Which comes first: Internationalization or Localization? It’s not quite a coin toss. . .

Every company releasing their product in a foreign country needs to consider many things. One item is translating the software (localization) into the language of the target country. However, the first and last step in the process is Internationalization.

Internationalization:

This is really quite simple and complex at the same time. Internationalization is checking to make sure the appropriate character set will display in your software program. It is also ensuring that the software has the ability to show the appropriate currency, number separators and dates. For instance in the United States we use $1.49, but in France it would actually be 1,49€. The time and date would be 3:00 p.m., September 2, 2009 in the U.S. as opposed to 15:00, 02 September 2009 in Europe.

In order to ensure the language selected displays properly tests should be run prior to localization and again after the software is localized. This way you can check to see if the characters display correctly before you translate the software. Then you will also need to test the localized version to ensure it operates exactly like the source language and displays properly onscreen.

Localization:

This is the process of re-creating a document, website or software program in another language so that the end product is targeted at a specific audience or region. In some cases it would mean taking into account not just the language, but the culture, customs, income level and educational background of the end user. Localization is also the term used for translating software and graphic user interface. In this context it means translating the text into another language and putting it back into the software or posting the website in the target language.

Marketing materials should almost always be localized for the local target audience. While it is very easy to translate software and GUIs for a much broader audience, to make your marketing piece or website effective in a foreign country, narrowing the focus of the translation makes the most sense.

It is also best to use graphics to give visual examples not just text describing what you mean. This gives the end user both written instructions and visual examples to follow.

There are both pros and cons with any localization project. Localization should definitely be used for advertising and marketing materials. However you shouldn’t try to localize large technical documents that may need to be used around the world, not just in one specific region. Think globally when deciding on localization versus translation.

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