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Do’s and Don’ts of Software Localization
With constant competitive pressure on software companies to quickly meet market demands, many developers work under tight deadlines to deliver efficient software. The software is often ready for localization once the source language version is ready for release.
Given these pressures, developers must ensure that basic internationalization principles are followed when developing software, as well as facilitating easy localization efforts to meet market needs for all required languages, not just the source language.
Following are the do’s and don’ts that all developers should implement in their work to avail fast and cost-effective software localization services for different languages:
1. Externalize messages into message catalogs, resource files, and configuration files: Messages are textual objects and are therefore translatable entities. These are catalogs or files that are installed in a locale-specific location or named with a locale-specific suffix. This practice will simplify the localization process, as localizers can work on these resource bundles without modifying the source code. It will also facilitate the use of single source code for all languages, where only the resource bundle has a different language flavor.
2. Do not internationalize fixed text objects: Fixed text objects such as comments, commands and configuration settings etc. should not be translated. Externalize only the strings that need translation.
If these objects appear in resource or configuration files, they should be marked with the “NOT_FOR_TRANSLATION” tag. Here are some examples of fixed text objects that do not require internationalization rules:
o User names, group names and passwords
o System or host names
o Names of terminals, printers and special equipment
o Shell variables and environment variable names
o Message queues, semaphores and shared memory labels
o UNIX commands and command line options
o Some GUI text elements, such as keyboard mnemonics and keyboard accelerators
3. Allow text expansion in messages (especially for GUI items):
By applying the following expansion rules, when the source text is:
o 0 – 10 characters: 101 – 200% expansion required.
o 11 – 20 characters: 81 – 100%
o 21 – 30 characters: 61 – 80%
o 31 – 50 characters: 41 – 60%
o 50 – 70 characters: 31 – 40%
o More than 70 characters: 30%
But keep the string length below your limit (usually 254 characters) for the extra characters needed.
4. Don’t use variables when you can avoid them: Variables raise questions in the translator’s mind to change the gender of the word, making it difficult to correctly translate sentences containing them. If variables are to be used, always provide a replacement list. Also allow for gender and plural variation in the translation of sentences involving variables.
Do not use composite wire. A composite string is an error message or other text that is dynamically generated from partial sentence segments and presented to the user as a complete sentence. Use complete sentences instead, even if you have to use repeating sections. This will ensure the accuracy of the translation regardless of gender, plural, conjugation or sentence structure. Also, avoid using the same placeholder when using multiple variables in the same string, as the syntax varies from language to language.
5. Pseudo-translate: Pseudo-translate is the process of replacing or adding characters to your software strings to detect character encoding problems and hard-coded text in source files.
6. Don’t use IF conditions or rely on the sort order in your code to evaluate a string value: for example, avoid (IF gender = “female” THEN). Always use an enumeration or unique ID.
7. Use Unicode functions and methods to support all scripts: Applications that store and retrieve text data need to accept and display characters for any language. Use of Unicode encoding solves the problem of unsupported character sets with the display of junk characters.
8. Do not insert hard carriage returns in the middle of sentences. Translation memory tools turn off hard returns and assume the sentence is finished. Inserting a hard carriage return in the middle of a sentence results in incomplete sentences in the translation database and corrupts the sentence structure in the target language files. Instead, replace hard returns with soft returns or break tags such as [BR]. Also, sentence structure as well as the length of sentence segments varies from language to language. Therefore, additional breaks in target languages may be necessary.
9. Choose your third-party software provider carefully: Insist that your third-party software supports Unicode and follows internationalization practices. If third-party software runs into problems, and you don’t have control over their code to fix the problems, localization makes the task more difficult.
10. Don’t use text in icons and bitmaps: Translated text may be too big to fit. Also, avoid using symbols with cultural connotations and local-specific idioms.
11. Use long dates or month abbreviations instead of numbers when identifying dates: Month vs. day order varies in different parts of the world (eg mm/dd/yy in the US; dd/mm/yy in Europe).
12. Do not alphabetize strings in string tables and resource bundles. Try to reference as much as you can with external strings. This will help the translator to better adapt the translation to that context. If the reference does not exist, run-time QA will take longer to correct the translation.
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