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What Is Software Localization & Who Needs It
In the translation industry, few focal points are as important as localization. In fact, localization is more important than ever before, and it’s easy to see why.
Humans, from every corner of the globe, are constantly connected via the internet and social media. Without ever leaving our homes, we can still receive introductions to each other’s cultures, languages, and ways of life. And, if a brand, business, government agency, or organization of any type wishes to commune with “out of towners”, then their digital residences better wield the ability to disseminate appropriate messages on a case-by-case basis.
How does that happen, in a technological sense?
Easy — software localization.
Software localization is, to a large degree, self-explanatory. It is perhaps not difficult to imagine that a software program can be adjusted for shoring up the digital infrastructure of a domain or database in an effort to reach a wide range of users who speak different languages. Plus, with the eCommerce boom as well as the growing number of outsourced personnel from other countries who perform their job duties remotely, software localization is no longer seen as a luxury, but a necessity.
But software localization — and localization in totality — is about much more than lines of code responsible for auto-translating languages on a webpage or mobile app. It is also about putting users at ease by presenting information in a manner that invokes both familiarity and convenience. Translation is obviously a figure in such an equation, though words by themselves hardly tell the whole story.
One needn’t work as a translator or interpreter to gain an appreciation for what software localization is designed to do.
Roughly five billion people currently own a mobile device, and obviously, most of these people are spread out across the Earth in hundreds of countries. But as long as they have a decent network connection, they are free to browse apps and websites hosted in other nations.
News websites, gaming apps, and sports pages typically do not need to cater to an international audience. Even if a substantial portion of traffic arrives from outlying regions, chances are webmasters and developers will not be in a rush to update their platforms to achieve a localizing objective. These platforms, even gaming apps, are usually not trying to “sell” anything, since usage naturally begets traffic, and traffic pleases advertisers.
But when there are sales to be made, or vital information distributed, the tone changes. Platforms have to be able to reach multiple audiences at once, which means multiple languages and multiple cultures.
Think of it this way: if a store operates within a city that happens to include a variety of people from different languages and cultures, it would likely not be a very good idea for said store to advertise only in English using only American celebrities as their endorsers. Someone from another nation who does not speak English might miss the message. Even if they can comprehend the price of a product, they may feel as though it is not something for which they have a need. They simply don’t have a point of reference.
How is someone to relate to material if that material was produced for an entirely different demographic?
This is one of the main responsibilities localization is called upon to bear, except in this case, we’re not talking about a store in a multicultural city. Rather, we are drilling it down to digital concerns, where there are more people — and as such, far more interactions. It is not just language translation and formatting, of course. Localization also observes key differences when it comes to graphics, color choices, page format, and even brand ambassadors.
The first step in figuring out whether or not your domain could use a software localization refresher is through consultation and analysis, as well as bringing forth a cohesive vision for what it is your brand or business is attempting to accomplish.
Here are three of the most common industries and organizational entities that might benefit from a well-orchestrated and efficient software localization update.
E-commerce — Software localization efforts can offer a big boost for online business, even if a company only serves customers within the United States (or domestically in another nation). The US is a profound case study, in particular, however, as several regions in America are home to high immigration populations. What does that mean? That, yes, online shops and services that only do business within a specific region (but still use shipping) stand to lose a lot of potentially valuable customers if they fail to localize their front-facing domains. And if an online store serves the entire country, the risk of not moving towards software localization is too drastic to ignore.
Legal — “Legal” is a blanket term that covers an enormous spectrum of services — from consults and retainers to immigration representation and criminal/civil litigation — none of which deviate from the fact that in today’s day and age, most attorneys’ offices and law firms avail themselves online for further reading. Since this is where prospective clients go first if they have questions about contact information, pricing, and expertise, software localization is a must-have item.
Government agencies — Machine translation is the norm for virtually every major governmental agency in the United States from a web-browsing perspective, but that hardly qualifies as localization. On the federal level, it is perhaps not entirely necessary. But again, when you break down governmental services into states, it begins to matter a great deal.
Software localization is expanding its reach all the time, and helping businesses and consumers meet in the middle in ways once thought too cumbersome to bother entertaining.
As the technology improves and accessibility increases, so too will the capability for people from around the world to purchase goods and seek important, credible information that impacts their lives, and feel right at home in the process. A website, business, brand, app developer, or department of government that truly cares about leveling the playing field for all whilst also deeping their user base has no choice but to consider the consequences of moving forward without this extremely powerful and captivating methodology.
Timothy Hands – Writer at The Language Doctors