Localization Goes Beyond Language in Helping Startups Cross Borders

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Business today is nothing if not globalized – the technology startup industry is an exemplary case of this. And while the Latin American ecosystem is going strong, the point in time at which expansion beyond borders becomes inevitable for any successful enterprise. With this comes an important issue that often goes unnoticed – that of localization.

What is localization?

The localization industry is a booming one, with a market worth of $33 billion in 2012 and an annual growth rate of 12.17%. The localization process itself entails the rendering of a product in a truly local manner and goes beyond basic language translation. The Globalization and Localization Association, GALA, provides the following definition of localization:

Localization describes the process of adapting a product to a specific international language or culture so that it seems natural to that particular region, which includes translation, but goes much farther. True localization considers language, culture, customs, technical and other characteristics of the target locale. While it frequently involves changes to the software writing system, it may also change the keyboard usage, fonts, date, time and monetary formats. Graphics, colors and sound effects also need to be culturally appropriate. 

Why is localization important?

Not sure localization matters? Think again. Today’s consumers are increasingly demanding when it comes to choosing products and services. With the explosion of companies online, the options are endless. Localization is a great way to make a company stand out.

According to GALA, 65% of multinational enterprises believe that localization is important for increasing revenues, and given the behavior of international consumers, they’re not wrong in their beliefs. Common Sense Advisory reports that 72.4% of consumers say that they are more likely to buy a product with information in their own language, with 56.2% saying that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.

But as mentioned, localization goes beyond language and also includes look, feel and function. Every single aspect of a product must be evaluated in order to be truly localized.

Let’s take a game application. Imagery, colors and iconography must be analyzed and implemented in a way to make sure that material appeals to and speaks to users. It’s important to check for elements that may be considered offensive in specific locales. Laws and regulations must also be kept in mind, as in gaming, different countries impose different ratings systems according to content. Even miniscule questions such as character limitations and abbreviations must be identified. Did you know, for example, that games in Germany can be confiscated if considered too offensive or violent? Or that iconography in the color white may be associated with death in Eastern cultures?

One very important factor for startups and technology companies to consider in the localization of their software, applications and platforms is localization testing. Localization testing teams check every aspect of a product – figures, formats, abbreviations, character settings, images and more. They ensure that user experience flows perfectly across a specific language and locale.

How does one get started?

The localization of a product is a tall order, and generally, it’s a task best performed by professionals. While startups and new technology enterprises may be inclined to try to keep localization efforts in-house to cut costs, if the funds are there, contracting professionals is a valuable move.

Companies with the budget to do so should look into working with experienced professional localization agencies to help them localize their products. There are a number of ways to find a localization partner beyond the go-to Google search. The American Translators Association (ATA) and the European Language Industry Association (ELIA) as well as GALA provide listings of localizers around the world. Those seeking localization partners can also search on ProZ.com for companies and, more importantly, see a bit more about their reputations.

When selecting a localization agency or, for those on a lower budget, a single professional to take on localization tasks, we suggest requesting specific examples of experience as well as references. Because localization is an evolving concept and something that’s become really relevant over the last 10 years, there are a number of individuals out there offering localization services without having a true background or idea of everything it entails.

While localization may seem a long way off for those just kicking off their startups, it’s something to keep in mind from the start. Taking applications and platforms to new locales is very exciting, and it’s important to proceed with prudence and caution in making sure a company is successful across borders – even and perhaps especially in Latin America, where linguistic commonalities make it all too easy to overlook the necessary locale-specific adjustments.

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Emily Stewart

Originally from the United States. Degree in Comparative Literature & Society from Columbia University. Background in marketing and communications, including copywriting, translation, editing and content creation. Localization experience. Twitter @doblackshoe