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The pain of managing a multilingual product

I used to be the Operations Director at Lingo24 – overseeing the operations that delivered millions of words of translation to a range of clients and applications every year.

I’m now running the Operations at what3words – though this time I’m a buyer of translation services (mostly from Lingo24).

Buying and managing translation is really a bit of a headache – even when the services provided by the translators/translation agency are hassle-free. There is so much more to managing the translation process than that which goes through the linguists and their project managers.

Imagine a business that has a website, iOS app and Android app – pretty easy, as this is not a particularly unusual combination of things for a business to have.

Now imagine that each of these are in, say, 10 languages. Again, not that uncommon. (what3words is in 25 languages, but let’s stick with 10 for the example).

1. Updating the website – every little change to the English (assuming English is the “master” language) needs a change in 9 other languages. This can either mean bucket loads of emails back and forth with translators or your translation agency project manager, or, if you’ve really invested the time and effort maybe this can happen semi-automatically via a multilingual content management system or a translation API (or more likely a cunning concoction of both). (this doesn’t even factor in testing, changes, checking, testing etc. Testing? Yes, does the text all flow properly and fit nicely inside buttons etc?)

2. Updating your iOS app: EVERY little change to the English requires export of .strings files, import, testing, changes…and then, when you come to upload it to the app store for submission that’s where the fun really begins:

– App description in every language? Check (but only after you’ve copy-pasted from what the translators/translation agency gave you – I’ve not found any way to do this more easily on iTunes Connect yet)

– “What’s New” text in every language? Check (but only after you’ve copy-pasted from what the translators/translation agency gave you – I’ve not found any way to do this more easily on iTunes Connect yet)

– Screenshots in every language? Check (but this requires changing device language, taking screenshots, uploading to your computer, uploading to iTunes Connect). In every language? For 3.5 inch, 4 inch, 4.7 inch, 5 inch, iPad. If you’re in 10 languages and you do the full 5 screenshots for each language and each device that’s 250 screenshots, 250 jpegs, 250 individual uploads…OK you don’t have to do this every time you do an update – maybe only 1 new screenshot in each language for each device for each update (to show off a new feature), but still…

– Promotional video in each language. Aaargh!

3. Updating your Android app: yup, basically the same performance for Google Play as with the App Store…slightly fewer device sizes required, but still no easy way to do this. And now Google Play forces you to add a feature image – and they encourage a video etc. etc. Should the video be entirely without any writing or spoken word? Or do we need to do a different one for each language? Does Google Play even let you do a separate one for each language?


Of course we could skip several steps and not bother doing everything in every language – but if you’re going to the trouble of localising an app or website for different markets you may as well do it properly. After all, we are told by everyone (including Apple and Google in relation to their app stores) that properly localised apps and products are far more likely to be successful – it makes sense.

Or you might not bother doing it properly because it is an unbelievable hassle. I wonder how many companies, even mega-corporations, have the budgets to allocate 10-20 man hours per update just for managing this ludicrously fiddly process.


Rant over.  Who wants to build some software to do automatic multilingual screenshots and uploads + multilingual “What’s New” updates to iTunes Connect and Google Play Developer Console? I’m in.