Localization strategy

Why Spreadsheets Don’t Work for Localization

Relying on spreadsheets for localization is like trying to write a dissertation on a typewriter. Send spreadsheets back to 2010 and embark on business growth.
Localization strategy blog category featured image | Phrase

Don’t you just love manual work for your software localization? Extracting strings. Copying and pasting. Editing documents line by line. How about lengthy email trails? Going back and forth between twelve team members, searching through your inbox for the answer you need. How much fun is that?

Maybe it’s not even the tedious manual work that gives you your kicks. Perhaps you’re addicted to the thrill of delivering a finished product littered with human errors, duplicate translations, or missing parts. Do you love the challenge of having sections returned with track changes, comments, or complaints?

You may see where we're going with this, but we're going to come right out and say it anyway: Spreadsheets don't work for localization. Here’s why.

Manual work could harm your health

If you raised your hand at enjoying manual work, then you may not appreciate the efficiency of translation management software for your localization project. However, we've got a sneaky suspicion that even if you secretly relish getting blurry eyes staring at spreadsheets, part of you deep down knows. When you rely heavily on manual work, you slow your software localization project down. You increase your margin for human error and, most importantly, have a negative impact on your health. Extensive use of the keyboard and mouse, like copying and pasting in spreadsheets, stiffens the muscles in your hands, forearms, and neck. Frequent staring at the screen without adequate breaks causes dry eyes and headaches. And sitting still for hours at a time seriously affects your circulation, causing weight gain, heart disease, and even cancer.

If you work from home, as many translators and developers do, spending too long at a computer without human contact can lead to isolation and anxiety. Especially with no collaboration functions or interaction between team members. In fact, when you really think about it, manual work is pretty dangerous stuff indeed. Using spreadsheets for your software localization project increases your employees’ exposure to this treacherous practice. You may as well spend a team-building trip diving with great white sharks for a more adrenaline-filled way of meeting your end. After all, no one wants their epitaph to read “death by spreadsheets.”

There’s so much scope for error

The traditional software localization process is heavily manual, which means that there’s such a high margin for human error that it's impossible to ascertain the accuracy of your software localization project when using spreadsheets. With so many areas dependent on human input, the chances for error are increased tenfold. The data in spreadsheets can easily be manipulated, either on purpose or by mistake. Just one tiny change in a column formula here, or a missed cell there can make troubleshooting errors an arduous task.

Using spreadsheets for software localization makes collaboration between parties difficult and slow. There’s infinite scope for entering the wrong information in any given field, resulting in incomplete or inaccurate work. Your developers (working in isolation in different parts of the world in different time zones) must first identify the correct strings for translation. They then start to navigate the minefield of extracting the strings, i.e., copying and pasting. They must effectively copy the source content and paste it over into a new document or spreadsheet.

Once all the content has been painstakingly copied and the new document is ready for translation, it is sent to the translator, who may also be working in isolation in a distant corner of the world with next to no technical support should questions arise. They want to get the project finished on time, so instead of waiting for the answers they need, they guess at the string translation. There’s no translation context. They can’t see the bigger picture of what they’re translating and they can’t work directly on the website. There’s no solid translation memory or API for automation.

As soon as the translator is done, they simply send the document back and their work is copied and pasted back into the product. Everything is manual, slow, and inefficient, with so much scope for error. A seasoned localization manager will have a built-in layer of quality control, involving reviewers, proofreaders, etc. Still, it doesn’t take a genius to see that with so much back-and-forth, localizing with spreadsheets is highly inefficient.

It’s a model of inefficiency

Spreadsheets can harm the localization process so much that they have to be accompanied by a myriad of other inefficient practices. Like long email threads, questions related to certain sheets, strings, and cells; missing information, unanswered questions, misunderstandings, and delays. Nobody’s perfect and there’s no safeguard in place if the developer extracting the strings accidentally misses one while preparing the document for the translator. Likewise, the translator may have no way of knowing that a string is missing if the singular text blocks are completely out of context. Not everyone is a developer or technically minded. You may have the best Urdu or Marathi translators in the world, but their management of technology may be basic. Even if they’re highly skilled in using Excel, it’s easy to make an error while copying and pasting into a spreadsheet. Translating the wrong cell. Translating the same string twice. Locating strings in incorrect places and jumbling up the final message. The first person to find these glaring errors is usually the client. And going back to the developer and translator in question can be time-consuming and tedious. Frankly, it can be frustrating.

You have no centralized platform to work from

If you localize with spreadsheets, you will still need to work with multiple emails. Or add a project management software in which you upload the documents. When you’re working with offline documents in multiple languages, the amount soon begins to pile up. Because software localization projects are so big, you’ll already need a lot of different team members with diverse skill sets. Which makes the nature of software localization expensive. And when you have no centralized translation management software to work from, you can’t cut down the hours of manual work. You’re working with outdated technology, a decentralized team, a high margin for error, and costly delays. By ditching the spreadsheet system, you can speed up project completion by removing repetitive manual tasks. Everything is centralized in one translation management software with an integrated API that makes automation possible. You can easily add new localization projects into your workflow, eliminating the constant need for copy, paste, copy, paste.

Collaboration options are limited

If you’ve ever tried to localize your software with spreadsheets then you’ll know how hard it is to coordinate between product managers, developers, translators, designers, reviewers, proofreaders, etc. Your collaboration options are limited to email threads and Skype chat. By managing the whole software localization process from one place you have access to awesome collaboration options. You can provide context for your translators. You can add comments for your developers. You can even ask someone how their day is going and tag your colleagues so that they know when they receive a message from you. You’re no longer using outdated technology to perform one of the most cutting-edge practices on earth.

Your localization project could cost more

Let’s say that your client doesn’t fire you. Apparently, they don’t mind waiting forever for their software localization project to be completed. That’s definitely a plus. But the lengthy delays of localizing with spreadsheets will still cost you more in the long run. More hours. More people. More time spent correcting your work. This means less profit per project and fewer projects overall. Spreadsheets don't work for software localization. It’s like trying to calculate pi without a calculator. You can do it. But there’s room for human error and omissions. And frankly, why would you task yourself with something so complicated when there’s a handy tool at your fingertips ready to do it for you?

Faster software localization with translation management software

You can speed up your localization projects by leaving spreadsheets behind you. With robust localization technology, communication between all parties is easy. Your projects are faster and more efficient, reducing your time and cost. Instead of all that dangerous manual work and the real possibility of client termination, you can harness the power of technology to get more done quicker. Automated platforms were made to streamline and improve our workflow, leading to improved efficiency and reduced cost. Localizing software with a spreadsheet is like trying to write a dissertation on a typewriter. Cutting corners by using subpar technology and outdated practices will mean you’ll pay more in the long run for lower-quality results. Trust us when we say: send the spreadsheets back to 2010 and start growing your business faster.