If you want to reach a global audience, you need to be ready to localize your content, product, and customer support in those languages.
But language translation can be a fragmented, slow process without the right tools. Here’s everything you need to get started—no spreadsheets required. Let’s start at the beginning.
What features should translation software have?
No single translation software tool is perfect, but it’s important to make sure you invest in one that can scale and grow alongside your company as your company’s needs do. Translation software can be simple, computer-assisted tools that provide specific translations.
What you’re probably looking for, however, is a translation management system.
Translation management systems (TMS) accelerate the translation or localization process. These systems automate and organize the localization workflow and track progress of different translation projects. Both cloud-based and desktop options exist for TMS, which is a good place to start when choosing a system.
- Cloud-based software saves translations in real time and allows anyone in your company to access them, as long as they have an Internet connection.
- Desktop translation software is managed on premise. This can make it more difficult to have full control over linguistic assets and make it more complicated to change vendors.
Most TMS include three components: computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools, workflow automation tools, and project management tools. When choosing a translation management system, keep these features in mind:
1. Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) Tools
No cats involved.
CAT tools cut a translator’s workload and improve translation speed, quality, and consistency. It allows previously human-translated text to pop up conveniently for the translator, allowing them to browse through previously translated content and match new requests to a library. Look for features like:
Translation memory and glossary
With translation memory, CAT software stores translations as you go, so you don’t need to translate the same term twice. Every time you save a translation, it’s added to a database of sentences, paragraphs, and texts with their translations that are automatically reused for similar or identical content. Everything that you (or any other team members) type in the editor or upload or set via an API is saved automatically in the translation memory for future use.
Similarly, a glossary (also known as term base, or dictionary) of company-specific technology — such as product names or special terms used by a company to differentiate against the competition — ensures specific words and terms are translated consistently. This ensures consistency across materials and allows you to eliminate any ambiguity about what you really mean when you say a specific term.
This way, if you have industry-specific jargon, product names, or marketing messaging, you know it will be the same everywhere. Even if these translations are made by different people, or requested by different areas of your company, you know that the most important terms will be the same.
Everyone makes mistakes. That’s why it’s important to always check your work—and a good quality assurance (QA) tool can do that for you. A quality assurance tracker goes over your translations with a fine-toothed comb to automatically detect and notify you about any errors, from spelling and grammar mistakes to simple copy-and-paste issues like double spaces or formatting issues.
Common mistakes we see beyond basic spelling and grammar are inconsistent placeholders, changing number or content for email addresses or URLs, leading and trailing whitespace, different brackets or numbers, and inconsistent HTML. A good QA tool will catch those!
In many languages, grammatical errors quickly go from weird to completely different meanings. This is especially important with any legal, medical, or financial documents, since slight changes in wording or spelling issues could result in misleading information.
2. Workflow Automation Tools
Workflow automation tools automate the localization process by reducing manual work and saving time between different systems you may be running in your tech stack. It can also speed up certain steps in the workflow, like setting up language auto-fill rules, running duplicate checks, or referencing previously translated keys. More importantly, workflow tools allow your team to collaborate, manage and review translations in a productive, flexible and efficient way. Look for features like:
Branching (Version control)
Your content will change—that’s the only constant in today’s software-driven world. New products, new messaging, new logos, or new instructions can adjust what you’ve already translated. Rather than translate the entire thing again, use version control to work on a new version while simultaneously supporting previous versions. Merge the two when ready, and resolve any automatically identified conflicts.
In-context editing tools give your translators and team members more context by showing where and how the translated text will be displayed. When a translator can see the environment in which the word or sentence is used, it’s much easier to provide an accurate, natural translation to that word or sentence.
This is especially helpful with approvals and iterations across larger teams, so you can easily see how translated language flows into new interfaces or content types. (Spoiler alert: English to German will add three or four lines to every section!)
Integrations with your existing technology
Any time you’re looking for a new software tool, it’s important to know how it will interact with the rest of your tech stack. This is especially true of translation tools, since you’ll need translations for any externally facing content, from the homepage of your website to your support chat.
Does your tool integrate with:
- Design tools like Sketch and Figma so you can easily see how translations impact (or potentially break) layout, design, and overall UX early on before a single line of code is written?
- Code repositories like Github, Gitlab, and Bitbucket, so you can instantly import language file updates?
- Engineering tools like Jenkins, Grunt, and Docker so you can build faster and more seamlessly?
- Workflow tools like Asana, Jira, Trello, and Slack so your team can stay on the same page?
- Support tools like Zendesk and Intercom so you can translate incoming support interactions if needed?
- CMS tools like WordPress and Contentful so you can publish and send content in multiple languages?
If you use any homegrown technology, you’ll want to check that you can create custom API or webhooks so you can easily automate any interaction your team will have in the translation workflow. It’s a good idea to map out your most important integrations and how your team will use the software before choosing a specific tool.
3. Project Management Tools
The final product is one thing; how the translation gets done is another. Any project manager needs tools where they can track translation progress, create and assign tasks to translators, and identify bottlenecks or missed deadlines. Look for features like:
While there may be one translator on a project, they’re likely not working alone. Developers, managers, marketers, translators, and other teammates may need to weigh in, request edits, or ask for additional support.
A tool that does all of this in one place will go far to make sure translation projects stay on time and efficient. Make it easy for your team to work together by looking for features like tasks, chats, comments, and @mentions so everyone is always on the same page.
When your team can work together, you’ll be able to produce the best possible translation.
While you may have multiple people on a project, you don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen. Restricting some access rights and defining custom feature availability based on user role can minimize the risk of unapproved activities. As mundane as it may seem, user groups, assigning roles and tasks can keep your translation projects on task and on time.
Analytics and performance
Most translation processes feel like a deep, dark hole. You know words are being translated, but how many? Especially if you don’t speak multiple languages, it can be hard to assess the performance. That’s why an analytical element is important to include in any tool you’re looking for—so you can keep track of words translated per language, team members on a project, amount of keys, completion percentage, and more.
There are three types of analytics you’ll want to have:
- Team level: monitoring user activity, such as how many projects created, and how quickly a project moves to completion.
- Project level analytics: understanding each project, such as the number of team members and completion percentage.
- Translation analytics: keeping track of word counts, management of translation profiles, and TM leverage.
Other Features to Keep in Mind
With over 6,500 languages in the world spoken today, double-check that a given tool supports the language translations you want to have. That includes translation between all languages, such as from French to Japanese, not just from English to other languages.
If you don’t have your own team of translators to pull from, finding a tool that offers professional translation services can make everything easier. Popular translation providers include:
- Machine translation solutions like Google Translate and DeepL: Google Translate is a simple and affordable way to translate digital content using machine translation (MT) in over 100 languages. Note that end translations should be checked to ensure that they sound native and fit the required context. Similarly, DeepL Pro neural machine translation currently supports 11 languages. The result can sound more native than some other MT options.
- Human translation solutions like Gengo: Over 18,000 native speakers and professional translators from Gengo translate into 35 different languages. Gengo is worth considering if you are looking for a human translator and have a small task, and a short deadline.
If you need larger-scale translations, turn to language service providers, agencies that can handle complex or significant translation requests. They provide translation, interpretation, localization, language, and social coaching solutions and can recommend a translation software that suits your level of complexity and volume.
Finally, consider what it’s like to work with a given software provider. While a tool may do the job, is it easy to get answers to questions you have? If you do have questions, how quickly will they respond? Do they have a comprehensive library of resources to train your team? Will they help you build custom integrations?
Regardless of the size of your organization, a great translation platform provider will be a partner, rather than a vendor. When you look for the right solution for you, don’t neglect what kind of support you will receive.
Want to learn more about translation software tools?
Choosing translation software can be challenging, but there’s good news: Lokalise has all of these features and more. Embrace automation, workflow transparency, and fast project delivery with Lokalise — try it free for 14 days. Sign up now.