What is Localization?

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What is localization? You're reading this on an expert blog about localization, so the question might be a bit too obvious for most readers. With this article however I want to emphasize a few core arguments and definition parameters that are important, both for beginners as well as experts, in thinking about reaching a broad global customer base with your digital products, be they stationary software, mobile apps or web content.

What is localization?

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Localization describes the process of making a product available for a different market, in a different language or a different cultural context. It is thus the process of adapting it for a group of people different from the group of people its producers belong to. Localization (shortened L10N) is, as the name says therefore, adapting a product for a certain (different) locale (a special term used to describe a defined set of linguistic and other rules for content like software). Localization is more than just translation of words and grammar, it can also involve changing the direction of text (from left to right to right to left), the adaptation of symbols and colors, the changing of tonality and politeness level and things like adapting measurements, currencies and punctuation.

How does localization work?

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Once a product is basically "world-ready" (i.e. internationalized, see paragraph below), the product manager needs to put a process into place that allows experts (translators mostly) to take the product's content and translate it into a different language, adapting different aspects of it for the intended new target audiences, have it all reviewed for quality assurance, and then feed it back into the product so it can be included and packaged and then released to the public. Sounds long and tedious, but it really comes down to efficient localization management, and it can be a very swift procedure of having texts translated by an appropriate number of translation professionals and having the results reviewed and automatically re-integrated into the main product. Normally, in a localization process, certain translators are assigned specific languages or parts of the product, and reviewers take over once they are done with the first step. Communication between the client and the language service provider usually occurs at various levels of the project. At the beginning to clarify the general context of the product and the intentions, and during the project when issues with specific translations occur where the translator has insufficient context. There might be additional feedback loops to complete the project and "close" any open translations that translators were unable to process without assistance from the developers. In many cases, only during the translation phase some remaining issues with the previous internationalization thoroughness become apparent and are resolved.

What is internationalization?

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Internationalization (i18n for short) is the process of adapting a (digital) product to prepare it for localization. It involves separating all content and communications from the actual code, so the content can be localized without having to touch the "inner workings" of the product each time and for each language it is to be translated into. There are no versions of a piece of software in each language, for example, there is only one software, and depending on which language will later be selected, a different, localized set of content will be loaded and displayed within the product shown to the user. In software development, internationalization most and foremost means removing all hard-coded text and visual elements, and putting them either into a database (or most commonly) in separate so-called language resource files, one or several for each locale. That means the source code will contain instructions to include text strings from resource files, allocated by ID or a value name. Similar approaches can be made for visual elements like pictures, where the code will insert a corresponding picture depending on the selected locale. An example internationalization process would be to place all text elements from navigation menus into a file called "navigation.en_US.yml", a file containing all the main texts for American English (en_US). When selecting Spanish, the program would require a file "navigation.es_ES.yml" for example. You find several tutorials in this blog that explain internationalization for various programming languages in more detail.

What is globalization?

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This is a trick question, as there actually is no standing term in this context. Globalization is mostly a political term describing the "flattening" of the globe, and the interconnectedness of modern societies and mostly markets. In our context, let's look at globalization this way: You have a product you want to sell to the world, now everything you need to do to accomplish that, is part of your globalization strategy. That starts with localization, but it also includes an international marketing plan, global sales and support channels, distribution, and preparing for legal issues. It is important to look at globalization as a big picture thing that needs careful planning and execution, it cannot be accomplished "on the side", and it usually involves everyone in your team, plus outside experts. It costs money, time and effort, all of which can heavily distract from actually developing your product.

Why you should care about localization

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If you look at statistics like these, but also just if you look at a map, or at numbers of consumers in different countries, it should become clear that you are undoubtedly excluding millions of potential customers if you don't localize - simple math. While a great number of people have a basic command of the English language, and are generally able to use most products because they adhere to certain norms (expectations on how interfaces work and so on), the majority of the world does not speak English as a native or even second language. Additionally, many products do not automatically work well in other cultural contexts without prior adaptation, many companies have failed expanding because they neglected the importance of localization and assumed that they could apply their product 1:1 in a different country. In the world of apps and software, small things matter, so customers will know if you put effort into this and the product really "speaks" their language. Compared to the massive increase in revenue that would come from access to additional markets around the globe, the investment in localization to a few additional languages is minor. Localization is not witchcraft, all it requires is good planning, and an understanding of its importance to the people most important to your business: your customers and potential customers.

Lastly, LingoHub can help with the entire localization workflow of your product development process. Talk to us or try it out, together we want to make sure getting your product out to millions of users worldwide is not a hassle and wont cost unnecessary overhead.