An overview of software localization tools

Software localization is the process of adapting your application from a language to another. The end result of such a process, namely the translated version of your application, should look and feel like it is tailored to the user of the target region. To that end, your software should go through modifications by a software localization tool in the user interface, texts and messages, along with other informative parts such as images and/or videos.

To make it easier to understand, we can categorize these modifications into three groups:

  • Text manipulation: Includes editing and translating the content from the source language into the target language;
  • Image editing: May include modification on some part(s) of an image, for example, the texts on a poster; and
  • Video editing: May vary from subtitle making, to further modification of the video, such as audio dubbing or footage replacement.

There are other types of modifications to be done in a localization process as well, such as dealing with the application code to adapt the font, date, time and numbering style of a language; but within the scope of the article, we will just focus on the three aforementioned.

Text manipulation

In a way, this could be done quite easily. You can use any basic text editor to open the file whose contents are to be translated, find those strings, and edit them. It works if your content is not a large amount, less than a hundred words, and you need the job done as soon as possible. However, when you have to deal with dozens of files with thousands of words to be translated, not to mention the repeated terms and segments, it would not be sufficient to simply handle them on a text editor, which, in most cases, can be frustrating and time-consuming.

This is when a CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tool would shine. 

The biggest selling point of a CAT tool is its ability to “remember” what you have translated, using “translation memory”. With a translation memory, you will no longer have to wonder if you have previously translated a segment. Instead, the tool will automatically suggest a translation in repeated segments. What is cooler is that the tool can detect “fuzzy matches”, in other words, segments that are partially matched with previously translated ones; and suggest the appropriate translations. Aside from the translation memory, you can create or import glossaries into the tool so you don’t have to open a terminology table side by side with the translation application.

Another selling point of CAT tools is that, with proper settings, the program can import the client’s file and differentiate between contents to be translated and conservable codes. You should be only able to edit the content parts; and after the translation is completed, the CAT tool should export the translated file back to its original format (e.g. *.po, *.idml, *.xml, etc.) without any issue.

With these advantages, translators can guarantee better accuracy and consistency while increasing the translation speed.

Some of those CAT tools loved and trusted by MercTrans are:

It would be a big mistake if we don’t mention the honorable Notepad++. Though we would pick a CAT tool over Notepad++ for translation in any situation, Notepad++ never fails to help us understand the technical aspects of the software localization process.

Text manipulation

Image editing

Any guide for software localization best practices would say “Thou shall not embed text in an image”, but from time to time, we receive requests from developers to adapt an image element of their software into a target language. This could be a texture of an object in a video game, for example, a billboard in the game’s world, where a slogan needs to be adapted to the target language.

In such a case, the best idea is to acquire the original design from the developer. With an original design, say, a Photoshop project file, we should see the layers in that billboard, pick out the text layer among them, and update it with the translated version. If the client does not provide any original design asset, we will have to utilize “black magic” through functions such as Content Aware Fill from Photoshop, or even completely redraw some parts of the image using our trusted Wacom. This would take much more time than dealing with original assets, but it is not out of the question.


Video editing

Video is becoming more and more lightweight, easier to either store locally or streams from the Internet, and better at providing information to the user in a quick and catchy way. The videos being presented to users can be a user guide, an introduction to a feature, or even an advertisement. Whatever the purpose is, localizing them is equally important and challenging.

First, we should determine the elements in the video that need to be localized, and we can categorize them into 2 groups: visual and audio.

  • For visual elements, we have to determine if there is anything such as text boxes or titles in the video that should be translated. Same as image editing, to edit these elements, we should acquire the original project file of the video.
  • For audio elements, how does the client want to present the translation of the audio? Do they want a dub, or do they just want to add subtitles only? For audio dubbing, we have to determine the voice to cast, time and limit the length for translated lines, then replace the voice in the video file. For audio subtitling, the process is much less complicated, as we only need to guarantee the accuracy of the subtitle, along with obeying the subtitling standards.

Some of the tools we recommend are:

  • Adobe Premiere Pro – The industry standard for any video editing software. However, it should also depend on what kind of tool the client has used to create the video, so you should use the same software to open the editing project.
  • Subtitle Edit – A free and open-sourced application for subtitle creation tasks. It’s a very robust yet intuitive software that we often use and achieve satisfying results.

Whatever software localization tools you are using, please be noted that you know both your tools and what the client uses for their software development process, and ask these two questions: “Can I use this tool to open the client’s file to translate?” and “Can this tool export the translated version back to the original format of the client?”. Only when you are sure that the localization tool can satisfy these 2 conditions should you use it to continue with your software localization process.


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