How Do You Write for Localization?

What does it mean to write for localization? We live in a global world, and that means we need to do more than translate content for other audiences.

What is a global world? It’s a world where your target audience may look, sound, and even think differently than it used to. They don’t just need your website translated into another language because they speak a different language. They have different expectations. A different cultural background. They need information localized to them, not translated.

What Changes in Localization?

Take for example, a hospital in Massachusetts. They used to cater to a predominantly white, English-speaking population. Now they have a fairly large Hispanic population. What does this mean they need to change?

  • They can translate the website to Spanish.
  • They can update content to account for how different cultures understand the industry. Do they understand healthcare in the same way? Do they need different resources, different images, or different explanations?
  • They can change their services to meet the needs of the culture. Does this population look for the same health-related things that the old population did? Are they looking for things the hospital is capable of providing, such as a separate portal or more in-person opportunities for communication rather than phone? What might they need from a higher level, beyond what the hospital can control? (i.e. is the US health system’s requirements supporting them)

I used to struggle with the idea of creating new content for different cultures. I thought we should focus on translation, but provide the same content.

A Localization Example

My mind was changed by the Cosmonautics Museum in Moscow, when I saw four paragraphs of description in Russian, followed by a single paragraph in English. A bit indignant at how I was being shortchanged, I asked my Russian-speaking friend to tell me what I was missing. But what I was missing was actually a lot of details about Russian people I had never heard of and didn’t particularly care about.

A translation from the Cosmonauts museum, an example of localization

Was the translator merely lazy, and cut all but the highlights for the American tourists? It’s possible. But I realized in that moment that as an American tourist they had given me the exact to-the-point style information I wanted. This is localization.*

All of our audiences deserve localization. We need to consider how they expect information to be provided, and what they want to know. It improved the user experience of the museum. Just think what it can do in industries like healthcare.

*Whether intentional or not is another matter.

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