As content becomes the number one factor driving the global economy, time-to-market is shrinking more than ever. This means that, unless your company works exclusively with one market, you need to be able to launch your content in all the languages of all your markets as quickly as possible.

How can companies do this? With continuous localization. Essentially, it’s a process where any new content you produce — whether it’s a string for an app, text for a blog post, or a tweet — gets automatically sent to a vendor or vendors responsible for its translation.

In this article, we will take a look at how you or your language service provider (LSP) can enable continuous localization for your content with various alternative approaches.

Disclaimer: For the purpose of this article, “language service provider” can mean either an external company or a department within your own organization. Almost all considerations below apply in both cases. We believe this article will also be interesting for “external” LSPs who want to educate their would-be customers on the topic of continuous localization.

Process and Challenges

The main steps in a continuous localization flow are as follows:

Set up: First and foremost, the initial activity to set up a continuous localization process should be reasonably simple.

Push to LSP: There are plenty of repositories, CMSs, and other platforms where content can be stored. Once a string is in it, it should be automatically sent to the LSP.

Mobilize: Once the content is with the translation provider, it should be sent for translation. Ideally, this should happen without the provider’s asking questions or your making additional requests.

Do it: The translation must be good, and that’s typically a matter of trust because the customer doesn’t usually speak the languages that the content is translated to.

Sync back: Once translated, the content should be placed correctly in the repo/CMS structure, ideally with no need for manual input by the original creator.

Security: Not really a step in the process, but rather a challenge that must be met throughout: Your confidential information must stay secure to prevent possible breaches and leakages.

With these and other challenges in mind, let’s compare some of the options to build a continuous localization flow.

The Options

We’ll consider four popular options:

  • Manual localization. This is not continuous, but worth including in this comparison to show you what companies sticking to the “good old ways” are losing out on.
  • Various “platform-like” translation agencies such as Gengo, Steppes, Unbabel, etc. We’ll call them “Unbabel-like” for brevity.
  • A generic, cloud or desktop, CAT tool such as Memsource, Matecat, or Trados + a translation management system (TMS) such as XTRF or Plunet.
  • Smartcat, either standalone or with a TMS.

Manual localization

This is the “old-school” way of doing things, with stuff sent back and forth over email or instant messaging.

Set up Nothing to set up here. You just do things as you’ve always done them.
Push to LSP You have to download the content from the repository yourself and send it to your LSP.
Mobilize There’s no way the LSP can get translators working on your strings right away. This is especially true for small jobs that both the LSP and translators spend a disproportionate amount of time on.
Do it The LSP will perhaps select every translator manually to find the best match for your job, so that’s a plus. On the other hand, if they don’t use at least a CAT tool with a memory of your past translations & terminology, quality will be compromised. For larger pieces of content, not using technology tools will also hurt productivity.
Sync back The LSP will have to manually compile the translations, send them back to you, and you’ll have to somehow upload them to your repo. If that isn’t bad enough, multiply this by the number of languages you have — you’ll have to repeat it that number of times.
Security Although emails are considered a more or less secure means of communication, the sheer number of peer-to-peer communications involved in the process increases security risks.
Other issues
  • The human factor means that you will sometimes find strings in the wrong languages or even forgotten.
  • The problem is worsened if you have versioned repos and have to attribute specific content to specific versions.
  • The overall time it takes makes overnight delivery impossible: Most likely, it will be days or weeks.
  • The LSP is likely to ask for a higher rate because handling small jobs means more overhead.
Takeaway

The conclusion is obvious: it is not possible to enable continuous localization with a manual approach.

Unbabel-like translation agencies

Such agencies present themselves as “online platforms”, where you can quickly upload your content, possibly via an API, and have it translated without any human interaction between you and the platform.

Set up Provided the agency has an open API, the setup is fairly simple. However, you still have to find a way to automate the use of the API. You can do this with tools like Zapier, but it still takes some software/localization engineering knowledge, and won’t suit more complex configurations.
Push to LSP Once configured, the process becomes more or less automatic, again, provided you have the tools to push content as required.
Mobilize Translators are usually chosen automatically from a large pool using the “early bird catches the worm” principle.
Do it Different platforms have different approaches, but, in general, the overarching problem is that quality falls victim to a “random” choice of translators.
Sync back This is easy too: Once a translation is done, it gets pushed back to your repo via API — if you have the tools to handle such API requests.
Security Although some of these platforms make translators sign NDAs — others don’t, — the anonymity and randomness of the ultimate contributors put your content at a high risk of leakage, which can be critical for, say, major app updates.
Other issues
  • Some of such platforms always use the machine translation plus human editing combination. Note that, although PEMT is a valid practice for some uses, it is not a panacea for any kind of content.
  • By using such platforms, you are essentially locking-in yourself to another vendor: Should you want to switch to another language service provider, this will require a rebuilding of your whole continuous localization infrastructure.

Generic CAT + TMS

CAT tools are instruments that many language service providers and translators use to actually do the translations. A CAT tool doesn’t usually have a translation management system (TMS) component, so it has to be integrated with one via an API. Two popular options are XTRF and Plunet.

Set up The complexity depends on whether you manage translations yourself or use the services of a language service provider (LSP). In the latter case, you’ll have to either purchase CAT licenses for both parties or keep all your content in your vendor’s account, which could lead to security concerns.
Push to LSP Once configured, the process is automatic. However, note that such automatism has its downside: Sometimes you don’t want to send something for translation right away. In this case, you’ll want to be able to prevent automatic assignment.
Mobilize Once a specific project is configured, translators assigned to it will be able to edit any new content that comes into it.
Do it CAT tools provide the technology necessary to translate better and more efficiently, such as translation memories, glossaries, and so on.
Sync back This is easy too: Once a translation is done, it gets pushed back to your repo via API — if you have the tools to handle such API requests.
Security Most CAT-tool connectors are proprietary and run from the CAT tool’s own servers, so you cannot install them locally and have no control over them. For many companies, this is a serious risk, and their information security departments refuse to allow such integrations.
Other issues
  • Most CAT tools are paid, as are most of the TMSs they need to connect to. Usually, this is the LSP covers the cost, but in some scenarios, you will need your own license too.
  • The LSP is likely to ask for a higher rate as taking on small jobs means more overhead.

Smartcat

Smartcat is an all-in-one platform that connects translation customers and vendors in a single content delivery loop. It has built-in TMS functionality, but can also be integrated with external TMS systems via an API. All Smartcat features are free, with the platform’s monetizing on a percentage of each order placed to vendors in the Smartcat marketplace — which is optional if you have your own team of translators.

Set up Setting up a continuous localization flow takes some technical knowledge. On the upside, the “connectors” can be set up to run on your own servers, minimizing possible security risks. The LSP also has to assemble their team of translators on the platform before they can work on your projects.
Push to LSP Once configured, any new content will come through to the LSP’s account on Smartcat. Smartcat has ready-made integrations with a dozen CMSs and GIT repositories, as well as an open API to build your own integration.
Mobilize Although there’s no automatic assignment to specific translators yet, LSPs can do this with a click of a button or one API call, so the time spent is minimal.
Do it Smartcat has configurable translation memories, glossaries, and machine pre-translation engines, which a professional LSP can use to get the most out of your project.
Sync back Syncing back is as easy as pushing: Translated content will go to the right place in the structure of your repo/CMS/etc.
Security Content can be 100% stored on your servers, with LSP receiving just the strings that need to be translated. This will be the only solution that meets even the most cautious companies’ data security criteria.
Other issues
  • Smartcat’s documentation is somewhat lacking, so you’ll have to do some research/trial-and-error experimentation before you start. On the upside, Smartcat’s support team is known to be one of the most responsive in and beyond the industry, and will often walk you through the initial stages on the platform.
  • Takeaways

    Whichever approach you choose, keep the following in mind:

    • Continuous localization is only as effective as its least effective part of the process. Make sure that your LSP has sufficient resources to handle the load.
    • Having the LSP deal with the setup and configuration might be easier but can compromise security in the long run.
    • There is no way of having short time-to-markets for your global audiences if you keep doing things the old, manual way.

    Do you have any of your own tips for continuous localization? Let us know in the comments!