February 2001

Going Global


Going global with your Web site, e-business, intranet, or extranet means more than just translating from English to multiple languages. Like anything worthwhile, more work is involved than you might initially suppose. Howard Schwartz tells us how to achieve globalization in his article, “Going Global-Hungry for New Markets,” in the September 2000 issue of Web Techniques. Fifty percent of Web users are from outside the US, and non-US Internet commerce is predicted to increase from 26% to 46% by 2003. Although many people speak English outside the US, English is the native language in only 8% of other countries. With an English-only Web site, you’ll be missing about half the global market.

At Web sites in the native language of users, visitors stay twice as long and are three times more likely to buy-a powerful incentive to go multilingual.

Schwartz breaks the globalization process into two parts: internationalization and localization. These words, he tells us, are “commonly” shortened to I19N (for the 18 letters between I and N) and L10N, respectively.

Internationalization involves re-engineering software to recognize and process different languages. Localization means the varying content, style, and language to meet the preferences of a local people and culture. Localized translations must use the correct dialect and terminology. Localization also means culturally adapting all parts of a product, including the user interface, help, and documentation. Local content may include changes in currency, taxes, measurements, and images and colors.

To internationalize, one must first consider all the back-end systems that interact with your site; can they handle various language character sets, currencies, and so on? Schwartz recommends using the new Unicode standard instead of ASCII. Unicode uses 16 bits instead of 8 and can handle many different alphabets, such as Korean, Hebrew, and Chinese. He also recommends keeping text in a separate, external file or a database so that the text can be translated more easily into all the languages you want to use on your site.

Judging by his focus on the subject, localization is by far the more complex process. First, Schwartz discusses machine vs. human translation: “Grammatically correct localized content requires human intervention.” (Schwartz, p. 56) This quote is one to embroider and put on the wall! It’s an axiom!

Schwartz recommends using repositories of multilingual content for repeated text, a single-source strategy. Multilanguage single sourcing means translating-and paying-once. Since translation costs by the word, single sourcing is a good way to save money.

To determine how much of your content needs localization, Schwartz separates it into categories: global, regional, and local. (Sometimes regional is local enough.) Some content, such as logos and trademarks, aren’t changed. On a regional level, product information, marketing materials, and site interfaces require changes. Local information may need to be written “from scratch” for a specific market. Market-specific items might include local office and management information, in-country promotions, and country-specific legal information. For the translation of localized content, Schwartz recommends using someone who has lived locally for some time. A fluent speaker who has been living elsewhere will be out of the loop on local details, new words, and slang. The localized content supply chain goes from the translators to Q & A, to legal review, and to cultural and marketing experts to ensure accurate and appropriate content.

Schwartz describes three methods of achieving localization. The first method involves using a localization house that subcontracts freelancers all over the world. Although the primary vendor provides a single point-of-contact, disadvantages might include less ability to track a project and maintain its quality and consistency. Freelancers may use different software, and different freelancers may be used on each job. Inconsistency in the translation of key concepts could result.

The second method involves using in-house translators. The advantages are increased control of content, tracking ability, and consistent translations. However, the disadvantage is in not using someone native to the area.

Schwartz’s third method, and the one he not surprisingly recommends, is an approach using a Web-based repository that allows for centralized control while sharing data with freelancers from all over the world. By using workflow software, work can be automatically routed to the next step in the localization process. CIDMIconNewsletter