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What LSPs Say vs. Mean: The Watering Down of “Localization”

16 September 2016
Posted 16 September 2016

I have the privilege of working with lots of new clients at Moravia. This means that I can find myself talking to people with decades more experience than myself one day, and the next day talking to a green marketing manager who is trying to get their head around this whole localization thing. In my experience engaging with clients large and small, experienced and inexperienced, I have noticed that there are some terms or concepts that are inevitably discussed, but which are either consistently used incorrectly, or not fully understood.
In this blog series, we’ll be discussing terms that form common industry parlance on both the buy and supply sides, and phrases often used by LSPs (Language Service Providers) like Moravia.

Note that these are not specific to any particular LSP, nor is it our purpose to put down our peers and claim high ground (indeed, I am guilty of misusing terminology myself). Sometimes, some of these terms and phrases are so second nature or clichéd, that someone might use one without meaning it completely.

I hope through this post that you, the buyer, will stop when you hear one of these terms or phrases, ponder what is actually meant, and ask the right questions that will help you avoid any painful misunderstandings.

What LSPs say

“We will provide full localization of your product.”

What LSPs mean

“We will provide linguistic translation of the editable strings within your product, but you may still be on the hook for much of the work required to fully adapt your product to global markets.”

Why it matters

The term localization is hands down the most egregiously misused word in the industry, in my opinion. Once upon a time, the term localization meant something. Today, the term has become so overused that it has lost most of its meaning.

Personally, I like to refer to the succinct definition from GALA, which includes components such as “Modifying content to suit the tastes and consumption habits of other markets” and “Addressing local regulations and legal requirements,” among other things.

This reflects the real complexity that all international business faces: dealing with the varying cultural, legal, and regulatory challenges in each market — much more than simply converting English words into another language.

Many times, “localization” buyers will outsource the translation of their content, while keeping many of the true localization services in-house. This may be preferable if you need to have tight control over your products or services.

If your business faces many industry-specific legal or regulatory challenges, it may also be best to retain this knowledge in-house. Since these requirements have significant impact on your product, you may want to keep that expertise within your own ranks. If you already have regional offices close to the countries where you are doing business, then it only makes sense to delegate such oversight to them.

However, if that sounds like a lot of work that you just don’t have the budget or time for, then rest assured that most LSPs can and do offer true end-to-end localization services that go above and beyond translation.

So what do you get?

Just know that 99% of the time, when I hear somebody use the word localization, they are essentially referring to simple translation. It would serve you well to make sure that your true needs are addressed so that you are not disappointed with the results.

Perhaps what you really need is transcreation, or even “from scratch” market-specific content creation? Or maybe your existing content is fine, but certain parts simply need to be edited or removed for different target markets? In that case, you could benefit greatly from in-country cultural consulting.

To summarize, the term localization has been watered-down over the years. I realize that many of you reading this may be students of language, and we could certainly have a lovely philosophical debate about what is the “true” meaning of a term (conversational implicature versus literalist interpretation), but let’s just agree that any misuse of the term is not malicious. Rather, the meaning (or intended/perceived meaning) has evolved over time — as tends to happen with language.

Regardless, though, it simply becomes important to clarify upfront what exactly is being discussed, just to make sure there are no nasty misunderstandings uncovered down the line.

Ask and you shall receive

If you are looking for basic translation, there aren’t really any specific questions to ask, as you can safely assume in your discussions with any LSP that this is what is being referred to as localization.

However, if you have needs that go beyond simply converting words to another language, then make sure to speak up! An experienced LSP will guide this conversation by asking questions to help understand what is driving your needs, and then propose an appropriate solution that works for you.

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