Going Global – How to approach it and why it matters?
January 10, 2023

I18N, L10N, …, the Language Services (aka Localization, L10N) industry is not short of acronyms, but do you know what really happens with your content once you have decided to go global? Is it getting translated, localized or transcreated? Why does it matter and what is next in the industry? Let’s decipher this mystery together and place a few bets.

A few definitions first

Translation is the most basic service. To translate is to render a word or a sentence into another language. In translation the expectations is that there is a complete faithfulness of the “source” (the language of origin) to the ”target” (the language of destination); regardless of the context and intent.

Localization is the next step. To localize is to adapt content to meet the requirements of a particular area. In the context of internationalization it means that, on top of the act of translating, the content will be modified to fit its destination market. An example would be a currency change. A product labeled in US Dollars must mention a price in Euros if its destination market is the eurozone and/or consider other local specificities like capitalization, date and time formats, imperial or metric system, etc.

Transcreation is the equivalent of Couture for the Localization industry. It is basically copy writing into another language. The “source” is considered an inspiration for the “target” and the goal is to have a destination content that completely resonates with its audience; as if it were not inspired by another language (in most cases, English).

Some content will just need to be rewritten and created for a specific market. A good and harmless example I like to use is baseball. It is common to see references to baseball in movies or sales documentation. Allegories like “home run,” “bases loaded” or “kick the ball out of the park”  .. While these terms can be translated, they will make absolutely no sense to 95% of the world population; so even before thinking about getting global, it’s good to know if your content is suitable for exportation.

You can see it already, these processes vary wildly in terms of SLA and cost; but they also have deeper implications, such as how it will resonate depending on where it is accessed from: from intelligible to completely inappropriate or illegal, there are many pitfalls to be avoided.

Machine Translation – one of the first AI tools

Since the Internet has opened virtual borders in the 90’s, organizations across the world have jumped on the wagon of globalization and spent billions of dollars to make their products available outside of their home markets, fueling external growth and boosting revenue numbers beyond all expectations.

 As it has been proven repeatedly, and as supported by a (one of many) 2020 study of  CSA research, 76% of online shoppers prefer buying products in their native language; and as a result, one big part of the effort of going global has been destined towards internationalization of these organizations’ products (it is estimated that about 10% of a global company’s revenue goes toward internationalization).

Thanks to the R&D investment done in the early 2000s, the decade of 2010-2020 has seen the birth and expansion of Machine Translation (MT), allowing trillions of words to become accessible instantaneously and freely to people for whom English was not a native language, opening an infinite number of doors for knowledge, culture, health, but let’s be honest, mostly e-commerce content.

Despite a few famous PR hiccups, MT has reached a point where it is “good enough” for most types of contents. Some quick settings allow for a precise localization of the content, and we now read every day content that was machine generated or translated without noticing it; to the point where a “bad translation” remains the exception; and language accuracy, will slowly become a KPI of the past.

Don’t get me wrong though, before my L10N friends correct me, many types of content; like advertising or educational material, will remain hard to translate, especially for an AI; and SME translators will always be needed. But I digress.

The GenX gamer that I was accepted to play Zelda in English without understanding a single word of the UI nor the game; but the consumers of today, even at a young age, expect to have all types of content available in their native language.

So now that readily available localized content is a given and that the low hanging fruits have been picked, how will corporations captivate their audience and differentiate themselves from their competitors? What are the next KPIs for content?

What’s next?

Unsurprisingly, the last half of the 2010-2020 decade was dominated by MT. Corporations marveled at the undeniable savings both in terms of time to market and budget; and the Language Services industry adapted; creating algorithms and automations to harness the system in the most efficient way.

However, right about when the MT industry reached its maturity, new social governance awareness emerged, bringing (thankfully) modern concepts such as diversity, accessibility, gender neutrality and cultural appropriateness, to the core of their communication.
Corporations now face the challenge of not only creating appropriate content but also constantly reviewing all their existing and legacy content to keep up with the quick evolution, globally and locally, of the language and culture.

We believe that modern day brands should have content that reflects their social governance values across markets.

This is why acerca blends talent and technology to create bullet proof content that engages your consumers worldwide.

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