Do you remember when you got your last smartphone? Or your last PC?

After unpacking/unwrapping it, you probably started to configure it, and as part of this process you maybe changed its language.

Worldwide, we are used to electronic appliances that speak our own language: Simplified Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Italian, Czech — you can change it as easily as pressing a button.

But how are these translations done?

Translating the user interfaces of electronic appliances is not an easy task if you want to get it right. It’s not just a matter of translating, but of taking into account the available space in case you need to abbreviate or look for shorter synonyms, the context (in which menu will this string appear?), and the real meaning of the string. Developers tend to use a rather particular language when defining the messages for your phone or printer, for example, which are always easy to understand when they appear in a simple text file.

When you take all this into account and come up with a translation that makes sense, that’s localization.

Localization is translation-plus: it takes into account various different variables (context, length, culture) to find the right words.

All these parameters have to be borne in mind when translating user interface menus; however, they are also important when translating web pages, newsletters, emails for customers — the more context and information the translator gets from the client, the better will the localization reflect the real aim of the original message.