Localization - Globalization  - Internationalization -
 International Compliance - Market Customization
Frequently Asked Questions

There are a lot of confusing terms related to international software products.
You'll read different definitions from different companies, which doesn't really help clarify the situation.


This is how we define the following industry terms: 

  1. What is Globalization (G11n*)?
    For most companies in Silicon Valley, "Globalization" is used as the super-set term for all planning, design and processes concerning any support of non-US products. "Localization" and "Internationalization" are sub sets of "Globalization", based on this definition. Some older software companies, like Microsoft, use "Globalization" to refer to "Internationalization" and use "World Readiness" to refer to the super-set term.
  2. What is Localization (L10n*)?
    Localization is the process of adapting internationalized software for a specific region or language by adding locale-specific components and translating text. Many people use "localization interchangeably with "translation" but translation is only language localization and doesn't guarantee a high-quality product that will land properly in a given market. A successfully localized product should make the local user feel as natural and comfortable using it as the US customer feels with the original source product.
  3. What is Internationalization (I18n*)?
    The process of developing a program core whose features and code design are not solely based on a single language or locale. Instead, their design is developed for the input, display, and output of a defined set of Unicode-supported language scripts and data related to specific locales. This is probably the best investment that a development team can make upfront to reduce costs and speed up non-US product releases. It's practically impossible to deliver a high-quality large-scale release without first investing in making sure your design is global from the outset.
  4. What is Transcreation?
    The process of adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context. The phrase has historically been used by advertising and marketing professionals looking to transfer the meaning of a message into a new language without losing intended meaning. It's extremely hard to translate directly in the case of idiomatic language used in marketing or casual usage in social media. In these cases, it may be better to transcreate and not to follow verbatim the source text.
  5. Agile Localization and Continuous Delivery
    Since the advent of mobile apps and web services in the mid-2000's, localization efforts have moved from long-term waterfall projects done by large software companies, to small, rapid iterative releases that usually simultaneously ship with the US product. Agile localization is in its infancy but there is a growing number of companies who are able to deliver worldwide releases at speed. Time-zone issues and geographically dispersed teams are probably the biggest hurdle for quality human translation. Agile is very problematic for the localization industry as many of the largest companies invested heavily in creating an infrastructure that requires a sequential process predicated on large volumes of content delivered over a long period of time. The largest companies in localization may still hold a dominant position in the market but it's really important to understand their limitations. Many are trying to circumvent this disadvantage by acquisition of agile startups.
  6. Do I need a full-time person dedicated to global?
    Most startup founders are used to wearing multiple hats to keep costs lean. Usually, as your company grows, you may spend more time invested in one area over another. This should be completely based on your company's priorities. If your primary business is content based or uniquely branded, then it may make sense to invest in some internal internationally-dedicated resources. Gaming is a good example where companies tend to invest heavily for non-US products because they live and die based on content and proper context. For most small companies though, if you can make the right investments up front in your code for multi-locale support, optimize your resource bundles/strings to be localizable, find a reliable localization company to handle your translations and QA externally, you don't need to hire a full-time employee to oversee this work.
  7. Human Translation v. Machine Translation?
    This seems like a trick question; in reality, most localization suppliers employ some form of machine translation (MT) and use of previously stored translations to auto-translate the first round of content delivered to them. They then may engage human translators to do one or all of the following processes - translation, edit, proofread (TEP) and this is usually done out of context - in a database of extracted resources with source content strings that show a translated target string (if MT or auto-translated already). A good company will employ some UI linguistic review as well to make sure the translation is correct in the given context. While great strides have been made in MT in the last 20 years, language is always tricky to emulate a fluent translation and it's not generally advisable to blindly trust raw MT content to represent your company's brand to other markets.
  8. Why Can't I Just Use Google Translate?
    For single-word translations, or a quick lookup to verify how to say something, Google translate is a quick and dirty solution. One clear reason is how language works from a grammatical structure. English is a subject-verb-object structure so any similar language like Chinese Mandarin may do well in a literal translation but Japanese is a subject-object-verb language and often comes out as gibberish. Context and idiomatic usage come into play too here so many Chinese people will tell you that even for them, it doesn't work well. There's a real reason why it's the bane of language schoolteachers worldwide. To be fair to Google, they look for pattern matching across web content, which is constantly evolving and dependent on a proper translation out on the web in the first place. People in the industry all have anecdotes about unfortunate translations that end up on angry social media rants in a given country, making a product look foolish and it's hard to undo that damage after the fact.
*Several years ago, it was common to abbreviate some globalization terms by replacing the internal characters of the words with the character count, so "Globalization: becomes "G11n". No one under 35 years of age uses that terminology anymore, but adding them in here out of respect to older software companies who still employ these abbreviations.
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