Translation versus localization

Language localization is the process of translating a product into different languages and adapting what is said to a specific country or region (from Latin locus (place) and the English term locale, "a place where something happens or is set")

It is the second phase of a larger process of product translation and cultural adaptation (for specific countries, regions or groups) to account for differences in distinct markets, a process known as internationalization and localization.

Language localization differs from translation activity, because it involves a comprehensive study of the target culture in order to correctly adapt the product to local needs. Localization can be referred to by the numeronym L10N (as in: "L", followed by ten more letters, and then "N").

The localization process is most generally related to the cultural adaptation and translation of software, video games and websites, and less frequently to any written translation (which may also involve cultural adaptation processes). Localization can be done for regions or countries where people speak different languages, or where the same language is spoken: for instance, different dialects of Spanish, with different idioms, are spoken in Spain than are spoken in Latin America; likewise, word choices and idioms may vary even among countries which share a common language.

The overall process: internationalization, globalization and localization
As the former Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) explained, globalization "can best be thought of as a cycle rather than a single process". To globalize is to plan the design and development methods for a product in advance, keeping in mind a multicultural audience, in order to avoid increased costs and quality problems, save time, and smooth the localizing effort for each region or country. Localization is an integral part of the overall process called globalization.

Translation versus localization

Though it is sometimes difficult to draw the limits between translation and localization, in general localization addresses significant, non-textual components of products or services. In addition to translation (and, therefore, grammar and spelling issues that vary from place to place where the same language is spoken), the localization process might include adapting graphics; adopting local currencies; using proper forms for dates, addresses and phone numbers; the choices of colors; and many other details, including rethinking the physical structure of a product. All these changes aim to recognize local sensitivities, avoid conflict with local culture and habits, and enter the local market by merging into its needs and desires. For example, localization aims to offer country-specific websites of the same company, or different editions of a book depending on where it is published.

Globalization versus localization

Whereas localization is the process of adapting one product to a particular locale, globalization designs the product to minimize the extra work required for each localization.

Suppose someone is working for a company that, until now, has operated exclusively in the United States. However, the company is now opening a major office in China, and needs a Chinese-language website. The company offers the same products and services in both countries, with only some minor differences, but perhaps some of the elements that appeared in the original website targeted at the United States are offensive or upsetting in China (use of flags, colors, nationalistic images, songs, etc.). Thus, that company might lose a potential market because of small details of presentation.

Furthermore, this company might need to adapt the product to its new buyers; video games are the best example.

Now, suppose instead that this company has major offices in a dozen countries, and needs a specifically designed website in each of these countries. Before deciding how to localize the website and the products offered in it any given country, a professional in the area might advise the company to create an overall strategy: to globalize the way the organization does business. The company might want to design a framework to codify and support this global strategy. The globalization strategy and the globalization framework would provide uniform guidance for the 12 separate localization efforts.

Globalization is especially important in mitigating extra work involved in the long-term cycle of localization. Because localization is a cycle and not a one-time project, there will always be new texts, updates, and projects to localize. For example, as the original website is updated over time, each of the localized websites already translated will also need to be updated. This cycle of work is continuous as long as the original project continues to evolve. It is therefore important for globalization processes to be created and streamlined in order to implement ongoing changes.

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