Did you know that 76% of Internet users prefer purchasing products and services on websites that appear in their native language?1
Even though English is the language spoken by the most people worldwide2 (1.5 billion speakers in 2022), it is the native language of only 5% of the world’s population3.
Indeed, the world doesn’t speak only English. While it is true that the global population often browses websites in languages other than their own, most people prefer reading content in their mother tongue, especially when it comes to making a purchase. “If I can’t read, I don’t buy,” as Donald DePalma observed in his research on English-only websites4.
For companies looking to expand their businesses overseas, it is an absolute necessity to translate and adapt their products or services to specific languages and cultures in order to reach their target markets. This is where localization joins the dance of globalization.
Let’s start by explaining the differences between localization and translation before we look at why localization is essential for many domains today. We’ll also examine the skills you need to successfully complete localization projects.
What is the difference between translation and localization?
These two terms are often confused, because many people think they refer to one process: the translation of content for international markets. However, translation and localization are actually quite different in terms of approach and meaning.
Where translation simply transposes words from a source text to the target one, localization serves to make the content more culturally appropriate for the target audience while also meeting their needs. Localization is often rendered as “l10n” on social networks and in studies (as there are 10 letters between the “l” and “n” in the word), and it takes into account the linguistic and cultural specificities of native speakers local to the target market in order to make the company’s products or services more appealing.
It can be helpful to think of translation as the starting point of translation & localization project management, and localization as the “marketing strategy” for exporting the content worldwide.
Is localization the same as transcreation?
There is also some overlap between localization and transcreation, because they both focus on adapting content to local audiences. However, transcreation implies a more creative process, as it is used for content that is significantly culturally different or less known by the target audience: humor, symbols, communication etiquettes, and other cultural references can all come into play. Transcreation may change the content in substantial ways that would not be the case in translation or localization, but transcreated content will still retain the original content’s overall message and tone of voice.
Why is localization essential today?
Humanity has an amazing array of opportunities today because of globalization. While we can’t learn all of the world’s languages in a single day, localization offers access to products and services at a global scale – with a local mindset.
Localization is a viable option for companies aiming for international growth because it allows them to:
- Target a larger audience
- Improve their SEO strategy
- Gain client trust more easily
- Provide an improved user experience
- Achieve a higher customer conversion rate
A website is often the first touchpoint between prospective customers and companies. In today’s global and digital market, having a strong digital presence is the best way to secure a competitive advantage.
Even outside of the business world, the demand for customized content is increasing. Moz has estimated that over half of all Google queries are performed in languages other than English5. Moreover, 65% of Internet users prefer looking for results in their mother tongue6, even if they are proficient in other languages.
Localization completes the translation process because it enables your content to break linguistic and cultural barriers more easily: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” (Nelson Mandela)
How does localization work?
Localization is not limited to written documentation, as there is a wide range of content that you can localize: websites, video games, software, corporate videos and even PDFs. There is no “right” way to approach localization. However, localization must adhere to three main rules:
- Avoid any element that might come across as offensive, embarrassing or ridiculous in the local culture (e.g. the “thumbs-up” gesture is seen as offensive in Iran).
- Check the meaning of all symbols, as they can be interpreted differently depending on the global region (e.g. the color white is associated with mourning in Asia, whereas it usually conveys purity and wisdom in Western cultures).
- Pay attention to units of measure and currencies (e.g. dollars, pounds and euros).
Localization projects involve significant preparatory work, especially when localizing products like software. For example, texts in non-Latin scripts like Arabic and Hebrew can cause layout issues, as they are written from right to left. If this point has not been anticipated regarding user interface, such languages may make the project significantly more complex.
Our localization project managers at Acolad recommend doing a thorough study of the market and preparing all necessary resource files for the localization project – such as a style guide and the company’s glossary and termbase – in order to ensure consistency.
What skills must translators have for localization jobs?
First and foremost, a native linguistic expert is needed – meaning you. Understanding all cultural aspects of the target market is essential for any localization project. As an expert of your own language and culture, you are the most essential resource when it comes to understanding and adapting all elements of a translation.
Using a CAT tool gives you access to translation memories, termbases and automated quality checks, and using such a tool is highly recommended for working more efficiently and improving translation quality. When clients and companies provide termbases and glossaries, CAT tools help you utilize them more quickly and effectively in order to ensure that the proper tone and meaning are present in the target content. There are even some CAT tools that are specifically tailored to software localization, such as Passolo for Trados.
One other consideration: Because localization is increasingly used for more technical material such as software and websites, you may have to learn rules for SEO translation and even the basic rules of coding with HTML, CSS and Java Script.
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1. CSA research – Survey of 8,709 Consumers in 29 Countries Finds that 76% Prefer Purchasing Products with Information in their Own Language – https://csa-research.com/Blogs-Events/CSA-in-the-Media/Press-Releases/Consumers-Prefer-their-Own-Language
2. Statista – The most spoken languages worldwide in 2022 – https://www.statista.com/statistics/266808/the-most-spoken-languages-worldwide/
3. Babbel Magazine – The 10 Most Spoken Languages In The World – https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/the-10-most-spoken-languages-in-the-world#:~:text=Numbers%20vary%20widely%20%E2%80%94%20Ethnologue%20puts,is%20the%20one%20for%20you).
4. CSA research – “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy: Why Language Matters on Global Websites” – https://motsdici.be/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Article-cant-read-wont-buy.pdf
5. Moz – Secrets of SEO Success in Other Languages – https://moz.com/blog/secrets-of-seo-success-in-other-languages-15072
6. CSA research – Can’t Read, Won’t Buy – B2C – https://insights.csa-research.com/reportaction/305013126/Marketing