Context Information is Vital in Software Localization

Software development is all about agility. There are no longer any lengthy production cycles that allow time for error, redevelopment and redelivery. Software updates and releases are now smaller, more frequent, driven at a rate that meets the expectations of today’s global users. Lower brand loyalty and attention spans mean technology organizations have to work harder in crowded markets to win new customers and retain existing ones. Localization of software for local markets is an integral part of enterprise software development. In addition to important internationalization components such as date format and currency, there are important linguistic and cultural considerations as part of the localization process.

We work closely with many enterprise technology organizations. Software localization and QA testing form an important role in many Welocalize programs. One of the most critical factors in the localization process is to ensure translators have context. This is so crucial to success. Translating strings out of context can be extremely difficult and you have to rely wholly on linguistic translation. Without access to at least some context commentary, source output visualization or WYSIWG (what you see is what you get), it is impossible to truly see what role the translation plays in the overall user experience.

Certain words have different meaning depending on whether they appear in a button or drop-down menu. Limitations of string length and text expansion also benefit from translators having access to source materials. Words may be abbreviated if space is limited and translators must be aware of the true meaning to determine how to best culturally adapt. If you’re working with mobile apps, space is restricted so there is not much room for flexibility. By providing upfront context information to translators, the localization workflow is more agile and smooth because there are less queries and reworks.

How we provide context information varies depending on the client and the software involved. There isn’t one single “one size fits all” solution to make context information available. The approach is to review a client’s systems, platforms and software localization needs to determine the best solution, including query management. For some clients and the translators, low level “string commenting” that is exposed in the translation environment and that describes text placement, dynamic variable or placeholder meaning can suffice – every little bit helps.

Many complex software localization programs have full integration between the source control or content management systems and the translation environment. This facilitates the passing of source screenshots or links to translators via the connection – they can see how and where translation will appear on screen. Some systems have the ability to intake source strings from a translation environment, map them to screenshots in an online repository and again present to translators. Taking this a step further, certain systems will pass a preview package to the translation environment that will allow translators to view source context as they work. In some cases, there is also provision for preview of the translated content while some translation environments themselves allow for external “capture” of source context for translator use. Other translation environments, depending on the actual translatable file formats, can natively render both source and/or target (“What You See Is What You Get” WYSIWYG), or have the ability to communicate with other external systems to facilitate this.

There are many solutions available to ensure translation and review teams have access to context information. The levels of integration will vary, but the key is to recognize how vital the sharing of relevant information is to ensure software is successfully translated and culturally adapted.

Context information must also be an integral part of the functional and linguistic testing stage of localization. Testers must be completely in the mindset of the users to test localized software. This includes cultural and linguistic considerations.

For more information on Welocalize software localization solutions click here.


Based in Dublin, Andrew Searle is Globalization Technology Strategist at Welocalize.