I’m incredibly surprised that one of the most enjoyable development tasks for our upcoming iOS app has been localization.
What is Localization?
To many, the term localization is defined as translating an app into another language. Yes, translation is part of localization, but translation alone would be internationalization as opposed to localization.
Localization involves extra steps that take into account the differences between cultures.
For instance, in the US we use the words “elevator,” “flashlight,” and “suspenders,” while in the UK, they use the words “lift,” “torch,” and “braces,” respectively, to mean the same thing.
As one humorist said, “The US and the UK are two countries separated by a common language.” If you think American English and the British English are the same, watch an hour of Doctor Who.
So localization takes into account different terminology and colloquialisms within the same language, but that’s just the start.
It’s a Date!
To people in the US the following todays date would be displayed as follows:
In the UK it would be:
In fact, date formats vary throughout the world. Display a date in the wrong format to someone in a different country, and they may very well read it wrong.
Additionally, some countries use lunar calendars.
Some languages are read right-to-left as opposed to left-to-right.
Though translation solves this in problem, the entire app layout must also be reversed for countries who read right-to-left.
What…is your favorite color?
Think every culture associates the same colors with the same meanings? Wrong! There are cultural color differences as well.
Green is the color for life in the west, while Japan uses red to signify life. In Indonesia, green is a forbidden color.
What’s the Solution?
Luckily Apple is a truly international company. There is support for localization built into iOS and OS X at the system level. If an app is written in a certain way, conversion/translation can be done almost “automagically.”
Additionally their tools for proofing apps are steadily improving, which makes catching mistakes much easier as well.
There are also a number of crowd-sourcing services that make translation even easier.
Why I Love Localization
I wondered why I’ve been loving the task of localizing our app so much. Yes, there are financial rewards as it means expanding the potential reach of our next app, but I’ve been truly enjoying the process.
Then it hit me: I was trained in college to do this.
I have a BS in Biblical Studies from Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee, but my true minor (besides programming my Commodore 64 into the wee hours of the morning) was Missions, which is essentially cross-cultural communications.
My career took such a radical turn when I discovered publishing and software engineering, that I’d all but forgotten there was a time when I studied intensely to be a cross-cultural communicator.
How wonderful to be delving into this fascinating subject again! I don’t think I’m remotely the same as that person in college, but maybe part of me still is.