on to the next. While it’s less commonly used in the rapidly changing software landscape, it can still be relevant in certain localization scenarios.

While the Waterfall model can provide a structured approach to localization, it has limitations. It assumes that all requirements are known upfront and doesn’t accommodate changes easily. Given the dynamic nature of language, culture, and user feedback, this approach might not be the most flexible for localization.

Agile development

Agile is a popular approach in software development that focuses on iterative and incremental development, collaboration, and flexibility in responding to change. When it comes to software localization, Agile methodologies can be adapted to ensure that the localization process is seamlessly integrated into the development cycle. This methodology emphasizes close collaboration between cross-functional teams, frequent iterations, and delivering working software in short cycles.

In a report by the Project Management Institute, we learn that more and more organizations are adopting Agile as a project management approach. Over 70 percent of the surveyed organizations indicated that they employ Agile methods in their projects, whether sometimes, often, or always.

Continuous localization is an extension of Agile principles that aims to keep software content updated in multiple languages throughout the development lifecycle. It reduces the time gap between content creation and translation, leading to quicker releases in multiple languages and better user experiences for global audiences.

DevOps deployment

DevOps can be seen as either a progression from agile methodologies or a crucial component that was absent in the agile framework. It represents an endeavor to leverage the advancements introduced by agile practices and implement them within operational processes.

DevOps deployment can greatly enhance the localization process by streamlining the release of localized software and content, improving collaboration between development and localization teams, and ensuring consistent and high-quality user experiences across different languages and regions.

This methodology promotes the practice of continuous integration, automated testing, continuous delivery, and continuous monitoring. By integrating DevOps principles into the localization process, you can achieve efficient and reliable localization cycles. The result is quicker releases of high-quality localized software, improved collaboration between teams, and the ability to respond rapidly to changes in the global market and user needs.

How to choose a localization platform

Choosing the right localization platform requires a thoughtful approach that considers your specific needs and goals. Start by understanding your project’s scope, the languages you’re targeting, and your team’s capabilities.

Ensure the platform can handle your project’s scale, from small projects to large, ongoing initiatives. Then, determine how well the platform integrates with your existing tools, content management systems, and development processes. Look for automation features that streamline translation workflows, reduce manual effort, and ensure consistent quality.

Collaboration is an important factor to consider. Assess the platform’s ability to facilitate collaboration among team members, translators, and stakeholders in different time zones. In addition, prioritize platforms that are user-friendly and intuitive for your team and external contributors. Also check if the platform offers resources, customer support, and assistance in case of issues.

Ultimately, the right localization platform should align with your project’s objectives, team dynamics, and technical requirements. Conduct thorough research, consider trial periods, and seek input from stakeholders to make an informed decision.

How POEditor can assist software localization

POEditor is a web-based software localization and translation management platform designed to facilitate the process of adapting software and content for different languages and cultures. It offers a range of features and tools that help developers, designers, and translators collaborate effectively to ensure high-quality and accurate translations.

The tool offers an intuitive and user-friendly interface, making it easy for both developers and translators to use the platform. It integrates seamlessly with various development tools, plugins, and APIs, making it easy to incorporate localization into your existing workflow. Users can integrate the platform with version control systems like GitHub, GitLab, and Bitbucket, enabling easy synchronization of translations with code changes.

POEditor allows you to create and manage glossaries, ensuring consistent usage of key terms across languages. It also provides context for translators through comments, allowing them to understand where and how their translations will be used. To identify potential issues with translations and ensure accuracy, users are also provided with quality assurance features.

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