Internationalization: the Holy Grail of the Translation Industry?


The first and most obvious method is to attempt a direct word for word translation. The main issue with this approach is that coding and software works well in languages like English and French. This falls short in languages with more complex grammars, especially those with cases such as Russian or German. Much of the text then can’t be translated without knowing the content of the individual variables – which of course vary with the parameters. This in turn can mean needing to re-translate lots of similar sentences simply because otherwise they are unclear in the new language.

One alternative is to use specific markers around any element of the programming that can be localized e.g. by inserting tr() around the relevant section of text so it can easily be identified and separated out for translation. This means translations can be stored on the developer’s own servers and automatically inserted based on the language that the user selects. This makes it much easier to add new languages as a company expands its target market. A key challenge with this approach is often whether it can handle the complexities of the task that is being set. If the piece of code is long, it may need rewriting for other languages, which then makes it a programming task as well as a translation task.

It is also important to remember that the challenges of operating in a truly international environment will be far more than just linguistic ones. Through internationalization, we are seeking to make a product suitable for use virtually everywhere – then it can be localized with specific features to suit the location that it is being utilized in. For example:

  • Language
  • Date/ Time format
  • Numbers such as decimal points
  • Time zones
  • Currency
  • Weights and measures
  • Paper sizes
  • Telephone number format
  • Postal address format and zip codes
  • Voltage and current standards
  • Writing direction
  • Keyboard layouts and shortcuts

Once you start to really think about it, you realize the true scale of the challenge that you are taking on in seeking to internationalize a product.

Unsurprisingly, a few companies are beginning to step into this gap, trying to find a balance between traditional, internationalization processes that are often cumbersome and the remote server-based translation services option. This is one opportunity for the savvy Language Service Providers to differentiate themselves by having a complete grasp of all the issues involved in internationalization rather than making the archetypal mistake of purely focusing on translating when a business is moving into a new arena. Obviously, we can’t all suddenly become coding experts. However, we can work with our clients to ensure that they are asking the right questions of the software companies that they are working with. This can help to avoid some very costly mistakes down the road when it is discovered that a software package they use is not fit for a market they always knew they were hoping to move into.

Share your thoughts