Congratulations on going global! Users overwhelmingly prefer software in their own native language, so you’ll need translation and localization to compete in foreign markets. An online search reveals thousands of translation companies, from global conglomerates to small agencies. To choose a software localization partner, you’ll need 1) information on how language service partners (LSPs) work and 2) tips for finding the right one for your needs.
Software localization involves a number of steps. Software localization teams play three main roles:
An established LSP maintains an in-house team as well as networks of translators with various areas of specialization located around the world. This model delivers the best results for clients. Why?
Subject matter and language expertise. A translator needs specialized training or even a graduate degree in order to translate content related to technology and specialized industry verticals. Many software localization projects require translation into multiple languages. It’s impossible to expect in-house translators for every language and subject domain.
Location matters. There may be many excellent translators of most foreign languages based in an LSP’s base country. However, a translator living in the target market will have a better immediate grasp of that market’s cultural preferences and current language usage.
On the other hand, if the target audiences for an app are themselves immigrants, and if the subject matter of the app is focused on a local service (for example, a Spanish-language health insurance app), local native-language translators may have a better working knowledge of the source content.
A trustworthy LSP maintains relationships with translators around the world.
When working with an LSP, your point of contact will be the project manager. The PM drives the success of a software localization project, especially for multiple markets and languages. What are the tasks of the localization project manager?
Localization engineering. All software translation projects require localization engineering. This process provides the translatable content to translators, editors, and proofreaders while protecting the code. Otherwise the translators would need to know how to work directly within the code.
By presenting content in an industry-standard format that linguists can easily use, a language partner gains access to talent for all language combinations and areas of subject matter expertise. The computer-aided translation (CAT) tools used by translators provide quality assurance functions and create client- and project-specific translation memories for managing content updates.
A project manager can partially or fully automate the process of separating content from code. For a complete discussion of the process, see our post “What is localization engineering?”
Pseudo-translation. Project managers can also help find and fix problems in the source content that would negatively impact the finished translation. A process called pseudo-translation generates a fake “placeholder” translation in order to 1) ensure that all of the translatable content has been made available and 2) identify where code may have been mistaken for content and vice-versa.
Pseudo-translation also predicts formatting problems due to text expansion. Some languages need more characters than others to express the same thing. For example, a Spanish translation may require up to 30% more characters than the English source. Text expansion can lead to certain fields being overcrowded with text. Advance warning allows the client and project managers to trouble-shoot solutions (such as using abbreviations) before translation begins.
Centralized communication. Finally, project managers act as the liaison between the client and the translation teams, making sure that translators have the context for understanding the meaning and purpose of the app. A centralized hub for sharing information across all the language teams cuts down on excess back-and-forth communication.
Careful localization engineering prior to translation helps prevent functional problems with the localized app. However, a native-language review of the final product makes sure there are no remaining functional or linguistic errors. The localized product can be tested with the client’s own reviewers or with the LSP’s. Close communication with the project manager is the key to making sure all issues are addressed and resolved prior to launch.
If you work for a large organization, find out if other departments have worked with localization providers. Centralizing translation efforts (or programs) saves money. It also ensures consistency of style and terminology across all the company’s content and products.
Ask for references from software localization clients. When you have narrowed the field enough to request estimates, pay attention to the questions asked by your potential language partners. Answers to these questions will directly impact the quoted price. If the LSP doesn’t ask these questions up front, their quote won’t be accurate.
What development platforms are you using? The answer will indicate which file formats will be used for the user interface and strings.
What is your code change process / workflow? Are you using continuous development? How often do you expect to make updates after the app hits the market?
Have best practices been followed in creating the source application? If the app is not translation-ready, localization engineering will take longer and cost more.
Do you plan to translate related materials for websites, user guides, and documentation? If so, these can be folded into the same project to reduce costs.
Who will be the “point person” on the client’s end? Will your personnel be available to handle some of the localization tasks in-house? If so, how many hours per week can your team devote to the process? Taking on some of the localization engineering tasks can reduce your overall cost.
If a language services partner has not asked many questions, and their fee is much lower than the others you’ve received, don’t be tempted by the price. You’ll either be hit with extra charges down the line or end up with a project that hasn’t received the attention it deserves.
When you choose a software localization partner, you get what you pay for. Expertly localized software opens up new markets and brings in additional revenue for you. In the end, you may forget exactly what price you paid for software localization, but you’ll reap the benefits of a job well done.