Today’s software, whether a traditional PC, Mac, Chrome (OS) or Linux desktop application, an App for Android, iOS or other mobile platforms, or a website, almost defacto must be localized to capture any kind of sizable market share.
Development projects that start off small, which is typically the case, often do not take localization needs into account. Simple tasks at the onset can save oodles of time and money down the road: for example separate out strings that will need translation in code, either leave extra user interface space for languages which are typically longer like German, or make sure user interface elements with text resize dynamically.
Above and beyond technical details and choices like the one above, of which there are probably a dozen good ones to watch out for for localization purposes, an important point to consider early is who exactly will do the localization?
Whether user interface strings, technical documentation, website text, or text meant for mobile applications, different bodies of knowledge become important.
Two or three main roles come into play here for the localization of the product.
One could be the original author of the text, often engineers in the case of software strings, marketing departments or individual content authors in the case of websites, or technical writers in the case of technical documentation.These content creators can be the bridge between the product and the translators as it is usually unrealistic either for logistical reasons and/or for cost efficiency to have translators, for instance reinterview subject matter experts concerning content that has already been written in another language.
Another role could be the technician responsible for the translation software, which can be complex, and involve tools like Trados or Across for translation memory and to do the actual work, database maintenance, versionning, transitioning between operating systems, and general project management.This is a specialized job in itself which in essence fits outside the scope of the actual work of translation and the more experience and expertise the person or agency has at the management of this complexity, the better.
Of course the work of translation comes down to a person or persons who will work with text in one language and transform it into another.This can be an exceedingly difficult job involving all kinds of cultural nuance beyond the straight translation of a technical text — and this is why while online tools like Babelfish or Google Translate may get you 60% of the way there, especially for short texts, there is no substitute for skilled translators and linguists to render any final text through their knowledge of the product if possible, the domain ideally, and beyond that an understanding of end-users if possible.
A well localized product can make the difference of whether an organization sinks or swims nowadays in the global market. Do not hesitate to tackle this business/organizational challenge head-on with the right tools, the right processes, but most importantly, the right people.
I have worked on localization for Objectif Lune, where I used a software called Multilizer to translate their software strings and was responsible for the production of their huge documentation set into German, Spanish, Italian and other languages; Genetec — which used a proprietary plugin to translate their strings; for the law firm Campbell Cohen/CanadaVisa.com, where I translated some news stories myself into French while coordinating others using outside translators; to Moment Factory, where I managed the translation of their 40 pages of software strings and approx. 200 pages of technical documentation.