May 3, 2011

Cultural implications on localization

An emerging pattern on mobile application stores is developers which target a limited local market initially, seek to expand their market after reaching a good amount of penetration on their initial market.

Reaching a new local market requires localizing your application however localization is not just about providing the strings translated to the local language. It gets much detailed quickly and touches cultural issues. These issues should be taken into consideration on all stages of the localization work. Here are a few tips, I have picked up regarding cultural issues on different stages of a localization project.

1. Define what should be localized

User visible text is the most obvious to localize but you should also look beyond text. Images and sounds should be considered as localization candidates as well. Unfortunately, the reasons for localizing images and sounds are usually cultural and harder to detect. For example, your great sports game may use the charge fanfare to indicate an offensive move, however on many parts of the world charge fanfare is not played on the sporting events and on those markets users do not associate it with an offensive move.

Here is a few cultural implications to consider when looking at what to localize.
  • Do not assume certain experiences such as the meaning of charge fanfare I have mentioned above.
  • Do not assume a certain history knowledge. Believe it or not but Boston tea party is for many represents a party in Boston that tea lovers attend.
  • Do not assume certain opinions, prejudices. Patagonia may represent a distant place for someone in Eurasia but someone in South America will have a completely different opinion about it.
  • Be respectful to religious and political beliefs.

2. Localize

It is essential that your localization specialist knows the target language well. I also recommend working with a specialist who is multicultural as well. Someone who does not only have a good understanding of the source and target languages only but also knows both cultures. I know on many occasions it will be hard (and expensive) to find multicultural talent but it is worth it. After all, it is the localization process that will ensure that the users on your new market will get your product and accept it.

In some cases, you should be ready to have localized versions of your sounds, images, icons in addition to text. You should leave room in your planning for the creation of these resources. It is also a good idea to implement a localization framework on your application that will allow you to easily use different versions of resources on different locales.

In my experience, for developers who use Latin characters daily, even when they pay extra attention to mirrored and double character languages, there are usually some details that were not right initially. If you are targeting one of those languages be prepared to handle them. I think the best help for mirrored and double character languages is to choose a UI technology that provides mechanics to handle them.

3. Test

It is best if the testing is done by people who are native to the target language and culture. This way you may also test if your localization was culturally successful besides being technically correct.