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Localization, Internationalization, and Globalization: An Overview

March 9, 2016

goingglobalMany individuals and companies think the process of translation is a simple one.   Take the text or content in one language, have a translator translate it into another language, and voila! –you now have a multilingual version of your original.  Sounds simple, right?  The reality, of course, is more complex than that, especially for businesses with the goal of translating for multiple markets.

What is Localization?

The term ‘localization’ is oftentimes used synonymously with ‘translation’.  They are, however, different in several respects.   Whereas translation is typically used as a catchall phrase for taking text from one language and converting it into another, localization refers to the adaptation of content not only to the target language, but also to that target language’s culture and style.

When content goes through the localization process, some of the atypical items that must also be accounted for can include:

  • Date and time formats
  • Currency
  • Language direction
  • Capitalization rules
  • Grammar rules
  • Symbols and icons
  • Country-specific legal formatting
  • Culturally appropriate text, graphics, references, etc.

This can be an enormously complex and time-consuming process—depending on the scale of the project.  Culture, in and of itself, can be hard to define and more often than not, colloquialisms in one particular culture do not lend themselves to the same meaning in another.  Simply translating the words will do little to convey the original meaning of the text and can cause more confusion than clarity in the final translation.

What is Internationalization?

While localization is the process of adapting content into another language and culture, internationalization is the process that enables localization to be carried out effectively.  For instance, if a company wishes to localize a particular software program, website or app, internationalization enables
the software to properly handle the necessary character encodings and language variants.  This usually involves separating localizable elements from the source code or original content so that the localized text can be selected by the end-user based on their language preferences.

During the internationalization process, all of the items that require localization (date and time formats, currency, language direction, etc.) must be accounted for ahead of time as well as adjusting for various character lengths within the program.  More often than not, when text is translated into another language, the length of the text can vary drastically.  For example, translating from English into French will most likely result in text that is much longer than the original source text, whereas translating into Chinese (a symbol-based language) will result in much shorter text.

With proper internationalization, the localized content will adjust accordingly for each language, to ensure that the text remains properly formatted within the document or program.  Attempting to retro-fit a localized product after-the-fact is a much more difficult and time-consuming process, especially when there are multiple items and multiple languages to account for.  That is why internationalization must be planned early to avoid the trouble and expense of making changes later on.


What is Globalization?

Globalization is simply the umbrella term used to describe this internationalization and localization process.  Most of us are familiar with phrase, “going global” when it comes to business.   In essence, it means taking your product or service to foreign markets all over the world by adapting to cultural differences, language, units of measure, etc.

Through globalization, a business utilizes the processes of internationalization and localization to ensure they can effectively cater to a particular region with linguistically and culturally appropriate material.

For businesses that are truly looking to make their products relevant in the global market, the translation process should never be an afterthought.  It should ideally be planned ahead of time and incorporated into the planned rollout of the product.

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