Linguistic Testing as an Essential Part of Localization
We are releasing a new series of articles, “Content With Purpose.” Twelve dedicated localization-focused articles on helping you connect and grow worldwide. Last month’s article focused on improving your global customer experience with language quality management. This month we look towards the importance of linguistic testing within localization.
In today’s highly international society, localization is essential to any company’s expansion and globalization strategy. Far more than a word-for-word translation of your brand’s copy, localization translates your entire brand experience so that it resonates with a new market. Still, no localization effort is complete without a linguistic element, even when expanding from one English-speaking region into another. Just as you would never ship a new feature without bug testing or publish a white paper without proofreading, you should not deploy a localized product without quality assurance.
Linguistic testing is an indispensable step in localization, ensuring a seamless user experience in every language or dialect.
Table of Contents
Localization: Where Does Linguistic Testing Fit?
Localization (L10n) is a highly collaborative process. Language and cultural experts must work with software engineers, UX designers, and marketing strategists to deliver an integrated product. This interactivity is critical to ensure that the final functionality, aesthetics, and messaging complement one another. Still, with that many moving parts, errors and oversights are inevitable. That’s why every localization effort must be followed by thorough localization testing, including functional and non-functional testing.
Functional testing ensures that the newly-localized product still performs as it should. This phase is limited to the core functionality: does each user action yield the expected output, or have bugs been introduced? Non-functional testing is far broader, encompassing performance, security, user experience, and more. In other words, it is not enough for the product to work; it must also work well. Linguistic testing is part of the non-functional analysis.
Linguistic testing is among the last steps in the localization pipeline, validating and refining choices made earlier in the process.
What is it?
As its name suggests, linguistic testing is explicitly concerned with translation results. In this step, bilingual analysts check for errors and evaluate how well the translated language reflects the original meaning. A linguistic tester can identify many problems, ranging from simple typos to subtly awkward phrasing.
It’s important to remember that an effective translation does not just have the literal meaning of the original copy. It must also capture the right tone and make sense in a new cultural context. Linguistic testers are trained to look for these finer nuances so that a brand’s values come through even in a unique setting.
How Does it Work?
Linguistic testers are usually bilingual, native speakers of the target language with knowledge of the cultural expectations within a market. They are often residents of the new market, although they will partner with locals in other cases.
Linguistic testing often proceeds in phases. The first focuses strictly on language quality and can be done using the raw translations before they’ve been incorporated into prototypes or proofs of concept. The second, known as “in-context review,” emphasizes usability and attempts to replicate the end user’s experience as closely as possible. This means, at a minimum, accessing the website or product using the same devices, browsers, and language settings commonly used in the target market.
Among other things, linguistic testers look for:
- Accuracy: At the most basic level, a linguistic tester ensures there are no errors in a translation. This includes both mistranslations and missed translations—sections that should have been translated but were not. Every word should be translated and translated appropriately.
- Clarity: Linguistic testers must ensure that the translation makes sense in its final location. Text that seemed clear in the original translation may become less so in a new context. If the design team has changed an image, does the caption still make sense? If the information has been split between multiple pages, are all the pronoun references still clear? These details are easy to miss in the early translation stages, but linguistic testers can notice them more easily.
- Usability: How users understand an interface depends mainly on how navigational elements are translated. Instructions might even need to change between websites, applications, and software—consider, for example, the difference between “tap here” and “click here” on the same webpage. Linguistic testers can identify these instances so that the final text is clear and unambiguous.
- Conventions: The words are not the only things that differ in a translated text. A localized product often requires new punctuation, spacing, alignment, fonts, and symbols to feel natural. Mistakes in these design elements are usually not apparent in the copy itself. They may be part of GUIs, for instance, or part of a website’s typesetting.
- Regional Variation: Regional dialects can differ significantly from one another. Some dialects are so different from one another that, for cultural convention, they would be considered entirely different languages. Linguistic testers are sensitive to these patterns, including primary and minor variations in usage. Depending on the target audience, they may embrace local idiosyncrasies to make the copy feel more personal, or they may aim to eliminate them and stick to “universal” word choices.
- Style, Tone, and Register: The same sentence can be translated in many ways, and the most literal is not always the best. Although translators understand this, they are not usually viewing their translations in the context of a complete product. Linguistic testers are, so it’s easier to note points where the style can be tweaked to suit the brand image and target audience. They can suggest whether text feels too formal for a young audience, for example, or too colloquial for a professional one.
- Consistency: All variables described above should remain consistent throughout the product, whether users are comparing page to page or your website to your application. Shifts can feel jarring, as can the sudden use of regional expressions where a neutral dialect was used previously. Linguistic testers will ensure that the linguistic choices made remain constant.
- Overall Effect: Finally, linguistic testers think about how the linguistic choices complement (or detract from) the overall user experience. Do the images and text give a cohesive picture of the brand, and does that image match what your company intended to convey? These decisions can be more subjective, which is why it’s so important to work with experienced language professionals.
As you can see, linguistic testers aren’t just editors or proofreaders. Instead, they apply personal experience to analyze language usage holistically, considering how real users will experience it.
Importance of Linguistic Testing to User Experience
It is never easy to appeal to a brand new target audience. Your brand must present a clear value proposition to new clients who often have different values than your current audience. While a talented localization team can get you extremely close, you won’t know that you’ve hit your target without testing. Linguistic testers fill that role, ensuring that your text—the one thing that speaks directly to new clients—says what it means.
Some of the advantages of linguistic testing include:
- Streamlining product launch: As with any other quality assurance process, linguistic testing ensures that potential problems are identified before clients interact with your brand. This helps alleviate some of the stress of launching your brand in a new market (which is stressful enough).
- Enhancing brand experience: Localization aims to ensure that your brand communicates the same message to every prospective client, regardless of their language or hometown. A sloppy translation interferes with your ability to connect with clients, even if the meaning is technically understandable.
- Increasing conversion rates: Anyone who has dealt with a poorly translated website understands how frustrating the experience can be. If prospective clients struggle to navigate your website or if they cannot quickly identify what sets your product apart, they won’t waste time trying to find out. Allowing ample time for testing ensures that your product is ready to wow new leads.
Localization is an investment. Localization testing—of which linguistic testing is a significant component—protects that investment by eliminating the most common pitfalls.
The Vistatec Approach
At Vistatec, we are leading experts in globalization and extend the same care to localization testing as we do to localization. Our test labs offer access to native speakers in competitive global markets, making us an ideal strategic partner for expansion. We partner with skilled multilingual translators and local residents to ensure that every word is polished and professional. After content is translated, our specialists perform multiple passes of linguistic testing. The process culminates in comprehensive in-context reviews designed to isolate even the most subtle translation errors.
Although we seek to involve diverse professionals, all our employees and vendors uphold strict security protocols. Your content is protected at all times through NDAs and access-control measures. We are happy to discuss your specific intellectual property concerns and administer access accordingly.
Stay tuned for more 25th Anniversary articles coming soon. For all the latest updates, sign up for the newsletter. #ContentWithPurpose #Vistatec25
At Vistatec, we have been helping some of the world’s most iconic brands to optimize their global commercial potential since 1997. Vistatec is one of the world’s leading global content solutions providers. HQ in Dublin, Ireland, with operations worldwide.