Why Localize, You Ask?
An excellent question. Not everyone should. Not everything requires localization. If you work with products that are only relevant and intended to be sold in one very narrow market/locale, is not going to be of interest to an international audience, or you are in a very particular industry that has developed its own standardized way to handle international markets – by all means, save your time, effort, and money.
However, if your competition already localizes its products, then you cannot afford not to.
For many online products and services, localization does become a crucial component. After all, a key feature of online services is that users can access them from all around the world, which means those users would be speaking different languages. If you are developing such a service and want to make them able to use people from different countries, you will need to translate and adapt, in other words – to localize.
Why Is It Important?
There are plenty of reasons. I’d like to focus on at least SOME of the reasons by giving specific examples.
Before you even worry about languages and translation, your design can entice or offend your potential customers. Consider how different cultures interpret colors.
Because so much hinges on design choices that are developed from the start, decision to localize should not be an after-thought. It is the most ineffective and costly way to go. Better to plan for it and not use it, rather than having to rework everything for each specific market thereafter. You need to ensure your service / product is internationalized – meaning, it can be adapted to various languages and regions without requiring engineering changes to the source code.
Design also should also accommodate language elements (bidirectional, text expansion, form field entries, sorting, etc.)
Designing for different locales is not quite a WYSIWYG approach, as you can see.
2. Language Specifics
According to Forrester Research, Web users are four times more likely to purchase from a company that communicates in their own language, regardless of their self-assessed level of English proficiency. Additionally, visitors to websites stay twice as long on sites that are available in their native tongue.
That means, if you want all your users / customers to feel comfortable with your product or service, you need to ensure they can understand it. Many cultures have their own regional standards for displaying names, dates, numbers, or currency.
Once you decided to localize, what language features should be attended first?
- Date and Time
Take a look at these differences in date formatting between various countries.
Russia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine – DD.MM.YYYY (17.12.2016)
Saudi Arabia – DD/MM/YYYY (17/12/2016)
United States. Federated States of Micronesia – MM/DD/YYYY (12/17/2016)
Iran, Japan, Indonesia – YYYY/MM/DD (2016/12/17)
Hungary – YYYY.MM.DD (2016.12.17)
Taiwan, Sweden – YYYY-MM-DD (2016-12-17)
Canada can recognize dates in either format – dd-mm-yyyy, mm-dd-yyyy, or yyyy-mm-dd
(17-12-2016, 12-17-2016, or 2016-12-17)
- Time Recording Format
Time recording format also depends on the country. For example, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, use a 12-hour clock, while the rest of the world uses the 24-hour format.
Positioning of decimal separator may appear as a comma or a period.
United States, India, Japan, Lebanon, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Pakistan, to name a few, use a period – 12.5
Austria, Albania, Belarus, Russia, Spain, Italy, Vietnam, for example, use a comma – 12,5
The thousands separator can be a comma, a period, or a space character.
Russia – 123 456,79
Germany – 123.456,79
United States – 123,456.79
Currency is another important variable when adapting content for different cultures. Not only can currency itself be different by country, position of the currency symbol may be different not only in different languages, but also in different countries. For example, countries such as Germany and Austria, speak the same language, but have a different currency format.
Russia (ru-RU) – 123 456,79 €
United States (en-US) – € 123,456.79
Germany (de-DE) – 123.456,79 €
Austria (de-AT) – € 123 456,79
In some cultures, “numerical superstitions” and numerology are taken seriously and thoughtfully. For example, the number 4 is similar to number 13 in some cultures, and the Chinese try to avoid it. In many hotels you will not find rooms with the number 4, or often even a 4th floor.
Conversion and proper formatting errors can be very costly. An example of an ultimate high cost – NASA lost its $125-million Mars Climate Orbiter to a conversion error. Spacecraft engineers failed to convert from English to metric measurements when exchanging vital data before the craft was launched. Talk about “lost in translation…”
- Noun Declension
In many languages, for example Russian, Latvian, Irish, Ukranian, Polish, Arabic or Spanish, have noun declension – grammatical structure, in which noun endings change based on their number, gender, or case.
- Word Sequence
English is known to be a language very dependent on word order in a sentence. It identifies whether you have a sentence or a question before you. Other language, like Russian, are not quite that rigid about their word sequencing – the same sentence can be phrased in different ways and still be understood.
File (to file a document)
File (nail file)
File (to open a file)
Without knowing the context of a word, translators are lost. Remember, it is important to offer industry-specific meanings, as those might be different from everyday word usage (are we talking about economic recession or hairline recession?).
Clearly, the process of localization of any application is a serious and tedious work. It affects different project teams, not only developers and translators. Localization involves many elements, as we have seen. Don’t leave it to the last minute. Make your product or service as successful as possible by building it the right way from the start – allowing for localization as a possibility, ensuring that it is ready for regional, linguistic, and cultural adaptation.