Software localization, CJK Languages & Input Method Editors (IME)

CJK is an acronym for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, a group of languages sharing similarities in their writing systems, character sets, and typographic conventions.

Due to their complex and diverse character sets, CJK languages present unique challenges for the internationalization (i18n) process.

CJK considerations & requirements for i18n

Companies with the majority of their user base in regions where Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are spoken, including global technology giants like Tencent, LINE Corporation, and Naver, invest in robust i18n processes to provide localized software experiences.

Given the complexities of CJK languages, specific considerations and requirements must be employed:

Character Encoding: CJK languages typically require multibyte character encoding schemes, such as UTF-8 or UTF-16, to represent their expansive character sets.

Proper character encoding is crucial to ensure that CJK characters are correctly stored, processed, and displayed within software applications.

Text Layout: CJK languages have different text layout conventions compared to Western languages. They often use vertical writing, different line-breaking rules, and complex character positioning.

Adapting the text layout of user interfaces, such as menus, buttons, and forms, is essential for proper display and readability in CJK languages.

Font Support: CJK languages have a vast number of characters, necessitating comprehensive font support. Developers need to ensure that the chosen fonts include the necessary glyphs to accurately render CJK characters.

Proper font selection is crucial to maintain visual consistency and legibility in CJK localizations.

User Interface Adaptation: CJK languages often require adjustments in the user interface (UI) to accommodate longer text strings compared to Western languages. Developers must ensure that UI elements dynamically adjust their size, layout, or wrapping to prevent text truncation or overlapping.

Date, Time & Number Formats: CJK languages may have different date, time, and number formats compared to Western conventions. Adapting these formats according to CJK language-specific preferences is important to provide a localized experience that aligns with users’ expectations.

Specialized tools and techniques, such as font management systems, internationalization libraries, and in-country testing, are essential for handling the localization of CJK languages, the most notable being Input Method Editors (IME).

Input Method Editors (IME) & CJK languages

An Input Method Editor, often abbreviated to (IME,) is a software component using key combinations to allow users to input non-Latin scripts such as CJK languages with too many unique characters for standard QWERTY keyboards. 

Incorporating IME support in software applications allows users to input CJK characters using their preferred input methods, enhancing usability as users are forced to learn a new keyboard layout.

IMEs typically work by translating the user’s input into a sequence of keystrokes that the operating system can understand. 

IMEs & the i18n process

Given their impact on localized user experience, IMEs are important for the i18n process in the following areas:

Multilingual Text Input: IMEs allow users to input text in different languages and writing systems, including those that require non-Latin characters or complex character compositions.

IMEs provide an interface or a set of keyboard shortcuts that users can use to enter characters, symbols, or special language-specific constructs.

Text Conversion: IMEs often include features for text conversion, such as converting Romanized input into the corresponding characters in a non-Latin script or converting simplified characters into traditional characters.

Text conversion enables users to type in a familiar way and have the text automatically converted into the appropriate language-specific or script-specific representation.

Language-Specific Input Methods: Some languages, such as Chinese, Japanese, or Korean, have complex writing systems that require input methods beyond a standard keyboard layout.

IMEs for these languages provide functionality for entering characters based on strokes, radicals, or phonetic components, making it easier to input the desired characters accurately.

User Experience & Accessibility: IMEs play a crucial role in improving the user experience and accessibility of software applications for international users. 

By supporting the input methods and character sets specific to various languages, IMEs ensure that users can effectively communicate and interact with software in their native languages.

The challenges of using IMEs in the i18n process

Given the complexity of CJK character sets, the use of IMEs isn’t without its challenges:

Compatibility & Integration: Different operating systems and software platforms may have their own IMEs or input frameworks. Ensuring compatibility and seamless integration with various IMEs can be a challenge.

Developers can address compatibility issues by following platform-specific guidelines, supporting standard input interfaces, and providing a way for users to switch between different IMEs.

Testing & Localization: IMEs require thorough testing to ensure correct behavior, compatibility with various operating systems, and proper handling of language-specific rules. 

Additionally, IMEs themselves need to be localized and adapted to different languages and regions, which requires extensive testing and coordination.

User Familiarity & Learning Curve: IMEs may have a learning curve for users who are not familiar with the specific input methods or writing systems.

Providing clear documentation, tutorials, and user-friendly interfaces can help mitigate this challenge.

Software companies that actively employ IMEs

The importance of IMEs to the internationalization process of software is illustrated by their use within the biggest tech companies.

Microsoft: Microsoft Windows includes built-in IMEs for various languages, allowing users to input text in different scripts, such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean. These IMEs provide language-specific input methods and character conversion features.

Apple: Apple’s macOS and iOS operating systems also come with built-in IMEs that support multilingual input and complex writing systems. Users can switch between different input methods and use language-specific keyboards for inputting text.

Baidu: Baidu, the prominent Chinese technology company, offers its own IME called Baidu Input Method. It supports Chinese characters and offers features such as handwriting recognition, voice input, and intelligent word prediction.

➡️ Learn how Lingoport’s product suite can automate the localization of CJK languages

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