What is Localization?

Translation and localization often go hand-in-hand. Translation from one language into another is a clear concept, but localization can be confusing. I think this is because localization is often an unseen part of the translation process, and good translators incorporate localization into nearly every project. Proper localization makes a translation really shine.

Localization is the process of adapting a message to a specific language variant or locale. It ensures that content appears to have been originally written in the target language. For example, a document translated into English may then go through a separate localization process in which the document will be edited for U.K., U.S., Canadian and other English-language readers. (Think “boot” and other words with widely different meanings.)

Some of the most common items changed during localization are:

  • Time format: AM/PM format vs. 24-hour “military time”
  • Date format: For example, the day is always listed first in Spanish, but second in English. Therefore, “4 de mayo de 2021” would be translated as “May 4, 2021”.
  • Number format: Commas and periods are used differently based on country or language variant: 2,044 vs. 2.044. Both of these can mean “two thousand forty-four” depending on the locale.
  • Tone: The default tone of many Spanish-language communications is the formal “Usted”. However, many English-language communications are less formal, and there is no different pronoun used to denote a formal vs. informal tone in English.
  • Pictures and Names: If images are part of a text, there may need to be some changes to those images in order to remain culturally sensitive. Similarly, a title or name might need to be altered for clarity or understanding.
  • Formatting: This includes details like punctuation placement.
  • Capitalization: Capitalization rules can be different depending on the language or language variant.

Software localization is a huge part of the translation industry, and you can read more about that here. That’s not my speciality, but I do a lot of localization in general—both formally and informally. It’s the surefire way to avoid any confusion, and it makes a translation easier and more enjoyable to read!

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