What are the major open problems in localization and translation?

There are four main groups involved in the process: developers, their managers, translators and users. The gaps between them are huge and hard to bridge.

Developers and managers usually prefer not to do any localization work. They do it for different reasons, however. The managers don't like it because it requires resources and it's unclear to them what will be the return of investment. The developers wouldn't mind doing it, but more often than not they simply don't understand the problems that the users and the translators are facing, because usually they just know the source language - usually English - and don't actually use localized products.

There's a gap between the developers and the translators. The developers think that all they do is obvious to the translators. They also think, very naively, that the translators actually try to use the product that they are translating. I don't have precise data about it, but from my experience I know that translators usually don't, because, for better and worse, they are busy translating.

And finally there's the largest and the most important group, because of which this whole localization business exists in the first place: the users. But most of the users, by definition, don't know the source language and don't know that they can complain about translation problems or demand fixes. They very often don't think that things can be fixed.

In most projects these feedback loops work badly.

What could be done to fix it? Several things:

  •  All developers, managers and translators must eat their own dog food and use a localized version of the product. Having at least a few developers who know other languages goes a long way towards ensuring that localization will be better.
  • Developers must communicate with translators and explain them in as much detail as possible how to translate things correctly. Documentation of context is paramount.
  • Localization must be pervasive. The whole development process - the design, the construction, the testing, the release - all of it must include localization.


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