Localization is real and widely used word but its meaning is not too easy to understand. With common sense it can be deduced that localization includes a refer to something local, near and close. Still the word localization is repeatedly used within the same context as globalization which has a strong meaning of something global or worldwide. So what does localization really mean?
Localization is more than translation. Translation and localization are easy to mix up. At the terminological level they are indeed very close to each others but a closer look reveals some clear differences. To point out the main difference I define translating as the function of replacing words in a piece of text from one language to another. This is quite a strict definition and I know there are also other opinions. Anyway, if we hold on to this definition, translation is product of mechanical word or phrase replacing work. Actually this is basically what most machine translators do.
Localization is less than rewrite. Machine translators are being developed constantly towards more localization oriented approach. Basically localization is sophisticated translation with the idea of rewriting the message with another language. If the task is to localize something, there should be excellent language skills and knowledge on the cultural environment. Let’s take an example: in English it is polite to say “you” to a stranger, but in Italian “tu” (ie. you) is not in line with the general practice. (If interested, “Lei” is the correct expression in Italian.) However, localization doesn’t mean that the whole text would be rewritten. There are always parts of text which can just be translated without any major considerations in most localization projects.
As a conclusion, localization is like translation but with a cultural twist and a rewrite attribute. Localization can be linked to globalization in a sense that successful globalization can be based on clever localization. Sounds confusing, right? Let’s take an example: A firm wants to globalize its business which means that it wants to do business also outside its home country. To achieve this goal it decides to start exporting its product to some country. If the product is a processed commodity, it probably has a package or a product description or at least a brand name. This kind of informational material should be localized properly so that all the potential customers could understand why they should purchase the product. Depending on the product, also the local legislation may require the firm to perform these localization actions. If the firm pays attention to the localization work, it improves remarkably its own possibility to succeed in the foreign market. “Think global, act local”, like they say in business world.