Localization is a complicated name people use to be able to charge more for translation. Yes, this thesis is a gross and ridiculous oversimplification in addition to being factually incorrect, you will argue. You could say that localization is far more than translation for it involves:

  • Adapting graphics to target markets
  • Modifying content to suit the tastes and consumption habits of other market
  • Adapting design and layout to properly display translated text
  • Converting to local requirements (such as currencies and units of measure)
  • Using proper local formats for dates, addresses, and phone numbers
  • Addressing local regulations and legal requirements

But the fact is that while some of the things listed above do apply occasionally to localization, the vast majority of localization work is getting strings in language A (in whatever medium they may be) and re-publishing them in languages (B through 100). That’s it. In its essence localization is translation, but rather than beginning with the simple and then building layers as we progress, people love to begin with the complex so that they can sound smarter and more sophisticated. This will also intimidate the client, who will in turn ask less questions, be more accepting about the pricing and acquiesce into a dominated layperson position. Now the localization person is the expert because they know how to do something way more complicated than to translate.

Yes localization will involve, weird file extensions, parsing, segmentation, regular expressions, tags, term bases, translation memories and a whole lot of complicated things that make the entire process a nightmare for someone who wants to get anything done in multiple languages. Part of this complexity is intrinsic to the process. But a part of us, holds on, nurtures and cultivates this complexity because it is what makes us necessary. What would happen to a localization engineer if we were able to overcome engineering? What would happen to terminologists if we were able to provide tools better than a term base that could improve knowledge management?

Localization is the simple process of getting content from one language into one or multiple languages and all the shit-show that happens in between. And yes, it can get ridiculously complex. But for the most part localization is very routine and standard. Standard file types, standard filters, a translation memory, a glossary, a translator, a reviewer, QA and testing. And voilà! Now you have localized your content.

So the challenge is not what localization is or is not. The definition of localization does not matter. The technical boundaries around what localization is or is not could matter in a corporate politics, but it does not matter in terms of getting the work done. The localization challenge is: how do we make the lives of those that need their businesses to operate in multiple regions or languages as easy and painless as possible. That challenge is the very definition of localization. All the rest, are just technical consequences that we run into to make that very basic core goal achievable.

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Written by Gabriel Fairman

Gabriel is the founder and CEO of Bureau Works. He loves change—and eating grass.

Published On: May 8th, 2019 / Categories: Localization Strategy /

Gabriel Fairman

May 8, 2019

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