Tips for localizing and writing

· 9 min read
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When creating an application, you should always adhere to certain industry rules, e.g., the proper use of code documentation, company-specific rules, and many more. But what about rules for localization and writing? Are there any? Do you have a localization handbook, style guide, corporate identity rule book, or even an editorial guide? There are so many rules when it comes to localization and writing, that your head might spin. With this blog post, I will introduce ten tips you should adhere to, when localizing.

Here's the overview of this post:

  1. Do not assume localization is only translating your text segments
  2. Do not hard-code numbers, dates, time, and currency
  3. Do not create images with text in them
  4. Do not split strings
  5. Do not forget to test your GUI, often
  6. Do not forget about RTL-scripts
  7. Do not forget about context, context, context
  8. Do not forget about the Hamburg Comprehensibility Concept
  9. Do not forget about your target audiences
  10. Do not forget to use all translation tools at your disposal

Our 10 tips for localization

1. Do not assume localization is just translating your text segments

Keep in mind that localization (l10n) is not the same as translation (t9n). We illustrated the differences in our academy entry here. Just as a reminder, translation is the act of transferring text from one language into another one and localization is the act of adapting a product for different markets, to a different locale, and to a different cultural context. You should therefore never assume that everybody who speaks your source and target language can localize your text segments. Instead, ensure that the translator knows about the local customs and traditions of your target audiences. Should no translator be available at your company, LingoHub can help you out. We ensure your texts are localized by professionals. As a rule of thumb, texts created in your native language are usually the easiest to localize, as you naturally and unconsciously enrich the text with additional information.

2. Do not hard-code numbers, dates, time, and currency

Everybody uses the same format for numbers, dates, time, and currency right? Our second rule ensures that you are not causing misunderstandings with your target audience. Properly localizing these items is easily done, when using the right methods. Therefore, never hard-code them. Instead, use a library that formats numbers, dates, time, and currency to the correct format in the respective target region. This way, your ISO-compliant source will be localized quickly, either automatically or by translators.

3. Do not create images with text in them

As with numbers, dates, time, and currency, images with text can be hard to localize. This can be especially true when you need to change your images to better fit your local target audience. Therefore, it is wise to separate your texts and images, so both can be changed if needed. In addition to that, remember that text length between your source and target languages can change, so be sure to provide large enough images, just in case. Text length is also playing a role in another rule below.

4. Do not

split strings

Splitting strings can make your translators' job a nightmare. Strings might be split for several reasons, e.g., because of a variable, or because of a different text style within the string. However, when a translator is facing split strings, they often have to go on a scavenger hunt for context. Therefore, do not split your strings. Instead, utilize placeholders within strings. This adds another benefit for you, because you can easily check for placeholders with our handy LingoChecks!

LingoHub got you covered for most split strings, though. We have implemented a workflow that groups text segments based on key. This avoids unnecessarily split strings.

5. Do not forget to test your GUI, often

You imported your text segments, they have been translated to 15 languages, you are ready to roll. Your application can finally be released. In your final prototype, you are switching between your target languages and realize with horror: Half of your buttons are screwed in the German localization. As IBM states in their Guidelines to design global solutions, text length, especially for short text segments, can vary drastically. The table below illustrates IBM's findings:

No. of characters in English source Average expansion
Up to 10 200–300%
11–20 180–200%
21–30 160–180%
31–50 140–160%
51–70 151-170%
Over 70 130%

With this in mind, test the localized versions of your applications early, and often. This rule is directly related to a previous rule, stating to separate images and texts, alongside remembering to leave enough space for lengthier text segments.

6. Do not forget about Right-to-left and top-to-bottom scripts

Right-to-left (RTL) and top-to-bottom (TTB) scripts are common script types. Amongst others, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac utilize RTL-scripts. Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and Hangul, or Hanja are written using TTB, or RTL scripts. When you create an application, do not forget about these languages, as they represent a large target audience. Without proper planning for these languages and their script direction, you might find yourself in a common pitfall of localization. It is therefore wise to keep RTL- and TTB-scripts in mind while creating your application.

If you want to read more on RTL scripts, check out this blog post, too.

7. Do not forget about context, context, context

Translators are often tasked with translating ambiguous text segments. They often only see text segments that are isolated and detached from the application. Therefore, it can be a challenge to correctly localize the text segments without further context. With LingoHub, there are many ways to add context to your text segments. You can either use comments that are directly added in your code, or you can easily add comments and even screenshots through our conversations feature.

8. Do not forget about the Hamburg Comprehensibility Concept

Have you ever heard of the Hamburg Comprehensibility Concept? Chances are, you haven't. Hamburg not only features a beautiful view, as shown in our cover image, it is also the place where Langer, Schulz von Thun, and Tausch developed their comprehensibility concept1. The concept tries to serve as a framework to assess text comprehensibility. With the Hamburg concept, four main categories are relevant for text comprehensibility:

  • Simplicity: Is the text easy to understand?
  • Structure: Is the text well-structured, both in arrangement and within the text?
  • Conciseness: Is the text concise enough without leaving facts out?
  • Stimulating additives: Are elements present that stimulate the readers?

When looking at these four categories, texts can be graded on a scale from -2 to +2. For simplicity and structure, a +2 is the best score. However, for conciseness and stimulating additives, a score between 0 and +1 is best. Short or overly long sentences, or too little or too many additives, are not enhancing the comprehensibility of texts. In case you want to deep-dive into comprehensibility concepts, Göpferich proposed additions to the Hamburg Comprehensibility Concept and published them in the Karlsruhe Comprehensibility Concept. This concept enhances the previously mentioned framework even further.

9. Do not forget about your target audiences

When creating an application, one is often only focused on all the functions the application must provide. Many details must be remembered and implemented. However, developing an application should always be user-centered. Therefore, try to visualize your target audiences, maybe even create personas to help you with that. This ensures that you develop your application with the right people in mind.

In case you are not familiar with personas, let me quickly give you a run down. Personas are archetypes of different users in your target audience. They represent multiple customer of yours and describe not only who they represent, but also what their life is like. They feature detailed descriptions of aspects of their everyday life, what they want to achieve and how they handle certain situations. With personas, you are more connected to your target audiences.

10. Do not forget to use all translation tools at your disposal

In a previous post, I talked about the translation tools that LingoHub offers to you. Utilizing them can help you boost your translation drastically, and the best part is, these tools are at your disposal right now. Whether we are talking about the Prefill function, fallback languages, or utilizing our professional translators to localize your content to more than 40 languages. Why not head over to our blog post or our Help Center to learn more about all available tools. With them, your localization projects will go smoother than ever.

Especially our term base feature and our style guides can help you with staying consistent to your preferred corporate or customer wording. They ensure that you use the same terms for the same functions. Style guides provide internal and external translators with even more context about the target audience.

Let's wrap it up: I hope many of the rules are already implemented in your localization workflow. However, I also hope that some of these tips created new ideas to implement to your workflow as well. Localization can have many pitfalls, which is why having a set list of rules definitely enhances any established workflow. Do you have any more tips you want to share with us? Get in touch and contact our support.

Are you not using LingoHub yet? Try it out; it's entirely free for 14 days and all features are available to you during your trial. Feel also free to book a demo, or reach out to us anytime, simply contact our support.


[1] Langer, Inghard, Friedemann Schulz von Thun and Reinhard Tausch (1993). Sich verständlich ausdrücken. 5th ed. München, Basel: Ernst Reinhardt.

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