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Technical communicators are faced with several choices when generating documents for an international audience:
1) They need to do something and change the document before the product or service can be offered to the international audience.
2) They either need to GLOBALIZE the product or LOCALIZE it.
3) The choice made in the above step will have different implications for the document and will require different changes.
Here is one very important distinction that all technical writers should keep in mind:
- GLOBALIZATION requires Cultural Sanitation.
- LOCALIZATION requires Cultural Adaptation.
GLOBALIZATION requires cleaning up your document from all cultural references so that the document in effect becomes “cultural-less”. This, for example, would be stripping away all metaphors and idiomatic expressions from your language that would not translate accurately (or at all) to another language. The purpose is to make sure any user from any cultural background would be able to understand the technical directions accurately, at the first reading.
LOCALIZATION, on the other hand, means TRANSLATING the original language of the document (e.g., English) to the local language in such a way that original cultural references would be replaced by local cultural references and expressions that carry the same meaning. This is a more difficult process that requires intimate knowledge of the target language and culture.
For example, imagine you have a BULLETED LIST of configuration items, preceded by an introductory sentence that uses the idiomatic English expression “figuring out.”
To GLOBALIZE this list, it is necessary to replace the expression “figuring out” by a more non-idiomatic expression like “discovering”, “solving” or “finding”.
However, to LOCALIZE, you need to go beyond that and remember that bulleted lists are frowned upon in some cultures. Thus in addition to simplifying the language, you also may have to re-format the whole list and use another format to gain the trust of the local users/readers.
Keeping in mind the substantive differences between these two approaches will help you make better project decisions in advance as technical communicators and managers, and thus save you time, effort and money in the long run.
Globalization vs. Localization Resources
A Practical Guide to Localization
Localization: A Global Manifesto
XML Internationalization and Localization
The Culturally Customized Web Site: Customizing Web Sites for the Global Marketplace
The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market
Enabling Globalization: A Guide to Using Localization to Penetrate International Markets