Right-To-Left vs Left-To-Right
In this current globalized world, nothing is more important in ensuring wide markets for software than correct understanding of the various aspects of localization. The planet has currently 7 billion potential customers but this number is cut to a fraction without proper translation of the services. This article will focus on the different text reading and writing patterns found in different cultures, in other words, the right-to-left and the left-to-right systems and how this internationalization directly affects developers in an ultimately beneficial way. Both 'internationalization' and 'localization' are often abbreviated as 'i18n' and 'l10n' but for clarity, I will use the full terms in this article. One last term that tends to get mentioned when localization is discussed is 'MT' which stands for 'machine translation, ' meaning translations done automatically without human input. Beyond certain specific domains, however, machine translation is currently inferior compared to a human doing the translation.
Different Characters And Letters
Of course the first barrier is the actual system of characters the target language uses. It's a fact that Arabic takes more horizontal space than English when in written form, and this is something to consider when thinking of how the application will look on the mobile screen. This of course only applies to the size of the characters themselves and the length of the translated words is again a new hurdle. And that is just how the characters of the language affect localization. For example, if you have a mobile application written in Arabic (or Hebrew for that matter) and you wish to translate it into English, you must pay attention to the fact that both Arabic and Hebrew are written right-to-left and still, numbers are written in left-to-right system thus compounding the issues. Languages like these are called bidirectional. Others like the ones I already mentioned are Urdu and Persian.
The direction issue isn't just limited to text. It also applies to series of pictures. If the application or website or a piece of software has anywhere on it any series of images that are meant to illustrate its function or are otherwise necessary, they too must be both mirrored (by flipping them horizontally) and their order reversed to match the target language's specifications. Otherwise the message of the images is distorted and the product doesn't feel accessible.
Conforming to either left-to-right or right-to-left system also affects the overall layout. Should the application have a menu or some sort of action bar in some edge of the screen, like in iOS, this also must be mirrored for the application to be truly professionally localized. Think about the buttons on a TV-controller or the buttons in an application - the ordering of the forward and backward buttons is again something that this localization touches upon.
But after all these issues have been tackled, the profit margins of an Android or iPhone application or the potential number of visitors of a website can expect a substantial growth. As globalization rapidly dissolves the differences between cultures and continents, good localization is one of the ways a company can truly stand out on the web. Despite the hegemony of certain languages in the world, the extra effort is always appreciated, and even more so now due to this generalization of cultural trends.
Well carried out localization also extends the lifespan of a product since the quality of the original will be higher than usual and will need less work in the future. This is especially important for those who offer software as a service. Localization and these directions of text and images might seem like trouble at first but in the end, they do pay off.
List of RTL languages
|China, except Hong Kong||Simplified Chinese||LTR or TTB||Mandarin|
|Hong Kong||Traditional Chinese||LTR or TTB||Cantonese|
|Japan||Kanji + Hiragana + Katakana||LTR or TTB||Japanese|
|Korea||Hangul, Hanja||LTR or TTB||Korean|
|Latin America, except Brazil||Latin||LTR||Spanish|
|North America||Latin||LTR||English, French, Spanish|
|Serbia and Montenegro||Cyrillic||LTR||Serbian|
|Switzerland||Latin||LTR||French, German, Italian|
|Taiwan||Traditional Chinese||LTR or TTB||Mandarin|
References for further reading: