Software Translation, Software Localization and Software Internationalization

February 17, 2011

Many customers new to translation are confused by the terms "translation", "localization" and "internationalization." Although each term describes a distinct process for multilingual software projects, translation and localization are often used almost interchangeably. This blog clears up the mystery around these basic concepts, which are closely related to one another.

Software translation is also known as "software globalization." In order to "translate" software into other languages, you will probably need both internationalization (I18N) and localization (L10N) services. Most translation companies or language service providers (LSPs) use the term globalization for the combination of internationalization and localization.

The terms globalization, localization and internationalization are frequently abbreviated to numeronyms: for instance, I18n (where 18 stands for the number of letters between the first i and last n in internationalization.) The capital L in L10n helps to distinguish it from the "I" in I18n. You will note these abbreviations in parenthesis in the chart below.

What is software globalization?

Internationalization (I18n) is defined as the process of developing a program core whose feature design and code do not make assumptions based on a single language or locale and whose source base simplifies the creation of different language editions of a program. This involves enabling the backend of your software to handle different languages, character sets, currencies, submit form data, site search capabilities, etc. Internationalization can be highly involved, depending on the complexity of the software which is to be internationalized. In brief, it refers to the automatic rendering of an application in the user's chosen language. Internationalization relates not only to displayed text in a software application, but also to numbers, date format, and currency values. Special symbols and alphabetical sorting in different languages bring interesting challenges with them.

Localization (L10N) is defined as the process of adapting a software application for a specific international market, which includes translating the user interface, resizing dialog boxes, customizing features, and testing results to ensure that the program still works in the target language as well as it did in the source language. Localization also involves the process of adapting internationalized software for a specific language or region by translating text and adding locale-specific components. As an example, localization may involve Brazilian Portuguese as a target language in contrast to the continental Portuguese language.

The image below shows software programs localized to Italian.

Localized Italian SW

Key steps in software internationalization

Each translation agency or language services provider will have its own methods and best practices for software internationalization. Globalization Partners International (GPI) has a methodology that usually includes the following 4 steps:

  1. Discovery
  2. Assessment
  3. Implementation
  4. Testing

A more detailed set of steps are provided further on in this blog. Each GPI client is assigned a Globalization Services Team (GST) based on the information collected through the discovery process. The information collected in this first step is critical to ensure each GPI team member selected has the required expertise to not only complete the I18n work, but also to transfer the required knowledge and skills to your in-house development teams. All clients are given the opportunity to review their GST members' credentials and interview them.

Requirements to start a software localization project

To get started, provide your translation company with a complete set of source files, also known as a "localization kit":

  1. All files in your development environment, specifically resource files (e.g. RC, RC2, DLG, H, HH, CPP, EXE, DLL and graphic file formats.)
  2. All documentation source files (e.g. FrameMaker, Word, etc.). This includes templates, books, fonts and source graphics (e.g. Photoshop, Illustrator.)
  3. All HELP source files (e.g. graphics, RTF, VBS, HTML, CNT/HHK/HHC.)

File analysis for software localization

The source files in your software localization kit will be analyzed by your translation partner for:

  • number of words
  • source and target languages
  • subject matter
  • desktop publishing requirements
  • help authoring tools
  • software development platform and process
  • internationalization requirements
  • client review and approval requirements
  • client workflow requirements

Software localization methodology

Each translation agency or translation company may have a variation of the methodology which GPI uses, outlined below:

  1. Review, analysis and preparation of client's source files
  2. Project kick-off, confirming scope, schedule and teams
  3. Subject matter training and research
  4. Glossary and style guide development
  5. Cultural correctness assessment
  6. Translation, editing and proofreading of all content
  7. Localization of all graphics
  8. Format verification and multilingual desktop publishing: software may include target language documentation which must be properly formatted after translation.
  9. Localization of any multimedia (e.g. audio/video translation)
  10. Basic online QA & testing
  11. Draft delivery to client
  12. Final edits, translation memory updates, and archiving of files

Keeping the goal of software globalization in mind

Whether you are trying to release a multilingual product in order to increase your global market share and ROI or you are trying to increase your company's global operational efficiencies by developing multilingual applications, software globalization is a requirement to make either a reality. Each client's needs are somewhat unique and there are a variety of factors that can influence resources and costs involved in a complex software globalization project.

Additional resources on software globalization and software internationalization

To further understand the entire software globalization process, you should download our PDF " Software Globalization Guide." You may also benefit from two of our previous blogs, "Why Internationalize Your Code Base" and " What's the difference between Translation Agency, Localization Services and LSP?"

Each software globalization project is unique. GPI will be happy to assist you. Request a Quote online, or you may contact GPI at or at 866-272-5874 with your specific questions about your target global markets and your project goals.

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Ayman is a native Arabic speaker with extensive expertise in Arabic software and website localization. He is a Microsoft Certified professional (MCP) since 2001 and earned several certificates including MCSD, MCAD, MCTS and MCPD. He has over 12 years’ experience in software / websites engineering using Microsoft Programming tools including C#, ASP.NET, SQL Server, Visual Studio and other tools such as HTML, JavaScript, XML, Ajax and others.