There are many challenges to localizing software.

Localization challenges for a user interface include:

  • Number of characters
  • Word length
  • Number of words
  • Text size
  • Scripts that are written from right to left instead of left to right
  • Scripts written top to bottom

Long Words for Localization

Many people think of German as the gold standard in difficult languages due to word length. In reality, German word length is only about 20% longer than English. And German words can be easily hyphenated, which can help.

Large Characters

Katakana is a Japanese script or alphabet that happens to have wide letters. The word for “steak” has fewer characters but takes up more room:


 Tall Words in Localization

Line height can vary between language scripts. For example, Thai has a large line height as you can see in this example below:




Not All Scripts are Left to Right

Various Chinese dialects can be written top to bottom, though they can also be written left to right.

Arabic and Hebrew are written right to left.

Icons Can Help Localization and Internationalization

Icons can facilitate localization efforts when they are independent of language and culture. There are many universally understood icons. International Standards Organization (ISO) provides guidance on international iconography.

Examples of common, well understood icons:

  • Magnifying glass
  • Calendar icon
  • Gears (settings)
  • X (close)
  • Forward arrow
  • House (representing home)
  • Floppy disk icon (save)
  • Printer icon

Not all concepts can be placed into universally common icons. But if icons are intuitable and learnable, they can enhance product usability.


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