We were recently working on a project in which we had generated product specifications that were meant to be printed out by site visitors. Our plan was to nicely lay this information out to fit on a standard sheet of paper.
During the process, one of our developers said, “Wait, this tool is going to be used by visitors in multiple countries. Do those countries have the same standard size for a sheet of printer paper?”
Localization is about making a website or app fit the expectations of a certain locale. The most obvious way to address the needs of users in different locations and cultures is to provide translations, but there are many special considerations that can be easy to overlook.
1. Don’t Assume Users Format Their Address Like Yours
If you expect to receive submissions from outside of the United States, you don’t want a form that requires information like “state” and “zip code.” Addresses around the world can be formatted in many different ways, and even within a country there can be quirks, like the street in London only called “Piccadilly” (with no “street” or “avenue” or other label to follow).
2. Don’t Assume That Names Are Universal
Be careful about fields like “First Name” and “Last Name,” as even in the United States there are names that don’t naturally fit this format (what if Cher wants to send you something?). Names can be written a lot of different ways – for example, with the family name listed first – and different cultures have different traditions surrounding how you greet someone (not everyone would want to be addressed with “Welcome [first name]!”)
3. Don’t Assume That Numbers Are Universal
Did you know that the number Americans would typically write as “500,000” might be written by an Italian as “500.000”? Or that an Icelander might use a different word for a number depending on whether they were talking about a quantity or a concept? When you think about it, isn’t it strange that English-speakers refer to “jeans” as opposed to the French, who more typically say “un jean”?
4. Beware of Time Zones
Ascedia’s Milwaukee office is in the Central time zone, but we have to remember that our Director of Technology Chad works from New York, which is one hour ahead. Additionally, we’d have to be really careful if we worked with someone in parts of Arizona that don’t use Daylight Saving Time, or in North Korea which changed its time in May to be 30 minutes ahead of what it was before.
5. Translation Is About Phrases, Not Just Words
You can’t translate blocks of text into another language by translating each individual word out of context and subbing it in, so be careful that in a label like “Ascedia Blog” you aren’t assuming that you merely need to sub in another word in place of “Blog” rather than translating the entire phrase (some languages would put “Ascedia” in the middle or end of the phrase.)
Dealing with an international audience can pose unique challenges, but the “worldwide” part of the “World Wide Web” is one of the best things about it.