Start Before Localizing

By Ian Henderson, CEO, Rubric

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to reduce your localization costs. We know because we advise our customers about every one we discover. But there is one tactic you can take before calling Rubric that will greatly reduce your localization costs.

And it is in your hands right now – your original source text.


Most text in software, documents, or on web sites is fairly well written providing it is read only by people who speak the same language as the writer (and for the balance of this article, we will assume English as the source language in examples). This “readability” factor exists because regional and language specific syntax, synonyms, and other constructs are common to both the writer and the reader.

Not so with translated materials. Each word must be translated, and nuances require the translator to interpret the intent of the writer and the meaning of the passage. The more text and the more variation, the more work there is for the translator.

The big secret is very simple: rewrite your source text. The very first thing you should do is to revise your source text to make it as simple and consistent as possible. When revising, look for the following opportunities:

Revise flowery copy: Writers love to write, and often use 1,000 words when one would do. Revising not only reduces your total word count and the cost of subsequent translations, it makes the text more understandable by mainly using simple statements.

Look for and remove variations: If there is more than one term or phrase describing the same thing, pick the best and replace the rest.

  • Variations can lead to confusion not only for English speakers, but also for translators.
  • It takes translators time to determine the meaning of each different word or phrase. If you have multiple translators working on your project, they might unwittingly give your customers different information.
  • By standardizing, Rubric can use their Translation Memory (TM) tools to automatically translate text before the live translators begin their work, simplifying and speed their efforts.

Unintended benefits

Granted, the cost benefits of simplification are enough to justify revising your source materials before localization, but there are side effects that make it an even better tactic.

Simplified for local users: Simplifying your English makes life better for your English-speaking customers. Not only have you reduced all the words they have to read, you have made your products more consistent and simpler to use.

Improved understanding: Your customers, tech support staff, and sales teams benefit as well since they all now use the same words and phrases to describe your products and what they do.

Redeploy budget: Money saved in reduced text (lower localization costs, lower printing charges, etc.) can be used elsewhere to improve products or just add to the bottom line.

A real life example

One of Rubric’s customers came to us with user interface (UI) localization project. With all tools, screens and online help text, their total word count was in excess of 150,000 words. Not a huge project for Rubric, but one that caught our attention for other reasons.

We immediately noticed that the English source text was at time verbose, bordering on poetic. Key terms describing product functions were expressed as much as four different ways. And there was a lot of redundant text that did little to expand their customer’s understanding.

We advised this client to allow Rubric to rewrite the English source before it was localized into four languages. At first the client demurred, but when we showed them examples of some of the offending text, they relented. The rewrites went quickly and were done by some of our expert translators, making the text more readily understood by the translators who performed the final localization. The end result was a svelte UI file with a mere 96,000 words, or a 36% reduction in source text. Think about what you pay per word for translations, multiply that by 54,000, and then multiply again by four target languages. The number you just calculated was our clients 1st edition savings for their product, a savings that has repeated several times as new revisions were released.

Simple is better

Your first step should be to review any text you may need to localize in the near future. Scan it to see if anything seems wordy, redundant or if terms and phrases are not uniform throughout. If you get through 1/10th of the text and begin to have doubts, it is time to simplify.

BIO: Ian Henderson, CEO, Rubric – www.Rubric.com Ian Henderson oversees Rubric and the creation of a better localization experience. Ian combines a deep knowledge of globalization issues with an equally deep knowledge of technology and distributed team management. This combination of skills has been the foundation of Rubric, and has achieved the company’s unprecedented 98% customer retention rate and the highest satisfaction ratings in the industry. Ian’s opinion is often reported throughout the localization industry and has appeared in Multilingual Computing & Technology and Software Business. Prior to joining Rubric, Ian worked in a variety of management and engineering positions at Siemens (Germany), Expert Software and Phoenix Software (New Zealand) and Berlitz (England). Ian has been with Rubric since the inception of the company in 1994. Ian co-founded Rubric in 1994.

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