March 2012
By Rebecca Petras

Rebecca Petras is a marketing and public relations specialist for GALA, the largest global non-profit association within the language industry, providing resources, education and research for companies working with translation services, language technology and content localization.



Localizing effectively to reach audiences around the world

Today we are all connected globally. Markets cross geographic lines. Potential customers who could not be reached before are now using mobile phones to connect and buy. Therefore, companies looking for new markets and more customers need translation, localization, and, possibly, internationalization to compete successfully. Here is an insight into the translation and localization industry and how it partners with the IT industry to ensure effective delivery of global content.


Before embarking on a full-scale translation, localization or internationalization project, or hiring a firm to help you in those areas, it is important to understand the differences inherent in the definitions of each term.

Translation refers to written communication that is provided in a language other than the original ‘source’ language. In today’s world, companies have a lot of content that they want to provide globally; translation is critical in the transformation to global content. Content that is typically translated includes:

  • Product information and packaging
  • User interfaces and software
  • Websites and online content
  • Technical documentation
  • And myriad other applications where communication is critical

Localization is broader than translation. Localization is the practice of adapting your products and services to local markets, including taking into account cultural, regulatory, legal and other issues specific to the locale where you are communicating.

Internationalization evolved out of translation and localization. It is especially important for software developers concerned with global reach. The goal of internationalization is for original content to be internationally ready. Importantly, the need to be internationally ready is considered strategically at the beginning of content development, not after original content is already developed. While it has primarily been used in the writing of software code to ensure that versions beyond the original language version can be created with greater ease, all developers of global content should consider internationalization.

It is possible that a company uses translation for some global content, such as marketing brochures, then uses localization for other communication tools, such as the company’s website, and finally deploy internationalization for other pieces of content, such as product software. Which method is used depends a lot on the amount of content, the number of languages in which you want to communicate, and the type of customers or audiences you are trying to reach.

What to translate or localize

In the case of translation and localization, it is important to look at your current content to determine what to translate or localize. Strategically decide what content to focus on based on how you communicate with your members or key constituents. If your website is your main marketing and communications tool, this may be the first item to translate. You will also want to localize the website, taking into consideration more than just the text, such as graphics, domains and international search engine options.

In fact, localization of websites has become an integral part of many companies’ website operations. Research shows that the number of languages supported by top global websites continues to increase, reaching 23 in 2011.

In 2011, the hot ‘new’ languages for websites where:

  • Hungarian
  • Turkish
  • Indonesian

Of course, this depends on where your market is based, and most of the sites translating to these languages have already localized into the FIGS languages (French, Italian, German and Spanish) and the BRIC languages (those of Brazil, Russia, India and China).

A marketing analysis as to where your customers are based is important in order to use translation and localization budgets effectively. For example, are your customers spread throughout the world or just based in Brazil? In many cases, you may be localizing only for certain markets. For example, if you have seen your sales jump in Brazil, you may only need to localize into Portuguese.

Beyond the website, it is important to consider translating educational materials, user guides, technical documentation, brochures and collateral, packaging and legal documents. In any case, make sure to avoid some typical mistakes often made in translation and localization projects. For example:

  • Markets are not the same as languages. For example, if you have constituents in South Africa, you may need to clarify which of the 11 official languages of that country is best suited for translation.
  • Europe cannot be lumped into one market. Within the EU alone, there are 23 official languages. And in terms of localization, remember the diversity of the audience: the Italian worldview and culture is not the same as the German or Polish, for example.
  • Africa is a vast and complicated continent and should not be treated as one market. For example, cell phone marketing is much more important in many African countries than web, but not in all of them.
  • English speakers and customers vary greatly worldwide. Marketing in the UK is not the same as in the U.S. or in Canada.
  • Reaching customers successfully in Spain may require Catalan or Basque, in addition to Spanish.
  • The United States, as well as many large countries worldwide, have a complicated multilingual market with many non-English speakers. Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese may be important in the U.S. market.

Launching a translation or localization project

It is important to consider how a translation and localization project will fit into your current operations and your future translation plans. Ask yourself a few key questions to help get started in preparing your content for new language audiences:

  • Are you building a long-term translation program within your company, with regular updates across your projects, website, e-learning and other materials, or do you need a one-off document translated for an event? This will affect how you approach the project and who should help with the project internally and externally.
  • What does your product and marketing data show? Are you trying to reach one language market only, or are you planning to eventually reach out to multiple language audiences? Will that market shift over time? This information may be available in a different part of the company. In order to deploy translation and localization strategically, it is important to understand these overall business objectives.

Once you have sorted out which content should be available to your global markets, and which markets should be your focus, it is time to create a translation and/or localization project using internal and external resources. But before hiring a firm or a freelancer to assist you, it is important to understand a few important tips that will help you with speaking to experts:

  • Keep in mind that many languages have various dialects (e.g. Spanish may not sound the same in all parts of the world), and make sure your translator (or translation company) is translating into the dialect that is most often used by the audience to which you are addressing your message.
  • Look at the source materials that you are providing to the translator or interpreter. Messages and text should be provided in a way that is easily adapted for international markets. Avoid messages that are word-crafted purely for the originating market, especially using slang and colloquialisms. An example would be sports metaphors that are specific to one market but not another (such as baseball or American football references). Writing simple, active-voice sentences works best.
  • Make sure your translator or translation company understands the text. Give them background information on your professional field or other relevant information that will help them to do accurate translations.
  • Review translated copy to check for any double meanings, cultural idiosyncrasies, or taboos.
  • For translation and localization, once you begin the process, avoid making changes to the source document. Changes to either the design or content can bring the translation or localization process to a halt while the change is assessed and the corrections rippled through the content. Remember that one change in the English can mean many, many changes to cover all the target locales. Remember that some languages take fewer words to convey a message while other languages may take more words to communicate the same message. This can affect the space needed and layouts for written translations in marketing materials, for example.
  • Consider translation and localization as the guest of honor rather than a hassle. You can have the best content or materials in the world, but if your members or audience cannot understand them, then it does not matter.

Working with translators, interpreters and language service providers

Now that you have clearly identified which content to offer to your global audiences, and you have determined which markets are most important, it is time to assign the work to a language expert, either internally or externally. Most companies do not have internal language experts, so they tend to work with external experts. Your options are to work with any of the following:

  • Freelance translators and freelance interpreters. Freelancers are generally independent contractors. The industry standard is that professionals translate only into their native tongue.
  • Language service provider companies, with either a narrow language focus (a single-language vendor) or a broad reach across many languages (a multi-language vendor). These companies facilitate the localization, translation and, in some cases, interpretation, process. Generally, they work with a large group of translators and identify the right one for your project. They also have access to the latest technologies to gain efficiencies, including machine translation and translation memory tools, and they are capable of managing and sustaining long-term translation projects.

There are also free web tools that offer basic translations using machine translation technology, but they are only useful for getting the gist of a subject and not appropriate as a stand-alone solution. It is essential that translations of this sort be checked, approved, and modified where needed by a native speaker or a person familiar with the audience for which you are translating.

Whichever you choose, you will want to make sure that the linguistic expert doing the work has some knowledge of your subject matter (either previous experience or information provided by you).

In addition, to get the best result you should make sure that:

  • Someone within your company is charged with managing the project.
  • The process is not started too late. It generally takes more than a day to get a translator up-to-speed and ready to translate your content!
  • As with hiring other professional support, check the references of translator candidates for the quality of their work and adherence to deadlines.
  • There is an internal review of the content before it goes to the translator to make sure there are no mistakes or changes to the source material. It is much easier to make those changes before they are then translated into another language.
  • If design is included, make sure the concept works internationally.

How do you find a translator or language service provider?

There are many sources for finding a professional to help you translate, interpret or localize your information.

The Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) is the largest global non-profit association within the language industry, providing resources, education and research for companies working with translation services, language technology and content localization. GALA member companies are vendors and buyers of language services and technologies. They deploy sophisticated multilingual strategies and proven tools to take content and products to markets around the world.

Additionally, various Internet networks exist to help find freelance translators including, elance, and the American Translators Association (ATA).