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Internationalization, Localization and Translation, Oh My!


Multilingual Website (Image by 200 Degrees from Pixabay)

Launching a website, an app, or a video game is a major feat in and of itself. Launching in a foreign market is a whole other challenge. With roughly 4.4 billion internet users and 5.1 billion mobile users as of 2019, more people than ever need content in their native language. But translating is only part of the process.


Here’s a quick overview of how to launch a digital product or platform that works around the world.


Internationalization


The decision to launch in one or more foreign markets has a major impact on design and development. It involves enabling code that supports different characters and symbols, time and date formats, currency, and any other regional differences. Simply put, you want to build a website, app, or game that can adapt to any language or region.


This process is known as internationalization, and ideally should start before you launch in any market. While it’s possible to internationalize retroactively, the next step (localization) will be much smoother if you've already laid the groundwork for it.


Localization


Once your website, app, or game has been coded to work properly in various regions, you can begin to prepare it for a new market. Say you want to launch your app in the United States and China. As you format it for both countries, you’ll need to consider differences in:


  • Time and date formats

  • Currencies

  • Keyboard layouts

  • Symbols and icons

  • Legal requirements

  • And more

Now, on to the design. If you want the Chinese version to feel like a Chinese app, you’ll need to adapt the design to give it that look and feel. You may want to change the colors or images to reflect Chinese culture. Red, for example, is the color of passion in the Anglosphere. In China, it symbolizes good luck.


As you probably guessed, the localization process is a mix of art and science. It requires a strong understanding of the culture in a target market to make the interface feel native, even when it’s not. And that means more than just changes in formatting.


Translation


Finally, there’s the most obvious step: translation. Yet the digital world poses new challenges for translators. Languages such as Chinese use characters that take up more space than Roman ones—making it difficult to fit the same message in the same amount of space.


Localization translators not only needs to convey an idea, they need to ensure it renders properly on a computer screen, tablet, and mobile phone. Like localization, it often takes quite a bit of creativity (and transcreation).


Putting It All Together


Hopefully, your development team has already created an internationalized website or product. (If not, don’t worry. Localization will just take more time.) That means, unless you’re a big fish like Google, it’s time to find a translation and localization company that meets your needs.


Some vendors offer services for various world languages, while others specialize in certain regions, such as Asia or the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). If you want to localize in multiple regions, be sure to ask vendors how much experience they have in each.


Some vendors specialize in videos games and apps. If you want to launch one, a vendor with an understanding of the industry may be your best bet.


Finally, if someone on your own team has deep knowledge of a particular language and/or region, see if you can loop them in. They will likely have a better idea of what to ask, and can review the localized website, app, or game before the launch.


Bottom line—launching in an international market takes a time and a team of experts to get it right. Yet when users feel as though the platform or product was “homegrown”, it will more than pay off in brand loyalty!