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Localization: Essential for Competing in the Global Marketplace

By Julie Layden

International trade agreements such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) have lowered trade barriers and opened the doors to the world marketplace. With the rapid worldwide acceptance of ISO 9000, services and processes around the world are being standardized, assuring the customer of a high level of quality. And, as trade barriers fall and quality standards rise, overseas trade is intensifying and overcoming cultural barriers has become increasingly important. Now, more than ever, showing respect for your customer's culture is crucial to your product's success in the overseas marketplace.

What is Localization?

Localization is the customization of all components of a product for a particular target market. These components include user interface (UI), the help system, printed or online documentation, Web sites, Advertise campaigns, and any other marketing communication materials for the product. Multilingual vendors like International Communications become your localization partner offering you the technical staff and linguistic professionals needed to efficiently manage multilingual localization projects.

Since different cultures interpret information differently, the localization process extends beyond mere word-for-word translation. The translation is an art unto itself. Translators take painstaking measures to assure that they produce a high quality translation that reflects the original intent of the writer and reads as if it were written in the target language. At International Communications, in-house native professional translators lend their knowledge of the culture to every project on which they work. Since they are natives of the culture and not just students of the language, they are familiar with all of the nuances and recent changes in the language. They are also able to ensure that the message is culturally appropriate for its target market and can provide guidance to your company in writing the original copy or text.

Internationalization - The First Step

Prior to localization, there is another very important step that prepares your product to be efficiently localized. Internationalization (I18N) is the process of ensuring that software can accept features specific to different target markets, i.e., time/date formats, thereby eliminating core issues during the localization process. When properly performed, I18N results in a generic product that can be easily localized.

When your company is targeting the Asian markets, your product must be double-byte enabled, another I18N process. The term "double-byte" describes how most of the Asian characters need to be specified by two bytes in computer operating systems. When your product needs to be localized for Asian cultures, double-byte enabling is a process in which your product is manipulated so that it is able to read Asian characters as opposed to letters of the alphabet. Double-byte engineers can identify where technical modifications could expedite the localization process. After this process is complete, your product is prepared for as many upgrades as you would like. Once a product is internationalized, it may be localized many times which can provide greater savings over the long run.

Why Localize?

According to the U.S. State Department, U.S. firms alone lose $50 billion in potential sales each year because of problems with translation and localization. For global corporations or those corporations trying to expand their markets, localization is essential to the success of a product in overseas markets. Most global end-users prefer to use a product in their own tongue rather than English, which to them is a second (or third) language. This process ensures that the product will not only be translated into the appropriate language but it will also be tailored to fit the local culture. In fact, a product that is localized well will appear as though it was originally produced in that country.

The localization process enables your company to enter new and growing markets and to compete effectively. In many countries, language barriers and nationalism preclude end-users from utilizing English-language software. For example, in China, the majority of the end-users are not proficient in English and require software that is written in Chinese. In Germany, most of the natives also speak English but they, too, prefer their software products to be written in German. These will have a better chance of competing against German U.S. "800" toll-free number that terminates in your office, for American/Canadian customers to call you.

Localization also enables your company to build credibility in non-U.S. markets. By creating a product in a country's native language, your company conveys a respect for the culture's history, customs and language. You also demonstrate that their business is very valuable to you and that you are dedicated to meeting the needs of all of your customers.

As the name implies, the World Wide Web provides the world with access to your company's home page. A multilingual Web site is a critical component of your company's international marketing strategy. Web site localization affords people from around the world the opportunity to gather information about your products and services in their own language. As in the localization of your products, internationalization and cultural nuances will play a role in the Web site localization process.

The bottom line is that localization can increase your sales and help you to tap into that lost potential. As your company gains valuable exposure, demand for your product, and ultimately your sales, will increase.

Localization Options
Depending on the scope of the localization project, you have a few language partner options: internal staff, translation firm, single language vendor (SLV), and multilingual vendor (MLV). Each option has advantages and disadvantages.

Internal Staff - Although your internal staff may already have a comprehensive knowledge of the product and its target market, your staff may also have additional responsibilities that would slow down the localization process. Your staff not only needs to be proficient in the specific language but they must also have an understanding of the cultural nuances. A student of foreign language may not have the skill for translation as does a professional, native translator. If your company decides to localize the product in additional languages, your staff would need to have the ability to translate several other languages as well as an understanding of the technical issues of localization.

Translation Firm - A general translation firm may provide a quality translation but it may not have the technical expertise necessary to produce successful localization.

Single Language Vendor - This type of vendor may have expertise in a specific language or market but project management may be difficult. You will be duplicating your efforts in terms of communicating with more than one vendor. As your company becomes more successful and your market grows, you inevitably will need to expand to other languages to accommodate the demand in other countries.

Multilingual Vendor - This type of vendor is considered a full-service localization vendor who will provide linguistic and technical expertise as well as international project management experience for as many languages as you need. Your MLV should be a partner that understands your global marketing strategy. Since they are the only vendor that will manage the project, this vendor must be chosen very carefully. During your selection process, you should: check the company's references, visit the production sites, research whether your vendor has experience localizing your type of product and discover whether or not they truly have the technical expertise to handle large products.

How to Conquer the Complexity of Localization

A successful localization project requires a balance of time, cost and quality. With preparation and communication, your company's localization process will be less complex. Communication is the key to maintaining this successful partnership with your language vendor. We offer the following tips:

Your Localization Partner

It is critical to establish a partnership with your localization vendor. The vendor should meet with you to learn about your international objectives, to discuss how to manage changes to your product, and to learn about your time- to-market deadlines. Because localization is complex, you need to feel as though you can rely on your partner's guidance throughout the localization process. Once you hire an expert in the industry, you should take advantage of their resources and experience to get the most out of your partnership. Ultimately, your localization partner should have a true understanding of your return on investment objectives and goals.

Product Planning for Localization

It is important to plan for the multicultural aspects of your product right from the start. While designing your product, your developers should be cognizant of cultural allusions and regional colloquialisms that may not be easily localized. Writers, marketing planners, technical and graphic artists, programmers and all members of the production staff should be informed at the beginning that the product will be utilized by a multicultural audience. Also, it is most efficient to identify and resolve internationalization issues at the development stage of a product.

Designate an In-house Project Manager

To ensure a smooth process, an in-house person should be designated to oversee the localization process. Due to the complexity of the procedure, localization should not be assigned as an additional responsibility to a staff member but rather it should be his only responsibility. Since the localization process requires the reviewer to filter changes, review the process and maintain open communication with the vendor; it is a full-time commitment. This is true especially if your product is complex and you plan to localize into more than one language.

Monitoring Changes

In most cases, the vendor is not translating from a final or finished, English-version of the product but rather from a beta version. Therefore, the company is constantly making changes and updates as the vendor is executing the localization process. To avoid wasted time, the company should schedule its updates in advance so that the vendor may anticipate and plan for the modifications. The company also needs to clearly identify any changes that need to be made. Your in-house project manager will be instrumental in the communication process as the main point of contact with your partner's project manager.


>The company also needs to designate a third-party reviewer, such as a distributor, to review the localized product. You should inform the reviewer of the amount of time and work the process will entail so that he has realistic expectations. If the reviewer doesn't respect the company's timeline or identify his proposed changes clearly, the localization process can be held up and the final product may be late.

Sequence of Events

The sequence of events is also crucial to a smooth localization process. The ideal is that the vendor localizes and gets approval for the UI first. Once that is complete and the translation style has been approved by the company's reviewers, the vendor will be armed with the specific terminology to be used in the localization of the help, documentation and accompanying screen shots.

Generally, the UI is the gating item. The faster you review it and abide by the schedule, the better able your vendor can meet their deadlines. If the company chooses to review UI, help and documentation at the same time, they will have to review screen shots taken from software that has not been approved yet. If the company then decides to make changes, they will have to be made to these three elements. As a result, the vendor may possibly be repeating steps already taken such as retaking screen shots. It is also important that the changes are clearly identified so that the process will move more quickly.

In some cases due to scheduling pressure, you may choose to review the entire product before the UI is final. In this case, be aware that if the terminology changes, the vendor will have to go back and change the screen shots. As a result, there may be an extra cost incurred and it may affect the schedule and deadlines.


Since only the new material needs to be localized, the localization process for product upgrades can be completed in a shorter amount of time. To ensure the timely execution of the project, it is important to identify the new or modified portion of the product. By doing so, the vendor can translate and insert the specified information into the existing localized product. Since the vendor will not have to translate the entire product, your company will reap the benefits of a great time and cost savings. Please note that if changes are scattered throughout the product, it will be harder to leverage existing material.


When choosing a localization vendor, you should inquire about the translation memory tools that your vendor uses. Some vendors will only use specific tools while others may be willing to use the tool of your choice. In addition to being adept with most tools on the market, International Communications offers the services of its own open architecture translation memory technology, ForeignDesk┘. Through propagation and leveraging, this suite of tools saves your company time and money in the localization process. Propagation, or the recycling of duplicate material within a project, generally achieves a 5% - 20% savings in localization costs. Leveraging, the recycling of duplicate material from one upgrade to another, can achieve 10% - 95% savings.


The company should also be prepared for any unforeseen issues. When making the announcement about the release of a product or its new version, the company should be in contact with the vendor to ensure that the timing for the release is realistic.

By taking the time to understand all of the elements of localization, you will help to make the localization process faster and easier for your company. Choose an experienced vendor carefully and get ready to welcome your new overseas customers.

Copyright © 1997 International Communications, Inc. For reprint permission or other localization information, please contact Julie Layden at

Reprinted with permission from International Communications. Written by Julie Layden, Senior Marketing Associate.

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