Software Translation and Localization
Localization (sometimes shortened to "l10n" because there are 10 letters between the l and the n) is when you adapt a product or service to a particular language, culture, and desired local "look-and-feel." Ideally, a product or service is developed so that this localization is relatively easy to achieve - for example, by creating technical illustrations for manuals where text can easily be changed to another language and allowing some expansion room for this purpose. This process is termed internationalization. An internationalized product or service is therefore easier to localize. The process of first enabling a product to be localized and then localizing it for different national audiences is sometimes known as globalization (definitions from
When you localize a product, you do not only localize idiomatic language and words, you also need to change such details such as time zones, money, national holidays, local color sensitivities, product or service names, gender roles, and geographic examples. A successfully localized service or product is one that appears to have been developed within the local culture.
Software translation refers to the translation of all graphical user interface (GUI) components of a software application, such as dialog boxes, menus and error or status messages displayed on screen. Most localization projects start with the software translation. Translation of online help and documentation should not begin until the software is fully translated and reviewed, because online help and documentation typically contain many references to the software user interface (definition from
Software localization has the potential to open up your target market ten-fold. It is very important that all documentation and interface text is translated with accurate technical language and nomenclature. International users of computer software expect their software to “talk” to them in their own language. It is not only a matter of convenience, but a matter of productivity. Users who understand a product fully can handle it better and avoid mistakes. They will prefer applications in their own language, adapted to their cultural environment. For example, the Swedish market is on the frontline when it comes to adaptation and usage of new software. Most Swedes know English, but they still want and expect their software to be in Swedish.
What is the role of translators in the software localization process?
 Translators who work on a software localization project are often part of a large and widely dispersed team. The complex organization of the whole software localization team creates new challenges to us independent translators, who usually work on neatly delimited projects which are our only responsibility.
In software localization projects, translators are expected to be able to use the tools required for software localization, to know the market and many of its products, to know our position in the process, and to understand the limitations with short production cycles. That is why most translators working in software localization do so through intermediary translation bureaus, which are often specialized software localization companies.
Translation of software follows a cycle of comprehension. Translators are almost never given more than a brief summary of the product, and we must do a lot of guessing as to what function actually does what and what to call it when we translate. Often the purpose of a function, dialog box, or command will become apparent to translators first when we get to the help file that explains it. In this case we may have to go back and change the term that was used in the first version of the software translation. It may not even be the same person doing the software and the help, which complicates matters even further. Too often the software is already ready for production and no further changes are possible.
One of the attributes that characterize successful software translators is the ability to guess correctly about what given software string or dialog box or function actually does, to avoid having to loop back wherever possible. This is why experience plays an important role. (Facets of Software Localization, Per N. Dohler, 1997, Translation Journal)
Software localization tools
In software localization, good tools are important. Without specialized tools, localization of software is very difficult and time consuming, with many repetitive tasks. Fortunately, there is a variety of specialized tools available today.
The main source and target formats: resource files (RC) or binary files such as EXE or DLL usually contain short translatable text strings surrounded by non-translatable code. Software localization tools have to extract these short strings properly, provide a convenient graphical user interface (GUI) for the translation of the strings and save the translations correctly back into the surrounding code.
Examples of specialized software localization tools:
·         Catalyst
·         Language Studio
·         Lingobit Localizer
·         Microsoft Loc Studio
·         Multilizer
·         Passolo
·         RC-WinTrans
·         SDL Insight
·         Sisulizer
·         Visual Localize

In contrast, software documentation files (HLP, HTML, CHM, HTML or PDF) contain much more translatable text in much longer test strings. These files are usually better handled by translation memory software (TM), which memorizes already used phrases, typically segmented by full-stops, and enables their recycling.
Examples of translation memory software:
·         Across
·         DejaVu
·         Heartsome
·         SDLX
·         Trados
·         Transit
·         Wordfast
·         Wordfisher
I use Passolo, Catalyst, LocStudio, Trados Studio and Wordfast, of which I like some better than the others. For example, from a translator’s point of view I like Passolo, Wordfast and Studio the best.
Four Software Localization Mistakes to Avoid
There is a lot to think about when translating and localizing software, and making mistakes is easy. Here are 4 examples of mistakes to avoid:
1. Neglecting the importance of the length of the translated words, which would require redesigning the software to fit the foreign language version, losing time and money.
2. Disregarding localization for specific countries/regions and their particular elements (special characters, date format, number format, address structure, postal code length and structure, calendar format etc.)
3. Not using simple, concise text that is familiar to most people and users of the software
4. Not providing clear and accurate text in the target language, making the instructions and commands nonsensical or hard to understand.
Software Translation and Localization – What I Do
Finally, here is a word on what I personally do when it comes to software translation and localization. Swedish Translation Services (that is, I) provide Swedish translation and localization of the following:
§  Software/user interface
§  Help screens, instructions, menus, shortcut keys
§  Software manuals
§  License agreements
§  Legal and security disclaimers
§  Warranty arrangements
§  Marketing material and packaging content
§  Cultural related content
Further reading and resources for localization professionals and translators
Books about localization:
Here is another great website that has all resources you can think of for localization professionals and translators, all on one page. It is called the Localization Directory, and includes tools for software localization, translation memory tools, dictionaries, glossaries, terminology and linguistics for localization, articles, forums and educational resources.

Tess Whitty has nine years of experience as a freelance translator from English into Swedish with her company Swedish Translation Services. She specializes in software localization, marketing and business communications. She has a M.A. in Business Communications and PR from Belgium and a M.Sc. in Economics from Finland. Before working as a translator she worked for a Telecommunications company in Sweden as a Product Marketing Manager.  She is the language chair for the new English-Swedish certification program and a member of American Translators Association and was recently appointed president of the Utah Translators and Interpreters Association and she has previously served as the president for the Swedish School in Salt Lake City for five years.  She runs a successful freelance translation business, and works with both agencies and direct clients. She has also presented at both the ATA Annual Conference and the ProZ Virtual Conference. Her presentations cover marketing and business skills for freelance translators.

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