Software localization best practices

If you plan to market your software solutions globally, translation and localization are essential steps. From the outside, the software localization process can look like a “black box.” Let’s open the box. Understanding software localization best practices helps you prepare for global success.


Internationalization (i18n): Preparing software and websites to ensure a smooth and error-free localization process.  Internationalization is the first step toward a successful localization project.

Translation:  replacing text in one language with text of equivalent meaning in another language.

Localization (L10n): includes all of the changes needed to adapt content for a particular market, taking into account variations in local time, date, and currency formats; cultural preferences about content; UI and design choices.

Internationalization best practices 

The first step toward localization-friendly software? Protect the code. Keeping the content separate from the code protects it from corruption during translation. It also gives you access to a wider pool of reasonably priced language talent. You’ll pay more for professional translators if they are also required to know your coding language.

Rules of thumb for building internationalized software include:

  • Don’t hard-code dates, times, measurements, and currencies.
  • Don’t concatenate strings to form sentences. Remember that grammar and word order vary across languages.
  • Don’t embed text in graphics.
  • Support different character sets by using Unicode.
  • If certain features won’t be used internationally, make them easily disabled options.
  • Store strings in resource files.

In addition to being easily separable from code, the source content itself should be translation-friendly. Several of these guidelines apply to any translatable source content, not just software.

  • Design for text expansion. An English-language string can expand up to 30% after translation.
  • Don’t use slang or culturally-specific references. If needed, a later round of transcreation can capture your brand voice in a way that works for your audience.
  • Don’t use the same string variable or sentence fragment in different contexts. Each term or sentence fragment should have a single meaning.
  • Develop a termbase or glossary to ensure consistent terminology in UI strings. A termbase will also help you develop and research keywords for international marketing and SEO.
  • Design culturally neutral icons (for example, the American “OK” sign has different meanings across cultures).
  • Avoid using keys and symbols for shortcut combinations that won’t be suitable for international keyboards.
  • Provide context for translators to clarify the meaning of individual strings.

Keep in mind that sequences of images depicting an action or narrative will need to be reversed (mirrored) for languages that read right-to-left.

Translation technology

Most (if not all) language partners use CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tools. CAT tools extract translatable text from common file formats to present the translator with a “clean” source text free of code and formatting. This makes the translator’s work easier. CAT tools also provide cost-saving benefits to the client. If certain segments of text appear multiple times across the content, these will be auto-populated as the translator works, saving time and effort. Built-in termbases and QA tools ensure consistency and translation memories facilitate re-use of repeated content or partially updated content.

Software localization engineering

Localization engineering can be a complex process, even for companies with good in-house IT and development support. Clients will often need help isolating text from code and putting it into a translatable format. In this case, our project managers perform the process in-house and the cost is estimated and charged by the hour.

For apps needing frequent updates, emerging platforms support continuous localization. These include solutions like Phrase, Transifex, Mojito, and Serge (this last solution is open-source). In this case, the client contracts with the platform directly and our translators are provided access to the translation interface. Automated solutions can look like black boxes themselves. Scriptis project managers can help you sort through the process and choose the best fit for your needs.

The upsides to online platforms for localization include ease of use and rapid turnaround of translations into the field. However, their embedded termbase, translation memories, and QA tools cannot match the quality and reliability of the standard CAT tools used by professional translators. The purpose of a translation memory is to ensure consistency across all platforms and media (mobile app, website, documentation, sales materials). Standard CAT tools allow that flexibility.

The costs of automated solutions can also present a downside. The best of these requires a significant investment. We recommend continuous localization platforms if the client needs translation as part of an agile development process. We can assign a translation team to use the tool according to the client’s preferred workflow.


After choosing and configuring a localization solution, pseudo-translation simulates how the content will look in its final localized format. This helps confirm that all the text has been extracted. Pseudo-translation also indicates where more space is needed to accommodate text expansion, and whether the character encoding is appropriate to the target language’s writing system.

Running the pseudo-translation also simplifies final pre-live testing: review of the localized application by native speakers of the target language before public release.  Pre-live testing can require several iterations of close teamwork and communication between the client and project manager.

In conclusion

Successful localization starts with good internationalization. When software is designed with localization in mind, and software localization best practices are followed, the process proceeds smoothly and efficiently. Opening the localization black box helps to bridge gaps between programmers and UX designers, linguists, and localization engineers.