Internationalizing React

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Learning 100 different languages is challenging, but architecting your React app to support 100 languages doesn't have to be. As your web application grows to a global audience, multilingual functionality becomes increasingly essential. So, how do you design your code such that it is flexible enough to include all of your international users? In this talk, we will explore what it means and what it looks like to build a React app that supports internationalization (i18n). You will learn several different strategies for locale-proofing your application with React contexts and custom hooks.

29 min
14 May, 2021

Video Summary and Transcription

The Talk discusses the challenges of adding and maintaining new languages in a React application and suggests ways to make the process easier. It defines internationalization as the process of architecting an application for localization and explains that localization involves adapting the content and experience for a specific locale. The speaker recommends using libraries for internationalization and provides resources for learning more about the topic. The Talk also addresses edge cases and difficulties with multiple dialects or languages, translation processes, and right-to-left CSS libraries.

Available in Español

1. Introduction and Language Learning Experiences

Short description:

Hey everyone, I am so excited to be able to kick off React Summit Remote Edition this year. I want to share with you a little bit about my experiences in life learning different languages. I've learned that learning languages is pretty hard, but as a software engineer, I wonder if there is a way we can architect our react application so that adding and maintaining new languages doesn't have to be so bad.

Hey everyone, I am so excited to be able to kick off React Summit Remote Edition this year. Thank you so much for coming to my talk which is all about internationalizing React applications. If we haven't had the chance to meet, my name is Daria Carraway. I'm currently a software engineer at Workday in Boulder, Colorado in the United States. I want to share with you a little bit about my experiences in life learning different languages.

There are some embarrassing childhood photos coming so don't make fun of me too much. I was born in Boulder, Colorado where I learned English as a first language. This is the youngest photo of me that I could find. I'm also half Chinese so from a pretty young age I learned Mandarin. This is a photo of me at Chinese school where I would go every Sunday with my sister for many years. This photo cracks me up.

When I got to grade 6, I got to pick a language to learn in school. I picked Spanish. So from grades 6 to 12, I studied Spanish and by the end I was pretty fluent. This is a photo of me in grade 7, braces and all. And so something that I've just learned throughout my life besides maybe that I don't have to have bangs. Besides that I learned that learning languages is pretty hard. I don't have a great memory so memorizing vocabulary or grammar in different languages it can be pretty difficult. Okay, so this is me now and I am many, many, many years removed from grade 12. And to be honest I've lost a lot of my Chinese and Spanish speaking skills. I can understand them pretty well but my speaking it's not great and my Chinese reading is a solid one out of ten. And so I've learned especially as I get older that maintaining languages even after you spend all that time learning them it's also pretty hard. I don't have a lot of opportunities where I am to practice Spanish or practice Chinese anymore so they kind of just got stored to this back part of my brain that isn't easily accessible. At least that's what it feels like. But as I do as a software engineer I draw parallels between my life and my code because that is totally normal. For the first time in my career I'm on a team that has to support multiple languages and locales in our application and I wonder if even though languages are hard for me to learn in life is there a way we can architect our react application so that adding and maintaining new languages doesn't have to be so bad. After all I feel like teaching our apps to handle multiple languages should be easier than teaching our brains. At least that's my theory. But before we explore this theory I want to level set some vocabulary. The first term that you might have seen around is internationalization or I18N.

2. Internationalization and Localization

Short description:

The abbreviation is such because there are 18 letters between the I and the N in the word internationalization and I guess it's quite long to say. But I like to think of internationalization as the process of architecting your application so that when localization occurs things kind of just work. Localization is the process of actually making the content and experience of your application for a given locale. And there are a bunch of elements of localization. Different applications are going to have to have different things that they have to worry about. If you do have to support internationalization, I might suggest looking into one of these libraries to see if they fit your needs.

The abbreviation is such because there are 18 letters between the I and the N in the word internationalization and I guess it's quite long to say. There are a lot of confusing definitions out there for internationalization. I found a bunch that were confusing to me while I was researching this talk. But I think that that is the way that it is because internationalization can mean a lot of different things to different people depending on what your application does, what industry you're in, what kind of standards you have to meet.

But I like to think of internationalization as the process of architecting your application so that when localization occurs things kind of just work. So then what is localization or L10N? Localization is the process of actually making the content and experience of your application for a given locale. So internationalization is like architecting it, and then localization is actually changing it. So theoretically, if you've internationalized your app correctly when localization occurs, you shouldn't have to do much.

And there are a bunch of elements of localization. This is by no means an exhaustive list. And like I said, different applications are going to have to have different things that they have to worry about. You might have to implement some or all of these elements. It really just depends. And if you do have to implement all or some of those elements, there are some popular React libraries out there that are meant to be that internationalization architectural solution. If you do have to support internationalization, I might suggest looking into one of these libraries to see if they fit your needs. But I thought it would be more fun in this talk to just build some of those internationalization ... Is that ... It's in. Yes. Yeah. That's a good question. Actually, I'm not sure if there's, like, an agreed upon preference. I think it might just be up to you. The APIs, I believe, are a little bit different. Like, I think in the international object, you pass in the format string when you call it. And on the to locale string, I think that you can set the locale once and then always use it after that. So I think the APIs are just a little bit different. I also know that the international object is a little bit newer. So if you're supporting older versions of IE, for example, I don't think it's available there. Great.

3. Edge Cases, Translation, and Resources

Short description:

Are there any unique edge cases or difficulties for countries with multiple dialects or languages? How do you let translators translate the strings? Could you repeat the right-to-left CSS libraries that you were recommended? Do you have any guides or websites, resources to look at for learning more about internationalization and how to integrate those in your applications? Thank you so much once again, Pete. It was such a delightful talk to watch.

Another question is, are there any unique edge cases or difficulties for countries that have multiple dialects or languages? Let's say, for example, in Spain, you might run into Basquiat or Catalan. Yeah, it makes it just something to be aware of. There are a lot of countries that have different languages or even scripts within different languages. But usually if you define those in your locale string, and the user can also set their preferences either in their browser, or maybe if you're working on a website where people create a login, maybe you can have them set their preferences there, you should be able just to create a locale string with the country, the language, and the script and some of those other properties.

All right. Another question is how do you let translators translate the strings? That's a good question. I think that is entirely dependent and different for your organization and maybe what company you work for. If you don't work for a big company, you might use something like the Google translation API to bulk translate some of those strings. The company that I work for, we have a team of translators that specialize in lots of different languages, so they actually go in and manually translate a lot of the strings as well as using some machine learning APIs to also help out there. I think it just depends on how much translation infrastructure your company has and is willing to invest in.

Another question is, could you repeat the right-to-left CSS libraries that you were recommended? Recommend. I can. It wasn't like an exhaustive list by any means, and these slides will be posted that I can share. But the one that I'm using is RTL-CSSJS, that's the one that lets you do JavaScript objects in CSS in JS. Another one is RTL-CSS, it's like a normal CSS utility. And there was also JSS-RTL, which is for if you're writing CSS in JS with JSS. That's a lot of S's. Sorry. Yeah, there are lots of S's. The last question to you is, do you have any guides or websites, resources to look at for learning more about internationalization, and how to integrate those in your applications? Yeah, I have a page in GitHub that I can share, I can tweet it out, also, that has the resources for all the research that I did for this talk, and anything that I mentioned in this talk is also linked in there. The material design website has a really, really good spec for right-to-left languages that I found incredibly helpful. It's super detailed, it talks about specific icons and all the goods with RTL languages, so I'd definitely recommend that resource as well.

Yeah, thank you so much once again, Pete. It was such a delightful talk to watch. You gave so many good notes about internationalization, localization, and also to see so many people discussing about languages. It's really important, and just to give life to the application in general. Anything in particular that you'd like to add? No, I think, thank you so much for having me. I hope that this is an interesting topic to a lot of people. It sounds like a lot of people are speaking 3-4 languages, so this might hit home for a lot of people, which is awesome. Thank you so much, Daria, for giving us a really great talk and come here. Thank you so much. Of course. Thanks for having me.

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