You're reading this on the Lingohub blog, where we regularly write and talk about localizing web apps and mobile apps and helping product teams build better multilingual products so that the question might be too obvious for most readers.

With this article, however, we want to emphasize a few core arguments and definition parameters that are important, both for beginners and experts, for reaching a broad global customer base with digital products, be they stationary software, mobile apps, or web content.

What is localization?

Localization describes making a product available for a different market, in a different language, or 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 the 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.

Further helpful resources
--> Internationalization and Localization on Wikipedia
--> What is localization? Read our Glossary

How does localization work?

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 various aspects of it for the intended new target audiences, 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.

It sounds long and tedious, but it comes down to efficient localization management. 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 reintegrated into the main product.

Usually, in a localization process, certain translators are assigned specific languages or parts of the product, and reviewers take over once they finish the first step. Communication between the client and the language service provider usually occurs at various levels of the project.

At the start, it is mostly about clarification of the context of the product, intentions, and expectations. Then during the process, translators can ask to specify the context when they have any issues with understanding. There might be additional feedback loops to complete the project and "close" any open translations that translators could not process without the developers' assistance. In many cases, only during the translation phase, some issues with the internationalization correctness become apparent and resolved.

One of the exciting examples of localization is a Coca-Cola campaign. The product's design was already different based on the region (the company, for example, in China, changed the brand name sounds to "ko-ku-ko-le," which in translation meant "Mouth full of happiness,") but in 2011, the company started the "Share a Coke" campaign. The primary purpose was to add the most popular names in the country instead of the habitual brand name. The personalized product had a big success, and in 2017 the company restarted the campaign. For example, sales of participating Coca-Cola packages in the USA grew by 11%. You can read more about their experience in the official blog.


What is internationalization?

Internationalization (i18n for short) is 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 touching 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 - there is only one code (software), and the sets of content will be loaded and displayed based on user selection.

In software development, internationalization means removing all hard-coded text and visual elements and putting them 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 image depending on the selected locale.

An example internationalization process would be placing all text elements from navigation menus into a file called "navigation.en_US.yml," containing all the primary texts for American English (en_US). When selecting Spanish, the program would require a file "navigation.es_ES.yml," for example. You can find several tutorials in our blog that explain internationalization for various programming languages in more detail:

  • The difference between Internationalization vs. Localization
  • Internationalizing your product with a TMS system like Lingohub.

What is globalization?

It is a trick question, as this term has no fixed description. Globalization is mostly a general term describing the "flattening" of the globe and the interconnectedness of modern societies and most markets. In our context, let's look at globalization this way: you have a product you want to sell to the world, and now everything you need to do to accomplish that is part of your globalization strategy.

That starts with localization, which includes an international marketing plan, global sales, support channels, distribution, and preparing for legal issues. It is essential to look at globalization as a big-picture thing that needs careful planning and execution. It cannot be accomplished "on the side." Usually, it involves everyone on your team, plus outside experts. It costs money, time, and effort - which can heavily distract you from developing your product.

DefinitionAdapting a product/service to meet the cultural, language requirements, etc of a region.Process of preparing a digital product for localization (e.g., separating content from the code.)A global term that includes all effort before and during internationalization and localization.
FocusProviding culture-specific content - both visual and text.Providing the adapted for localization product (configurable parameters, ISO formats, etc.)Combining all the activities in a clear plan.
TargetCountry or region-specific.WorldwideWorldwide

What is translation?

Translation is the process of transferring text from one language to another. The focus is to have the equivalent message in the target language as in the source one. The translation process juggles proper grammar and syntax rules for each language.

Often, translation is looked at as a rewriting process. At the same time, this perspective might work for repetitive content, such as user manuals, medical or scientific literature, etc. However, translation becomes more of a re-creation process when it comes to more creative content. In such cases, translators must move further to re-create a similar pace, writing style, and vocabulary preferences as the original.

Translation vs. localization (l10n) - what’s the difference?

It’s pretty hard to differentiate translation and localization, especially when done at the highest level of quality. However, some nuance does exist between the two.

Here is the difference:

  • Translation refers to a process in which text from the source language is produced in the target language, aiming to provide a faithful version of the content.
  • Localization, on the other hand, goes beyond the translation process and provides a multilingual, geographically and culturally adapted product.

Why you should care about localization

Look at statistics like these, a map, or the numbers of consumers in different countries. It should become clear that you are undoubtedly excluding millions of potential customers if you don't localize.

  • 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 to expand because they neglected the importance of localization and assumed that they could apply their product 1:1 in a different country.
  • Small things matter in the world of apps and software, so customers will know if you put effort into this and if the product really "speaks" their language.
  • Compared to the massive increase in revenue from access to additional global markets, the investment in localization to a few additional languages is minor.
  • Localization is not witchcraft - it requires good planning and an understanding of its significance 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, and together we will get your product out to millions of users worldwide.

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