Finding a reliable partner for a software localisation project isn’t always easy – it involves much more than simply translating a few strings. Your client will have many requests and requirements that might differ from those made by clients offering work in other domains like financial or legal.
Over the past few decades, the game has changed massively. In the 90s, software localisation revolved mostly around large contracts with Silicon Valley giants, with projects consisting of hundreds of thousands of words, if not millions. Whilst this kind of work is certainly still around, since the 2000s a new breed of tech startup has emerged that has different demands and expectations.
At Sandberg, we’re experienced in both of these areas. We’ve worked with some of the largest tech companies in the world to help bring their products to the Nordic market, as well as with many of the social media, streaming and app companies at the forefront of technology today. With that in mind, we thought we’d offer you some insights into the world of software localisation today and what you should have in mind when selecting a language services partner for software work.
1. 💌 Brand, brand, brand
Traditionally, software localisation didn’t involve a great deal of creativity. Whilst many end clients had developed their own style guides and terminology resources, the primary focus was on consistency. Error-free, consistent translations are as important to clients as ever, of course, but nowadays linguists are also expected to be brand evangelists, making sure that the end client’s user experience is communicated in a way that’s faithful to their brand values and tone of voice, regardless of the user’s language.
The reason for this shift in emphasis is due to the way that software itself has evolved, particularly over the past decade and a half since the emergence of the smartphone. For many users, the text in a downloaded app is the primary or only way they experience the product – there’s no packaging or physical salesperson to point out the product’s features and benefits. As the product itself has to do the talking, making sure you provide a translation that’s in line with your client’s brand is an absolute non-negotiable.
2. 🤝 Direct linguist contact
In recent years, it’s become increasingly common for end clients to want direct, unfettered access to the linguists localising their content. Many clients now set out their communication requirements as part of the negotiation process and may require you and any other suppliers further down the chain to use their communication tool of choice. This often involves giving linguists access to end-client resources such as internal style guides or file stores, meaning they’ll likely be asked to sign an NDA.
It’s important to use a supplier that knows its linguists really well.
Software end clients value personal relationships highly and prefer to build trust with a small pool of linguists that they know understand their product, brand and style. For this reason, they’ll often ask you to allocate named linguists, and like to be involved in the process of onboarding new ones, sometimes even offering direct training.
For this reason, it’s important to use a supplier that knows its linguists really well. One of our key strengths is that we have large teams of in-house translators for all of our core languages, as well as close relationships with a hand-picked pool of trusted freelancers. Make sure your supplier is able to offer this too.
3. ⛑ Language leads – the last line of defence
More established tech companies often have their own dedicated localisation department. They may use a mix of suppliers: localising into some languages in-house and outsourcing others. This means that they might be experienced in the general process of localisation, but perhaps not in the language they’re looking to buy from you. Often though, they have internal ‘language leads’ – linguists fluent in the target language who act as guardians of terminology, tone, brand voice and style. Language leads are normally heavily involved in the QA process and may be external linguists’ main point of contact at the end client.
In startups, this structure may not exist yet. Smaller companies may want external linguists to step into the language lead role, especially if they’re expanding into a new locale that they have no internal expertise in. We’ve supplied lead linguists for several end clients. As part of that role, they may be asked to help develop the style guide for a new locale or provide feedback on an existing style guide. They may also be expected to perform quality checks on work done by other external linguists. Make sure you agree on a pricing structure that takes this kind of consultation work into account.
Our software localisation services
We take the linguistic content of your app or service – along with any documentation and marketing material – and translate and adapt it for your target market.
4. 🧑💻 Fans preferred
In Silicon Valley, it’s not enough to show up, do your work adequately and go home. Tech companies expect high levels of passion and engagement from their employees, and want them to be ambassadors for the product itself and the company’s wider mission. This has a ripple effect on suppliers, too. End clients increasingly request or require linguists that have used their app or product and are passionate about it.
Clients want to know that the people localising their product really understand how it works.
There are a couple reasons for this: the first boils down to brand values, as discussed earlier. The second is that end clients want to know that the people localising their product really understand how it works. Software strings are highly contextual, so the linguist has to have a good idea of where and when the text is going to appear to be able to offer an accurate translation. Ideally, they should be subject-matter experts. For a running tracking app, for example, they should preferably be a keen runner.
End clients may want to give linguists access to unreleased versions of their software, again meaning an NDA is required. At a minimum, they usually want the linguists to have downloaded and interacted with the release version of their product. They may ask each linguist to sign up with their own account and keep track of who has access to the product. Knowing who your linguists are is key to making this work, so again keep this in mind when choosing a supplier.
5. ♻️ A continuous process
This is by no means unique to the software industry, but the process of localisation these days is much more cyclical than it is linear. Whereas before, linguists would send a translation to the client and never hear anything back, today there are multiple rounds of quality assurance and feedback before the final translation is settled upon.
Keeping abreast of changes in your client’s product is crucial.
For software clients, quality is often the decisive factor. A linguist might expect to receive feedback from their own colleagues, you the client and the end client, perhaps multiple times. Make sure your supplier is able to accommodate these feedback processes and that they have linguists who are experienced in providing in-context reviews and using quality tracking systems.
Content may be sent for translation and multiple reviews over the course of several months, especially if localisation is taking place in tandem with the software development process. As new versions of an app are released, updates are required, and so keeping abreast of changes and developments in your client’s product is crucial too.
These are just a handful of things to bear in mind when pursuing a software localisation project – there’s much more to consider. For example, your client might request additional services such as a cultural review of text or graphics, which involves making sure a piece of content won’t offend or have negative connotations in a certain market. Another thing to think about is that many software clients dictate the translation environment, meaning it’s increasingly common that they prep the projects themselves.
Each project, as with each client, is unique. We’ve worked with software end clients of all shapes and sizes, so if you have any questions that weren’t answered in this post, why not get in touch and find out more about what we can offer you? I’d be delighted to connect with you on LinkedIn or via email – even if you’ve not got a project right now, it’d be great to see if we can offer you any advice! In the meantime, I hope you find the information in this post helpful for your future projects.
Amy Cottrell is Key Account Manager at Sandberg. She has years of experience in account management and project management in the language services industry. Connect with her on LinkedIn or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation about how we can help you.