Enough jargon, anyone?! These terms all look so similar. And they’re often misused or used interchangeably. But they refer to distinct concepts both within and outside the language industry. So what is the difference exactly? Don’t worry, we’re here to define and differentiate. We’ll sort it out once and for all.
Globalization vs internationalization vs localization: as processes
Let’s start with globalization and internationalization. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to distinct concepts.
In the language services industry, globalization “refers to a broad range of processes necessary to prepare and launch products and activities internationally” (GALA). As well as multilingual communication, it also includes processes and policies such as those related to international trade and international marketing efforts.
Meanwhile, internationalization is the process of designing or preparing a product or service so that it can be adapted to a specific market (GALA). In the case of software, this includes things like ensuring that it can be adapted to read right-to-left or left-to-right, depending on linguistic requirements.
Next up: localization. Localization is the actual adaptation of the product or service to the targeted market(s) or locale(s). It can include translation but also considers whether other elements need to be changed to work in the target culture such as images, icons, colors, and more.
Based on these definitions, you could say that internationalization prepares the ground for localization, while localization helps companies achieve globalization.
Internationalization vs glocalization: as approaches to business
Just to confuse matters, outside the language industry, the term internationalization is used differently, and some businesses may have internationalization strategies. So what is an internationalization strategy? It’s a business’ plan for expanding into new international markets. Many see this type of internationalization of business as a more traditional way of working in foreign markets (Business to You, Business Jargons). It involves standardization, a one-size-fits-all approach to doing business internationally, where there is no or little adaptation to different locales.
But this method often doesn’t meet the expectations of today’s consumers. As internationalization has fallen out of favor, glocalization has taken its place. As Investopedia explains, glocalization “is used to describe a product or service that is developed and distributed globally but is also adjusted to accommodate the user or consumer in a local market.”
Translation vs localization vs transcreation: as services
We’ve already touched on localization, but looking at it more as a process. What about as a service? And how does this differ from translation? What about transcreation?
Translation involves translating words from one language to another. It’s often part of the localization process. Let’s apply this to some software. If we’re looking to sell French software to the Japanese market, we’ll need to translate the text of course, but we may also need to make other changes. This could include things like icons or colors that aren’t culturally appropriate or don’t resonate in the Japanese market, as well as the date, currency and address formats, and text direction. It’s these other elements that fall under the localization umbrella.
However, you can have localization without translation. Let’s imagine that software was first created for the US, and now the company wants to sell it in the UK. The language itself won’t need to change. That said, a glocal approach would argue for the text being adapted to ensure spelling, cultural references, and even the tone chimed with the UK audience. But either way, those miscellaneous aspects we mentioned earlier, including date, currency, address formats would need to be changed within the localization process to accommodate British norms.
You can also have translation without localization per se. For instance, let’s imagine we’re translating some informational leaflets about Coronavirus into Polish for Polish speakers living in the UK. In this instance, references to the UK’s National Health Service wouldn’t necessarily need to be explained or swapped for a Polish equivalent.
To some extent, transcreation is the new kid on the block. Or at least the word itself is relatively new. Transcreation is an extremely free form of translation. It (normally) involves translating words from one language to another, but it’s much more than that. It takes into account cultural references, norms, and expectations, so in that respect, it’s similar to localization.
But where transcreation really differs is its aims. One of the key ones is to recreate the intent of the message for the target audience. This could include encouraging them to buy a specific product, subscribe to a mailing list, or download an app. But as well as convincing the audience to complete an action, part of it may be inciting them to think or feel a certain way about a brand. Transcreation combines translation and cultural knowledge with marketing principles. It often involves a detailed brief, tone of voice guidelines, and sometimes audience personas. Typical examples of transcreation include advertisements, slogans, and taglines. There may be wordplay, puns, alliterations, or onomatopoeia which need to be recreated or compensated for in some way. There’s often an image or visual aspects that need to work in conjunction with the text.
To sum it all up…
All these concepts relate to different ways of doing business internationally. In fact, you can put them on a continuum, as you can see below. On one side we have the glocalization approach to business, while on the other you have internationalization. The top half of the diagram indicates where the different language services we’ve mentioned fit into the picture.