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The Localization Industry and its impact on our daily life

The translation world has been invaded by the concept of localization for over 20 years, yet there is still some confusion as to what it means.

By Anne-Marie Colliander Lind

To put it very simply, the concept comes from the software world and it refers to adapting software characteristics, which include language, to local markets. In the beginning, all software sold was in English because it was designed for mainframe and complex technical environments. With the arrival of personal computers, the requirement for localized (translated) software became imperative. These requirements started to grow exponentially, first with the Internet and then with the mobile phone revolution.

The localization process involves different types of professionals, such as software engineers, project managers, testers, linguists, in-country reviewers, and subject-matter experts. Even though translation represents approximately 75% of the effort in a typical localization project, it often only represents 45-55% of the total value. Unlike traditional translation projects, localization is seldom handled by a single linguist. It is a team effort, with all the complexities that entails.

Unlike Canada, in countries where there are no official language requirements, you might even have software localization projects without any translation. One example: an accounting package could be made available in Sweden in English, but the functionality and compliance requirements would have to adhere to Swedish generally accepted accounting principles and local regulations. Another example: an online retail website might localize its inventory offerings but change their shipping and currency according to the location of the visitor without translating one single word on their website. These are examples of localization projects, despite no translation being involved.

Most non-English-speaking individuals do not even notice that they are using localized versions of a software. A Japanese person sending emails via Gmail, a French Canadian creating presentations in PowerPoint, Swedes using LinkedIn for their professional network, or a Brazilian kid playing with Minecraft, all have subconsciously incorporated localization into their day-to-day activities. Billions of people use localized content every waking hour. Translators around the world complain about the lack of respect for their profession and little or no recognition for their efforts; they do not realize just how pervasive the fruit of their work is. Accountants, builders, technical writers, and countless other service providers can commiserate.

An increased requirement for speed

The main change to localization in recent years is not the adoption of machine translation but the increased requirement for speed in the delivery of translations for localization projects. This is because software development has adopted a process called ‘agile development,’ which delivers small but frequent updates to software packages. Localization now has to follow the same process as the development work in as many as 150 languages at the same time. And this is not just once or twice in a product’s lifecycle; it is an on-going process. Today we talk about continuous localization instead of localization projects.

In this new environment, concepts like volume, context, and minimum fees vanish, while notions like increased productivity, capability, availability, and fast turn-around time take precedence.

Localization is not for everyone! Just as medical translation requires expertise, literary translation requires advanced writing skills, marketing translation requires creativity – software localization requires intimacy with tools and flexibility. While traditional translation projects might put you in contact with final buyers and decision-makers, localization projects will be intermediated by language service providers, which means that the translator has virtually no control over what happens to the product of his or her work.

But smile – continuous localization means that there is a continuous demand for our work!


Anne-Marie copie Anne-Marie Colliander Lind is a recognized force in the global language industry landscape. She has spent the last 25 years helping multinational organizations solve their language issues – holding executive positions at leading service, technology, and market research companies. With experience at companies such as Interverbum, TRADOS Scandinavia, Semantix, Common Sense Advisory, and LocWorld, Anne-Marie has an insight into all aspects of the translation and localization industry.



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