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  • Writer's pictureRick White - Director of Client Services

What you may not know about translation, localization, and globalization

Translation isn’t interpreting, interpreting is a subset of translation.

Localization is not a buzzword, it’s a deal-killer (if you don’t get it right).

Globalization is not a nefarious scheme for world domination.

All of these things are unifiers, not dividers.

In 2016 an estimated 47% of humans on the planet had Internet access. As of June 2018, that number had jumped to 55%. The majority of them primarily access the web on mobile devices.  In 1993 the European Union was formed with 6 member countries, it now has 28 member countries whose borders with each other are effectively non-existent. It takes less than a second to send an email across the planet. You can buy or sell almost anything, anywhere, instantly, including securities.

So, if we’re so connected, where are the boundaries and barriers? One looms large: Language. A person in a place where they cannot speak the language and where no one knows their language is a stranger in a strange land. This barrier is not invulnerable, in fact there is a massive effort to bridge it with technologies like neural machine translation, that promise a Star Trek-style universal communicator device. Yet language remains a blocker for many. This is where our three buzzwords come in. And why I made that distinction between translation and interpreting.

Interpreting requires a third party but it can’t scale

We’re in the translation business. When I tell that to people they typically have two responses:

  1. What do you translate? The correct answer, simplistically, anything and everything. Which leads to the other reaction:

  2. You mean you do interpreting? We do but it is not our primary business. Our primary business is translation in general.

Interpreting is translation in real time, whether it is in person, over a call, or to a room full of listeners. You know those people that translate spoken words into sign language at events? They’re interpreters. So are the people behind the scenes who simultaneously translate into dozens of languages at United Nations meetings. Ever wonder why representatives wear headphones at these events? They’re getting a feed of what’s going on in their native tongue. And that is a costly and difficult process to manage. It won’t scale beyond that level.

Translation scales

When we translate a document, video audio track, training course, or any other written content, it can be distributed to hundreds or thousands of people, effectively in seconds. And it will be accurate, both in meaning, and in cultural context, because we have a rigorous review process in place to maintain quality. Otherwise, if you order a translation into a language you don’t know, how would you know if it is any good?

The point of this is that translation is a discipline that breaks language barriers, and it’s scalable.

Localization humanizes

To quote our Translation Basics Guide:

“Translation is the literal rendering of content from its original source language to a target language, i.e. English to Mandarin Chinese. Localization is the adaptation of that content to the culture of the target language, so that it makes sense in their context. These processes can be separated, however the reality of most situations is that they go hand in hand. Effective translation and localization are necessary to ensure a quality translation that reflects the original intent of the content.”

In other words, localization helps bridge cultural gaps that literal translation may fall into. It humanizes the communication between one culture and another, whether it’s a marketing brochure or a tractor manual.

And then there’s globalization…

Let’s see what Merriam-Webster makes of this controversial term:

“Definition of globalization

: the act or process of globalizing : the state of being globalized especially :

the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets”

Because globalization often reflects the breaking down of barriers, it represents a threat to some and an opportunity to others. For those who are threatened, it foreshadows a loss of cultural autonomy and uniqueness. For those who embrace it, it represents the opening of those barriers. Not surprisingly, the negative connotation is often political and/or cultural, while the positive version often represents the view of business. This conundrum is where these three terms intersect:

Translation communicates across language barriers, in a scalable manner

Localization helps retain and respect cultural uniqueness

Globalization, good or bad, is facilitated by these communication processes.

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