Application Coding: New Approaches to Localization – Wired

Modern programming platforms such as .Net, Java and Android all support internationalization, also known as i18N. This involves architecting the database schema so that it supports tables for multiple language strings. This way an application can handle multiple languages (i.e. be localized).

During the application coding process, developers must use variables in place of strings where text is output. Then the application uses a resource or lookup table to pull the correct language for presentation in the UI, a print job or to be saved as a file. This is a simple but sometimes overlooked part of development.

It happens for a variety of reasons:

1. Developers are often under tight deadlines to get a product to market (and generate revenue) and ignore best coding standards, architecture and long term product lifecycle.

2. Companies often fail to take international markets into consideration when designing initial applications, so coding the strings in English makes sense. But markets are increasingly global and local language is increasingly important in emerging markets.

3. English is generally accepted as the default language for computer applications.

4. It was just not thought of at the time.

As a result, development teams are faced with two discrete challenges when they enter global markets. They must first internationalize the application, and then localize it for each geography.

The only option for localizing applications that are not i18n enabled is to rewrite or to externalize strings. Both of these methods cost millions of dollars and take years to complete. This is emerging as a major problem. For example, in the oil and gas, process manufacturing, ERP and other application industries many leading business software products are not enabled for adding global language capability.

Fortunately, new advances in software localization can eliminate the need to rewrite or externalize strings. These methods use a run-time approach that can create a “skin” on top of an application’s existing interface to enable users to operate the software in the language of their choosing.

This software-based approach decouples language from the application. By abstracting language from the code –screens, printed reports and files can be translated from one language to another on-the-fly. There’s no need to alter the application or the data. Want Turkish? Simply select the language from the menu and the screen changes to Turkish. Need to go back to English? Just click on English.

For many organizations, English is the IT standard for all systems. This new model for language localization enables businesses to keep all of their business systems in English, while allowing an office in say Barcelona to use the ERP application in Catalan, a sales team in Japan access the CRM application in Japanese and a factory in Mumbai to print work orders in Hindi. The underlying applications remain in English, but workers can see screens, and get reports and files in local languages.

We’ve seen firsthand how localization of key business applications like ERP, CRM and others, can reduce errors, improve customer service and boost employee productivity. If your business is global, how is the company handling application localization in foreign markets?

Jagdish Sahasrabudhe is CEO and Managing Director of LinguaNext.

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