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Globalization vs. Localization: Is There a Difference?

One of the ways companies improve their visibility is through language translation. As English is not everyone’s language of choice, having additional languages for your website or content helps you reach that local market.

The global language services market reached $46 billion in size in 2018. The increasing usage of these services is often due to the growing value of local markets to international businesses.

But it’s not as straightforward as you might think. Depending on your type of business, you would want to set your resources for either globalization or localization.

Globalization vs localization? What’s the difference? They may sound all too similar, but they’re two very different concepts.

Need to know which one you need? Here’s how they compare.


What is localization?

Localization refers to adapting a specific website, resource, or product. In simpler terms, it is the process of translating content to fit the demands of one locale.

Localizing content is not a limited act. It’s not simply translating the existing language to a market’s native language.

More than that, you would want to keep the original’s intent and make it fit with local customs. In many situations, there’s no use to translate content if it doesn’t reflect the original intention.

With localization, content must meet the locale’s acceptable cultural norms and talk straight to the target market. It’s a more complex version of the translation, adding other nuances into the mix.

For example, localization includes formats and expected usage norms. This can include:

  • Numbers, date, and time formats
  • Currency types used
  • Keyboard formats used
  • Symbols, icons, and punctuations
  • Text and image content sensitivities
  • Different legalities in a locale

Localization requires a proper visual design that makes sense to the target market. This may differ from market to market. What’s crucial, however, is the “fit.”

You need to have content that fits the total values of the market you are targeting. In essence, you make it into something that a different market would appreciate because it fits into the cultural context of the area you’re targeting.


What is globalization?

Globalization is the flipside of localization. Often referred to as internationalization, it’s the process of making a product or content multilingual.

You’re setting the business, product, or offering to a standard that is more easily accepted worldwide. Regarding a website, globalization strips code relating to specific languages.

This process entails a few things. First, globalization processes anything that acts as a barrier to global development. Any code, language norms, or legacy encoding receives standardization.

Globalization also helps add markups. This will allow for more natural translation in the future.

However, the code should be able to support any future localization efforts as well. For example, an international standard website will have certain features. These include making date-time formatting easier to change. It will support localized calendars, number formats, and the like but may not enable them immediately.

A globalized product or website should support multiple languages. Localization elements will be separated from the source code.

Loading of local content happens upon the request of a user. A default product will be “generic” and can be used more readily for different cultures, although they will not speak to differing cultural norms out of the gate.


The pros and cons of globalization and localization

So which concept is right for you? This depends on the intent of the business.

Globalization is useful for products and businesses looking to delve into other markets. Setting an international standard for themselves through a competent translation team helps. This will make future localization efforts quicker and more easily accessible.

What globalization removes, however, is the “local flavor.” Making a product acceptable to many countries and cultures is problematic.

You cannot add a specific style that entices a particular locale. This creates a disadvantage when you need to penetrate a certain target market.

Conversely, localization allows you to appeal better to your specific target market. Target markets like direct communication, and people are more likely to engage in something specifically directed at them.

Localization, however, limits your value to any other market than the locale. For local businesses, this is not a problem. International business may need to be a little warier. This will hamper your ability to show your product’s wider marketability.

If people know that the content has traces of marketing not targeted to them, it is harder to convince them to convert. This is why globalization requires “scrubbing” the code of anything that looks local.


Which one do I choose?

Not sure which to go with? It’s a question of market focus when it comes to business-level translation.

If you are a local business, here’s a tip. The answer to choosing between globalization and localization is the latter. No question about it. If you are a global business, however, it is much more complicated.

It’s crucial to have a globalized product, website, or content that will act as the prime reference. This globalized version will be the source of all your localization efforts.

Once you finish the globalization of your business, you will want to move towards localization efforts. Adapt localization according to your target markets. What is the scope of your localization and its timeline for your business? It depends on your approach.

Localization efforts are valuable only if your target market will care. For example, there’s no point in translating for a Chinese locale if you don’t have a Chinese audience. It’s vital to decide if catching a particular audience is worth the work.

If you think it is, go for localization. Even then, it’s crucial to start with a robust and globalized foundation.

In either situation, it’s useful to have a translation and localization team that can do both.


Closing thoughts

English is not everyone’s language of choice. The question of globalization vs localization is less a matter of choosing one over the other as it is a matter of fulfilling your needs.

If you are going for a specific locale, localization is the key. If you are planning to go global, start globalizing. Localize only when you get a local audience that is worth translating for.


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