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What is localization?

Localization is the process of adapting a product for different markets, to different languages or to a different cultural context. Localization is not a word-to-word translation of text, it is a process of forming authentic multilingual content based on source material. Localization goes beyond translating words and commits to translating the meaning.

The goal of localization is to create a faithful version of the product that can be enjoyed fully by customers in their native language and in accordance with their cultural background.

Localization basics

Simply put, localization is the process of adapting a product from source content to a specific locale. A locale refers to a set of parameters for information display such as: language code, country or region code, number format settings, date and time settings, currency format settings, etc.

definition localization

This process is more than a simple translation of words and grammar, it focuses on translating the meaning and nuances behind the text.

Localization includes adaptation of visual adaptation of elements such as symbols and colors; how information such as measurements and currency is presented or for example, which date format should be used: dd/mm/yyyy or mm/dd/yyyy. Localization takes care of the tone and politeness level of the text, and how punctuation is handled.

All in all, localization makes sure the product is perceived not as translated but as tailor-made for the target market by native speakers of the language.

The value of a localized product is manyfold. Localized software is more intuitive and easier to use, results in improved customer satisfaction, makes entry to new markets easier. Localization allows software creators to make their products more attractive in new markets because it brings one truth to the forefront: English is just another language and it’s a big, big multilingual world out there.

National & International conventions

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Keep in mind that although translation is not an exact science, localization has its own rules. What makes localization easier are various international and national standards that regulate information presentation. These regulations can include the following categories:

  • Paper sizes: while paper sizes are regulated in most countries by the ISO 216 standard, there are others which use different sizing standards. For example, North America still commonly uses the “Letter” and “Legal” size differentiation.
  • Telephone numbers: although the international E.123 recommendation standard created by the International Telecommunication Union is often used, there are differentiation in how telephone numbering plans are defined and restricted on national levels. Having such differences in mind can save you time for late changes in, for example, telephone number submitting spaces in your software.
  • Systems of measurement units: International System of Units (modernised for of the metric system), the Imperial system (still actively used in the UK and former British colonies) and the Customary units (typically used in the USA) represent three very different systems that demand complete different localization. Interestingly, some countries use several systems simultaneously, although for different areas and industries.
  • Currency designators: the ISO 4217 standard is used globally for banking and business, but has found its place among everyday simple transactions as well. The three letter code (where the first two usually represent the country and the third the first letter of the currency name - USD (United States Dollar), GBP (Great Britain Pound), CNY (China Yuan)) is now easily recognizable, although not yet a universal solution.
  • Time zones: most commonly used UTC (Coordinated Universal Time, or Greenwich Mean Time) is not a one-shoe-fits all solution.
  • Privacy Law compliance: national and regional privacy regulations might dictate a clear statement of the Privacy Law which is in effect (example: the GDPR in European Union)
  • Government assigned numbers: such as passports and national identification numbers usually have a predefined length and format.

How is localization done

Localizing software includes adapting text, colors, and images so that they appeal to the target local market. However, before the actual localization process starts, make sure your content has been internationalized.

The goal of the internationalization phase is to separate the content of your product from the source code so that it can be easily localized. A well done internationalization greatly influences the quality of the localization process because it takes into account factors such as: character length (different writing systems take up different amounts of space), layout of characters (for example, some languages are written right-to-left) and how localizable your content is.

A couple of things to consider before localizing:

  • Which are your target languages? What kind of layout do they require?
  • Is your UI design flexible enough to accommodate different scripts?
  • Is your source content adaptation-friendly? Is it heavy with slang, technical terms or humor? Can it be simplified without losing its quality?

Localization process

Localization is not a one-shoe-fits-all type of process, as each company or even product can have their own needs and quirks that demand a step more or step less. However, generally speaking, there are several phases that can be distinguished:

  • Internationalization (i18n): includes preparation of the product for localization, ensuring world-readiness of the product and high localizability (l12y)
  • Localization (l10n): adaptation of the product to specified locales
  • Quality Assurance: whether you opt for Machine Translation, CAT or human translators for your localization process, quality assurance should be a must in your localization process.

Internationalization (i18n) vs Localization (l10n) - what's the difference?

Internationalization and localization often go hand-in-hand, so it’s understandable that it is somewhat hard to differentiate the two. Additional confusion comes from the fact that different sources define i18n and l10n with slight variations.

Essentially, here's the difference:

Internationalization refers to the process that creates a source product whose content features are easy to localize from the perspective of design and text. The product of internationalization is a world-ready, highly localizable product.

Localization refers to the process that comes after, where the internationalized product is adapted to different locales. The product of localization is a multilingual, geographically and culturally adapted product.

Related resources

Further resources

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