Updated: Sep 11, 2021
Since I do something not everybody is familiar with, I thought I would explain what localisation is. So I googled "What is localisation?" to see whether there is a good definition out there. I have checked the first three pages of Google Search results and found over 13 different interpretations but not many I would agree with.
I share what I believe localisation is here. This post is an overview of what, I assume, most people unfamiliar with localisation come across when searching for an answer but should take with a pinch of salt.
Most of these definitions describe localisation as a process that involves some kind of adaptation, but there is no common view of what is being adapted, what it is being adapted to and for what purpose. The top seven definitions generally agree that localisation is about adapting a product.
The next few definitions gear localisation towards content adaptation but one takes a holistic view on localisation as something that comprises marketing, branding and design.
What is localisation?
Let's skip the broad definition by Oxford Dictionary that comes first and any paid search results, and try to understand what localisation is.
# 1. Localisation is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market (GALA)
This definition is also referenced by other sources that rank highly on Google which I have not included here. According to GALA, the aim of localisation is "to give a product the look and feel of having been created specifically for a target market, no matter their language, culture, or location". I disagree that this is what localisation is and what it would aim to achieve because: 1) the reason why a business needs localisation will always be specific to the business needs and satisfying those needs would ultimately be the aim of localisation, and 2) no one can tell for sure whether a product has a look and feel of being created specifically for a target market, because 'a target market' cannot judge how anything looks or feels.
# 2. Localisation is the adaptation of a product or service to meet the needs of a particular language, culture or desired population's "look-and-feel" (SearchCIO)
This is arguably the most confusing definition of anything and it raises more questions than it provides answers to. What needs can a language, a culture or a population have? What is a desired population? What is a 'look-and-feel' of a language, culture or population? How can the needs of a 'look-and-feel' be met? How is it possible that this definition ranks so highly on Google?
# 3. In marketing, localisation is the process of marking a product or service more suitable for a particular country, area, etc. (Cambridge Dictionary)
More generally, it is "the process of organising a business or industry so that its main activities happen in local areas rather than nationally or internationally". Both definitions seem fine to me, but you can see where we are heading—three sources provide us with four completely different definitions of localisation. Let's see what else it is about.
# 4. Localisation is the process of adapting a product's translation to a specific country or region (Wikipedia)
According to the author(s), who specify that this definition refers to 'language localisation', it is "the second phase of a larger process of product translation and cultural adaptation (for specific countries, regions, cultures or groups) to account for differences in distinct markets". Are you wondering what a product's translation is, whether language localisation is the localisation of a language and why you would need to adapt translation? I am also puzzled.
# 5. Localisation involves taking a product and making it linguistically and culturally appropriate to the target locale (country/region and language) where it will be used and sold (Ipsum Agency Ltd)
It does not really explain what localisation is, but it poses a couple of questions. What is a linguistically and culturally appropriate product? How can a product be used and sold in what is a combination of geographical area and language?
# 6. Localisation is the practice of adjusting a product's functional properties and characteristics to accommodate the language, cultural, political and legal differences of a foreign market or country (Business Dictionary)
Kudos for including political and legal aspects. They certainly need to be considered in localisation but not only, not necessarily and not specifically for the purpose of adjusting a product's properties and characteristics. Introducing double opt-in to collect email addresses of potential customers based in Germany is not directly related to product, but it is certainly related to what localisation is about.
# 7. Localisation is a more comprehensive process [than translation that] addresses cultural and non-textual components as well as linguistic issues when adapting a product or service for another country or locale (Venga)
According to Venga, localisation includes translation while addressing "other factors such as text length, local idioms, cultural references, measurement units, date formats, and page sizes". In the same article, they include an example where translation is not required but localisation would be used instead. So does localisation include translation? It really does not have to, but Venga's explanation does not make it clear.
# 8. Localisation is the adaptation of content to meet the needs of a specific culture, market or nationality (Attached + I Meet Hotel)
This one is close to the definition # 2 and I am more than convinced that no culture, market or nationality can have any needs. This definition does not help us understand what localisation is, what it does and why anyone would need it. Let's move on.
# 9. Localisation is the practice of translating and adapting your content and marketing materials to ensure they engage a particular foreign audience (Digital Crew)
This is the first definition that includes the marketing perspective, although it is quite short-sighted since the purpose of marketing content is not just to engage with an audience. I like the 'practice' instead of 'process', though, because localisation is hardly a process that follows specific steps and rules, especially considering that nobody so far seems to agree on what localisation is.
# 10. Localisation is translation taken a step further. Instead of just directly changing the words of one language to another, as is the case with translation, localisation uses local context to ensure translated content achieves the same objective no matter the culture (Copestone Marketing)
Firstly, translation is not about "just directly changing the words of one language to another" and I do not believe there is a name for such an activity. Secondly, translation does take local context into account. Thirdly, localisation does not have to include translation. Finally, what helps translated content achieve an objective no matter the culture is a brief for translators, not localisation.
# 11. In business and marketing, ‘localisation’ refers to the process of making a product or service more specific or appropriate ‘locally’ in a specific market (CEO Today)
The author(s) explain that, depending on the culture and country of the new market for which the product or service is being localised, this could range from design to translation to marketing and branding, and could also include changing the user interface or the package design.
I am not sure what the 'country of the new market' would imply and what a product or service would need to be in order to be 'more specific in a specific market', but I second CEO Today in saying that localisation can include (and I would add that it should consider) marketing, branding, design and language.
# 12. Localisation is the process of converting content or your message to the regional language of a country (Wordminds)
Wordminds also add that "localisation not only translates your content, but it looks at regional dialects to provide the exact meaning and wording that customers will identify with". Does it mean that localisation is translation into regional dialects? Would you use 'regular' translation to 'convert content' into the language of a country that does not have regional dialects? By the way, localisation does not translate, translators do, and people do not identify with meaning and wording.
# 13. Localisation involves changing how content or a product are presented so that they represent a certain target audience (NZTC International)
There is a typo in the original definition so I assume this is what the author(s) meant to say, but I cannot understand what it means and cannot imagine how that could be achieved.
Bonus: Localisation is a service which is often required when you are developing an app, a website, an online platform or a software interface, as opposed to when you’re writing a blog post, a product description or medical report (Greek to Me Translations)
Confusing, isn't it? The good news is that one definition of localisation is correct—the one that is shared by all your localisation stakeholders.
Whether you are just thinking about localising your product, service, content or brand identity, or you are already doing it, make sure that everyone involved in the process shares the same understanding of localisation and how it helps you achieve your objectives.
If you need help with defining what localisation should achieve for you and with ensuring that your localisation process gets you there, I will be happy to assist. Schedule a 20-minute discovery call or drop me an email to start a conversation.