Understand the Process: Elements of Internationalization

Resolutions in Translation Series

Resolution #3 (March) — Understand the Process

Through the reflection, refraction, and dispersion of light rainbows appear. If the Irish mythology suggests that at the end you may find a pot of gold, you’ll first need to follow the leprechaun to the end of it. However, the elusive nature of this creature complicates the task  of getting to the pot of gold. As your company grows, the perspectives of global reach expand like an Irish rainbow, giving hope for gold wherever it connects with customers and consumers. Going international is a significant decision for any company and the process can quickly become convoluted. Luckily, there are some best practices which, if applied now, will help your company in the long run.
First off, if you want to successfully globalize your product you have to internationalize from the beginning so you can localize it later according to your needs. Internationalization, or perhaps better known as I18N, is the process of designing, planning, and implementing products and services in such a way that they can be easily translated and adapted into other languages and cultures later on. By designing the product in a mindful way now (even if you are just a domestic country at the moment) you will save time and money by fixing the problems in the software once as opposed to having to fix them in multiple translated version and updates later on.

Internationalization consists of 7 main elements:

  1. Regional Settings: Time and Date, Currency, Number Formats, etc.

  2. Character Sets: Unicode, Right to Left Compatible, Double Byte Compatible, Slanted Languages (Urdu)

  3. Translatable Text: Don’t hard code it into your software, always externalize all displayed text

  4. Over-externalization: Avoid externalizing code (keep code away from translators, they’ll translate it too and you don’t want that!)

  5. Text Expansion (and Contraction): Make sure that your text boxes won’t cut off characters when translated into another language. An easy solution is by having dynamic sizing

  6. Image Text: Don’t embed or hard-code text into image

  7. Concatenated Strings: Provide complete strings to be translated and externalize your variables when possible

Internationalization should never be an afterthought, it should always be an expected and crucial aspect of product development. These simple aspects will make the localization process easier when your company begins marketing your product to other languages, countries, and cultures. You will have streamlined the process to allow every translator to focus on their specialty as opposed to having to deal with bugs in the system. It will also make your product feel more organic to the target culture. Studies show that “nine out of 10 buyers prefer products that have been adapted to their markets” and “one out of six buyers will never even consider buying software that hasn’t been localized”. With such significant implications it is obvious that the path to international success comes from starting in the design phases.

Navigating the world of international business will likely always be complicated, demystifying the process of getting there will only improve your success. You don’t have to make the mistakes others have, instead learn from them, and globalize your product now by establishing internationalization standards and streamlining your localization process. There is gold at the end of this rainbow, you just have to follow these simple steps to get there.