What is Localization and Why Does It Matter?


If you’ve ever accidentally (or intentionally!) surfed onto a website that is not in your language or even intended for your location, it can be quite an intimidating and confusing experience. Even if you’re viewing a website in English from Canada, the United Kingdom, or Australia, you may still see a lot of “foreign-looking” things, from the units of measurement and currency to even the graphics and style of a website. After all, maple leaves, Big Ben, and kangaroos are not part of the average American’s cultural experience and may make you less likely to purchase a “foreign” product or service.

According to research from the Common Sense Advisory (CSA), 72.1% of consumers spend most or all of their time on content written in their own language. Additionally, 72.4% of consumers surveyed stated that they would rather purchase a product with information available in their own language, and 56.2% of respondents mentioned that being able to obtain information in their own language is a more important factor than price.

The answer to this challenge is “localization” (also referred to as “L10N”). According to the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), localization is “… is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market. Translation is only one of several elements of the localization process.” In short, localization aims to “translate” products or services for international markets that adapt seamlessly to the local language, culture, and regulations, and appear as if the product or service was originally developed specifically for that market.

In addition to the foreign language translation itself, other key aspects of the localization process can include the following:

  • Adapting graphics and images to specific target markets;
  • Adapting of symbols, icons, and other extra-linguistic content;
  • Modifying content to suit the tastes and consumption habits of the target audience;
  • Adapting design and layout to properly display translated text (e.g. fonts, right-to-left languages or languages with different character sets, etc.);
  • Conversion of units to local requirements (such as currencies, measurements, numerals);
  • Using the proper local formats for dates, addresses, and phone numbers;
  • Addressing and complying with local regulations and legal requirements.

Localization projects can range from simple websites to complex software programs, apps, various types of multimedia, and much more. In addition, related marketing materials, advertisements, manuals, training materials, etc. would also need to be localized in addition to just the website or software program itself.

Localization can empower your brand by increasing visibility and open up new markets (and revenue) for your products and services. Localization is a much more complex, time-consuming, and costly endeavor than “simple” translation, however, which is why finding the right localization partner is so critical. A localization partner should be able to provide consulting and input on the market(s) in which you are looking to enter, which materials should be localized, and have the technological knowledge and capabilities to handle varied file types (including multimedia, HTML/XML, graphic design formats, etc.). They should also maintain robust terminology management and content management platforms that ensure consistency across the localized materials and allow for seamless and cost-effective updates over time. Their workflow and localization process should also be able to fully integrate with your company’s IT specialists and web/software designers and have a comprehensive post-localization QA process that utilizes the best of both automated QA tools and human experts.

For companies that are serious about taking the next step with their products and services, localization makes sense to jump-start either your international business development plans or even simply to better serve non-English speaking or Limited English Proficient (LEP) communities right in your own backyard.

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