Developing and maintaining software with support for just one language can be complicated enough to make some companies opt out of localization. While that may seem like an easy solution, it limits a company’s potential to grow into new markets, outperform competitors, and build customer loyalty. In short, companies are leaving money on the table by choosing to support one language in their software.
Localization, or l10n, is a process where software is developed to support multiple languages and cultures. That’s built on top of internationalization, or i18n, which creates the foundation to support multiple languages and locales in software, interface changes and adapting other elements without needing to manually create the code for each market. In the US, for example, users expect to see online shopping software in English and dollars. In France, however, they expect French and Euros. Localization and internationalization make that possible without needing to create new software for each market.
What are companies losing by having their software in only one language? More than they may realize.
Access to New Markets
English may be the default language choice for many developers, but that doesn’t make it universally understood. Currently, there are over 7.9 billion people in the world. Of those, 1.5 billion speak English as a first or second language, according to data from Statista. Another 1.1 billion speak Mandarin Chinese.
While English has a slight majority, it doesn’t make it a universal option for worldwide markets. In fact, entering some locales without native language support isn’t practical. Selling in China and Japan, for example, without localized software won’t be successful because so much is different, like writing with characters instead of an alphabet, and how numbers are represented.
Keeping Up with the Competition
Companies that don’t localize their software lose out to competitors who do. Adapting to the needs of new locales gives businesses a competitive edge over those that don’t.
Businesses don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. There’s a good chance that the first encounter involves your company’s software, and if it isn’t localized, they may look for a competitor that invested in translation.
Customers have limited patience. They won’t tolerate software that’s in the wrong language for their home country. Software that isn’t localized is seen as unfriendly, is harder to use, and makes it more difficult to expand into new markets.
- Correct language and spelling for the locale: English is similar, but not the same in the US and UK. That’s true for other languages, too, like Spanish in Spain and Mexico. Language translation needs to account for the locale’s terminology, as well.
- Interface elements work correctly: Translating words is one part of the l10n process. Those words need to flow correctly and fit in menus, buttons, dialogs, and other interface elements. If not, the interface is broken, which makes it hard or impossible to use.
- Data formatting: Addresses need to use the locale’s format, how commas and decimals are used in numbers matters, and the ability to store and pass Unicode — and testing Unicode support — is important, too.
- Local currency: Customers shouldn’t have to convert from your currency to theirs. They may perform the calculation wrong, leaving them angry after discovering the price they’re paying isn’t what they expected. It’s also an extra step that makes for a poor user experience.
- Culturally appropriate graphics and colors: Icons and other graphics need to make sense. What’s appropriate for one locale may not make sense, or could be offensive, in another.
- Lower support costs: Localized software is easier for users to understand, which means they’re less likely to need help navigating the interface and completing purchases. That translates into lower support costs.
- Customer loyalty: Software that’s easy to use and understand helps retain users. Translating for every market a business serves makes local customers feel like they’re first class, instead of an afterthought who isn’t worth your support. Localization also makes it harder for users to justify switching to competing software, helps instill a sense of trust by showing the company cares about its users and builds a positive business reputation.
- Quality employees: Localized software is easier to sell and support. It’s frustrating trying to represent software that hasn’t been translated for the locale and can be an incentive for skilled and knowledgeable employees to leave for jobs with your competitors. There’s also a good chance regional representatives are clamoring for localized software versions if they aren’t currently available.
Don’t Lose Out on Localization
Companies that don’t invest in localization and internationalization are limiting the markets where they can expand. Those that try to move into new markets without localizing are at a disadvantage because the competition is already there with translated software, or is preparing to expand into the area.
Waiting to add l10n and i18n support to software only hobbles your business because time is against you. Competitors are likely already in the process of internationalizing and localizing their software, and it takes time to see results in a new market. The longer you wait to begin, the bigger the head start for competitors.
Instead of giving up on the idea of localization, companies can use tools that build internationalization and translation into the software development workflow. That saves developers from devoting their time to coding for each local so they can focus on new features and updates. It also cuts down on time spent testing local software versions for bugs since l10n and i18n tools can handle that automatically.
Resources to Learn More
By adopting internationalization and localization, businesses can more easily support languages and locales in markets around the world. Instead of limiting their potential user base to just a single language, they can build loyal and satisfied customers, increase sales, and be successful where businesses that still support a single language can’t compete.