Every industry has its jargon — terminology that seems like a secret code to outsiders but is used frequently by people within the field. The language industry is no different.
As you begin planning a large language translation project, such as launching a new website to an international audience, it’s helpful to know the terminology so you can be an informed buyer and clearly communicate your needs.
For instance, many people use the terms “interpretation” and “translation” interchangeably when they are two specific services: Interpretation is spoken, while translation refers to the written word.
Here’s a breakdown of some common language translation lingo you’re likely to encounter in a project and how these functions work together to help you reach a global audience.
A common acronym in the language industry is GILT, which stands for “globalization, internationalization, localization and translation.” Each represents a specific stage in a project, and each stage builds off the previous one. Globalization and internationalization may seem like synonyms (and you may even see them used interchangeably) but they have different meanings. Here’s a closer look at each.
Globalization (sometimes abbreviated as g11n to represent the 11 letters in the middle of the word) is a wide-ranging process of conceptualizing and developing a product for the global marketplace so it can be sold anywhere in the world.
Globalization includes analyzing demand and product requirements in different markets, incorporating input from those markets, and developing a global marketing plan and branding campaign. For instance, a website launch would be one aspect of a globalized campaign to introduce a new clothing line in China.
The new line would need to be designed and branded to appeal to consumers whose preferences and purchasing habits may differ from consumers in the United States. This would likely involve extensive consumer research. Companies should be thinking in global terms as early as possible, even as part of the initial product design process, to pave the way for smooth internationalization, localization and translation down the line.
Internationalization (i18n) is designing a product to handle multiple languages and cultural conventions without the need for redesign, thus supporting localization.
For instance, some languages use more characters and take up more space than others. European languages read left-to-right, while Arabic, Hebrew and others read right-to-left. The design of a new website should accommodate these differences.
Paying attention to these international considerations before localizing and translating ensures you only pay for what you need and can even reduce other costs later. One software manufacturer found that nearly 50 percent of all support costs came from consumers in foreign markets who did not understand user manuals that were created for an English-speaking audience.
Localization (l10n) involves adapting a product for the language and culture of a specific market so it seems natural to the consumer there.
For instance, although the United States and the United Kingdom speak the same language, they use British spellings for words such as “colour” and “flavour.” Common sayings or phrases in the United States also aren’t widely understood in the United Kingdom. British men don’t have bachelors; they have stags. They wouldn’t drive a stick shift, but they might drive a manual.
In addition to language and dialect, localization involves changes to currency and units of measure, date and time formats, design choices and compliance with local laws and regulations. Just as important, any component that needs to be localized should be easily isolated from the components of the product that will remain constant across markets.
Simply put, translation (T9N) is converting written material from one language into another.
Translation forms the core of your project. While localization looks at the bigger picture of whether a particular paragraph makes sense in the cultural context, translation ensures each word accurately conveys its intended meaning.
As you can see, looking at globalization, internationalization, localization and translation in this order is like zooming out from a single tree — or even its leaves, representing individual words — to a view of the forest. From translation to globalization, each process builds off of the one before it, and all work together to ensure your communication with a global audience is culturally relevant and easily understood.
To learn more about these processes and how they are applied to a project, check out LanguageLine’s Guide to Translation and Localization.