Internationalizing and Localizing Your App, Part 1: Understanding Different Cultures

In this four part tutorial, learn how to internationalize your app from a technical perspective and how to think globally about different cultures and customs.

Perhaps you have just begun a greenfield project (or like us here at OkCupid, are working with a teenaged codebase) and want to internationalize your application. The truth is that国际化,本地化和翻译are all incredibly complex undertakings, and there are countless considerations before diving into converting your codebase and user experience to support it. Here are just a few such lessons that we’ve compiled from our learnings here at OkCupid after a major overhaul across all of our platforms to support launching our first non-English translations and localizations.

Many things change when you cross physical, social, and linguistic borders。如果您希望您的产品在这些边界中无缝地工作,必须认识到我们只是人类,从而根据我们熟悉的那些,为其他文化和语言做出各种假设,并且这些假设自然地携带进入产品的假设和我们创造的软件。

Consider, for example, something as simple as the capitalization of characters. It is commonplace on the western, predominantly English-speaking web to use the sociolinguistic effect of capitalization as a way to emphasize and de-emphasize words or phrases. Just think of the difference between receiving a text from a friend that saysTHIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFEvs.这是我一生中最美好的一天。Given the context of a message between friends, the latter uncapitalized message has almost a deadpan (even possibly interpreted as sarcastic) feeling to it, whereas the first could be interpreted as sincere excitement.

You can find examples of using capitalization as a means of emphasis in countless software user interfaces. Contextually the capitalization here matters, but it operates under an assumption that capitalization doesn’t matter that much. This could be highlighted by contrasting it with a language like German. In German, nouns always have their first letter capitalized as a rule of grammar. Take for example the first line of The Metamorphosis by Kafka, in its original translation:

Als Gregor Samsa einesM要么gens aus unruhigenTräumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinemBett zu einem ungeheuerenUngeziefer verwandelt

And in English (note,we would not capitalize nouns this way in English):

As Gregor Samsa awoke from troubledDreams oneM要么ning, he found himself in hisBed, transformed into a monstrousVermin

Seeing a message in German thatdoes not遵循此规则可能会争取理解此语言的用户,因为它在技术上不正确的语法来具有错误的大写。要了解我们使用大写的重点所做的假设非常重要,因为案例是许多语言的差异的一部分,并且甚至有语言没有大写和小写字形的概念。如果如果没有更改案例,您的邮件将如何解释您的消息?这只是一种语言的众多功能之一,在从英语转换/本地化到其他语言时可能会发生变化。

Alongside that, there are still other more complex language features to solve for, such asplural and ordinal rules要么grammatical gender。我们的假设基于这些功能如何适用于英语,原因许多人忽略了我们软件中某些程度的事实。在后面的部分中,我会更深入地对待这些,但是得到这些正确对确保一个消息清晰,语法正确,并保留其原始意图至关重要。

Along with the linguistic assumptions we make, we also makestylistic assumptions。Consider an error message being displayed on your site when something goes wrong:what color will it be?Most westerners would probably answer red, as the color is often culturally associated with negatives (danger, stoplights, a negative balance). However, in Chinese culture for example, red is associated with positives like happiness and prosperity. A great example of this difference is demonstrated by the contrasting choice of colors in stock markets: Western financial markets use green to signify increase and red to denote decrease, whereas Eastern financial markets will do the exact opposite.

©AFP / Getty Images

Stylistically, we can’t even assume that our colors and themes make sense. We need to make sure that our assumptions are curbed here, too. We should provide layouts, fonts, and colors that make sense to our users given the context of their language, location, and use-cases.

Lastly, it is imperative that we recognize ourcultural assumptions。For a product like OkCupid, it is a fundamental feature to be able to specify things about yourself like your pronouns, sexuality, and drug use, because these are part of your identity, and subsequently are crucially identifying characteristics of those you’d like to date. How could we even handle the fact that some languages like Turkish do not have the concept of gendered / non-gendered pronouns?

Not only that, but despite this specificity being something so core and fundamental to OkCupid’s product and beliefs, there are still places in the world in which identifying as gay or as a weed smoker (even if just on an internet platform) can lead to criminal charges. We certainly don’t want our software to be the cause of problems like this for our users. Truly, this is both a difficult philosophical and engineering problem; however, it’s an important highlight of the cultural assumptions we make with our software.

Check out part 2 of this serieshere

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