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Don't use Excel for Translation Management

Excel or Google Sheets is often used for translation management. I will show you in this post that this is a terrible idea and what you can do instead.

2021-08-126 min read

Why are teams using Excel for translation management?

In every multilingual software project there is the situation where project members discuss how to manage their translations. While different languages and frameworks expect a specific format to make the application multilingual, these formats are not very appropriate for sharing with translators. A single missing , or a missplaced } renders the whole file invalid and the developers will have a hard time importing the new translations and must first fix those errors. Also working together simultaneously on the translations is not possible when editing the translations in a local file.

Because of this reasons teams are searching for alternatives on how to translate their software into multiple languages and the first thing that often comes into their mind is Microsoft Excel (or something similar like Google Sheets). "We just create a sheet with one column for the translation keys and for every language we add a column for the translation in that language." A developer creates a simple script to convert the sheet content into the required translation files and everyhing is ready for translation. The translations are automatically converted into the right format and multiple people can work together on the translations. Everything is nicely set up or at least it seems so.

Why using Excel for translation management is a terribly bad idea 💀

It might look like that this is an easy approach that works very well, but I can tell you from two companies I worked for, following this approach, that it is an awful idea and here are some reasons why:

A sheet has no fixed structure

The structure of your sheet is not fixed. Maybe someone deletes a column, adds a new one or combines some cells. In any case your export script will crash or at least will produce invalid output. Once a time it happened to me that a client had access to the sheet and deleted some rows with translations they thought that are not used, but of course they were used. The next time I pulled the translations from the sheets file I was surprised with a lot of errors when trying to run the application. Everywhere messages popping up about translation keys that could not be found. In the end we had to rollback the Google Sheet and the customer had to change every translation again costing us and him multiple hours and therefore a lot of money.

Manuel HTML editing is pain

Another customer of my company back then wanted to iterate over the texts in his apps quite often. We didn't had a CMS in place so he was given the sheets file to change the texts. He also wanted to add some lists here and their and make some text bold so we teached them how to do this with some simple HTML markup. Unfortunately for beginners it is not so easy to create well structured <ul> lists. Also for developers it is quite easy to mess up the markdown without proper syntax highlighting and editor support. In the end I had to go over every HTML markup and needed to check if it needs to be fixed or not costing me several hours each week.

Advanced features crashing your translations

You can do crazy stuff in Excel or Google Sheets. From basic calculations to really complex formulas, but when exporting the content it is quite easy to break the export costing you even more time and money.

No permission management

We already talked about deleting keys which causes errors, but not about changing translation keys. Because such a sheet is not made for translation management it is really easy to accidentally change a translation key resulting in a crashing application, because a key can not be found. With a proper permission system, such that translators can not edit the translation keys, this would not be possible.

No overview of the current translation progress

Last but not least keeping an eye on the translation progress is quite hard. You don't have a good overview of the current translation status and planning your go live in certain languages is quite hard. It might also happen that a text which is not translated is overseen and in the final software the text is missing. Something you don't want to happen as this can ruin the experience of your users.

So what should I use instead? 🤔

The thing you are looking for in this situation is a Translation Management System (TMS). Those systems allow you to easily edit your texts online without worrying about all the difficulties we just discussed. Most of the time those Translation Management Systems also offer advanced features like Machine Translation that can help you to be even more productive.

A Translation Management System that does all of that is Texterify. It has been developed because of all the issues we had with our Google Sheets setup in the past. So make sure to check it out and sign up here to avoid all the translation difficulties. We already went through them for you so you don't have to. 😉

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