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A frequently used method to avoid programming repetitive messages and to save valuable disk space. Messages are composed from a set of static elements. A programmer may create a shell sentence and then drop in the desired tokens at runtime as needed.

Cultural Differences

Insensitivity towards religious aspects may jeopardize your product for an entire market. While a beautiful color graphic of a bikini-clad beauty may sell software in California, the same picture may be deemed offensive and morally objectionable in a more conservative target country.
Also keep in mind that for instance flags are subject to different rules and regulations in different countries and that their representative values are viewed and felt differently by different peoples. The Saudi Arabian flag includes a verse from the Koran. Printing this flag onto a tear-open shrink-wrap or combining an illustration of the flag with inappropriate additional picture material may be offensive to members of the Islamic faith.

Other cultural questions to consider in the localization process:

  • What degree of informality is acceptable in my target culture? Can a demo or tutorial file use proper names (e.g. John's account, Patricia.doc) or would that be considered rude?
    How does the degree of acceptable informality affect the general style of the translation? Should it be as chatty and friendly as the English original or do users in my target market expect a more formal, instructional, scholarly style?
  • How should jokes, anecdotes and metaphors be handled in the localization process? If there are references to current political or cultural events (frequently encountered in multimedia titles), how do I integrate these references? What should be done with remarks that rely on the user's understanding and background knowledge of popular culture?
  • Does the product contain verbal or graphical references to holidays that are not transferable to the target market? (pictures of Christmas trees, Easter eggs, Thanksgiving turkeys, etc.). Are there any explicit references to natural or cultural landmarks that are unknown in the target country? (Mount Rushmore, Bay bridge, etc.)
  • Do the product name, any of the used acronyms or abbreviations have negative connotations in the target language? Can the product name be changed, if these negative connotations are strong enough? What are the legal implications of such a change? Consider the impact of the following company names:
    • Hornyphon: Telecommunications
    • F.A.G.: Construction/Development
    • NOVA: Automotive (in Spanish "nova" means "no va", "it does not work")

Date Format

See Numeric Format

Double-Byte Enabling

Changing the code of a software application so it can recognize characters that are encoded in two subsequent bytes rather than a single byte. Most Asian languages are double- or multi-byte languages.

Most languages that use the Roman writing system can encode all required characters in a single byte (= 8 bits) of information. Conversely, many Asian languages contain thousands of characters and thus require a larger amount of memory, i.e. two or more bytes, to represent all characters of the language. A software package that is localized into a double-byte language must be enabled to recognize these larger, two-byte chunks of data as one character. Correct character processing is essential for many software operations, including printing, sorting and editing of text or numbers.


Graphical User Interface: The part of a software application that is visible to an end user.

GUI Resizing

Text swell may cause software strings to exceed the dimensions of source-language dialogs, buttons, menus, etc. If this occurs, the UI elements need to be resized with the help of specialized software tools, e.g. Resource Workshop (for Windows applications) or ResEdit (for Macintosh applications). Resizing operations have to be checked at run time to make sure that not only static text but also dynamically placed UI elements/strings are displayed correctly.

Graphics Localization

Frequently graphics and icons contain text or culture specific symbols that need to be translated or checked for cultural appropriateness.
For example to illustrate savings, a piggy bank works fine in most parts of the western world. There are however countries where pigs are considered filthy and repugnant animals: in those regions the piggy bank clearly fails to communicate the desired functionality.
Be aware that filing cabinets, mail boxes, windows, cars, houses, etc. look different in other parts of the world. While most American users intuitively recognize a little red flag on a mail box as a symbol for incoming mail, the point may be entirely lost on a German or Austrian user.

Internationalization (i18n)

Internationalization is the generalization of localization, refering to the process of developing software products independent from cultural pecularities, language or other specific attributes of a market.


Is a language professional specialized in the speech-to-speech translation at conferences or during negotiations. Some interpreters are capable to translate while the speaker has not yet finished a sentence (simultaneous interpretation). Interpreters normally do not work as translators because of the different skillsets required.


Is a standard identifier for a language/cultural context. The locale "en_US" refers to US American English and numeric format conventions. The locale "de_DE" refers to German from Germany while "de_LI" refers to the Liechtenstein variant of that language.

Localization (l10n)

Localization is the process of adapting the functionality, user interface (UI), on-line help, and - optionally - multimedia assets, of a software product to the specific cultural preferences of the target market. The localization process consists of several distinct steps:

  • Translation of text strings in dialogs, menus, etc.
  • Adaptation of culturally specific items, i.e. symbols or images that may be deemed inappropriate in certain countries
  • Reengineering of software, i.e. adapting numeric components (date, number and currency formats), adjusting dialog box size, reengineering software with left-to-right text flow for right-to-left target market, double-byte enabling

Language Management

See Translation Memory.

Localization Subsystem

Refers to the collections of software components as part of an application that deal with localization issues such as resource file access or other localizable items.

Localizable Item

Are all items that are specific to a language or culture such as:

  • Text
  • Date or number fields
  • Icons or symbols
  • Hot keys or accellerator keys
  • ...

Multilingual Software

Is software written with consideration of localization issues. Multilingual software typically include access interfaces to resource files or database tables that maintain all localizable items.

Multilingual Architecture

Refers to software structure of the multilingual subsystem in a specific application. Options include a single resource file, multile resource files, database tables etc.

Multilingual Subsystem

Refers to several software modules dealing with resource file interfaces and other localizable items.

Numeric Formats

Different cultures use different formats to display numbers, dates, etc. The engineer needs to adapt the software engine so it will handle dates, currency information and other numeric information correctly according to the rules and standards of the target market. Imagine, for example, a word processor that automatically inserts the current date into a document. In the US, the numeric representation of the second day of June would read 06/02/1996. In many European country, the exact same string of numbers would be interpreted as February 6, 1996. Naturally, a mistake like this could wreak havoc with time-sensitive documents, such as contracts.

Another issues tends to appear with komma and thousand separators: "10.01" may be interpreted by a European user as Octoer 2001 while an American user would see a number slightly larger then 10.


Text swell that occurs as a direct result of the localization process may cause software strings to exceed the dimensions of source-language dialogs, buttons, menus, etc. If this occurs, the UI elements need to be resized with the help of specialized software tools, e.g. Resource Workshop (for Windows applications) or ResEdit (for Macintosh applications).

Resource File

A special file type that is commonly used to store the resources of a software application, which may include dialogs, buttons, cursors, text strings, etc.

Software Architecture

When writing software with the localization process in mind, text elements, dialogs, menus and other localizable elements should be stored in separate resource files and not be hard coded into the source files for the executable.

Software Globalization

Software globalization describes the process of altering software products (including embedded systems) for sale to people who speak languages other than English. Globalization places heavy demands on software companies, and requires strategic planning, complex project management, code writing, translation, and use of unfamiliar software tools. Globalization, localization, and internationalization are all terms used to refer to the various aspects of this process. It includes translation, re-working computer code, managing projects across different time zones and cultures, using industry-specific software tools, and all the items and processes necessary to transition a product from US-specific to the target market.


Terminology refers to the way vocabulary is translated in the specifc context of a project. Please see also the terminology section in the IT Systems page.

Terminology Maintenance

See Translation Memory.

Translation Memory

Is a software component that maintains a history of all translated sentences and synchronizes translations and terminology between all translators working on a specific project. The benefits of this technique include:

  • Reduced translation time and cost.
  • Consistent translations (terminology) across groups of translators or during the lifetime of the translated documents or products and thus
  • Increased scalability of project teams

In its essence, translation memories are a kind of distributed database storing pairs of strings together with a fuzzy matching retreival technique. The database is integrated into the translation process by a series of MS-Word macros.

Please see also the translation memory section in the IT Systems page.

Text Swell

Translated text is often longer than its source. This increase in the number of characters is generally referred to as text swell. Text swell is probably the best-known localization problem for software products. It is most visible in dialogs and pop-up windows, but can also become a major challenge in localizing menus and dropdown list boxes. In certain cases, text swell is limited by hardware parameters (e.g. an LCD panel that can only display 16 characters at a time). Generally, software designers should anticipate a text swell of 30-40% when creating the original software.


A language professional specialized in text-to-text translation. Professional translators only translate into their native language. Translators normally do not work as interpreters because of the different skillset required.


See User Interface.

User Interface

A generalization of Graphical User Interface. Refers to all parts of an application that are visible to an end user.