Globalization, Localization and Internationalization – No they Aren’t Interchangeable

As long as I have been working in the industry, I have heard clients use these 3 terms interchangeably.  They truly aren’t interchangeable though.  Globalization starts at the beginning of the process with getting a product to market and then launching it on the international markets.  Localization deals with translation of the documents or user interface (a.k.a. GUIs). Finally, Internationalization has more to do with making sure software and character sets all work properly. Let’s split these 3 topics up so that they are easier to understand. We will start at the beginning, so to speak, with Globalization.

First Up, Globalization:

Use of the term “globalization” has to do with a company preparing to launch their product, company or service on an international scale. It has more to do with the where and how than the actual translation, but translation is probably going to be part of the equation. Globalization is the preparation that a business has to do in order to get your widget from Madison, Wisconsin to Beijing, China or Naples, Italy. The amount of research and planning it takes to sell that $1.49 widget to the man in Naples that uses it for his machine can be mind-boggling. Here are just a few things that need to be considered along the way:

  1. Does the documentation, software and packaging need to be translated? In most cases the answer is yes, but you will need to have a lawyer look into it.
  2. Are there any licensing issues you need to deal with, or government approvals that are needed? In some cases the answer is no.  But if you are sending a medical device overseas, you will more than likely need government sign-off.
  3. Are you going to need sales staff in that area, or can sales be handled long distance?
  4. Should you be targeting specific regions and, if so, what are they?
  5. What languages are spoken in those countries and what languages are actually written in those countries? The differences can be a bit confusing. Take China for example. You would want to translate your written documentation into either Simplified or Traditional Chinese. However, if you are going there you would need a Mandarin or Cantonese interpreter, depending on the region/area. (I can’t even hazard a guess at the number of times we get a request to have a document translated into Mandarin Chinese.)

The list of issues, questions and answers can be endless for a company planning a global launch of a product or company. Yes, I am positive lawyers will need to be involved.

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