One of the greatest changes that has occurred in the field of technical writing over the last few years is the concept of globalization. This is a step beyond localization and a full two steps beyond translation. Let’s begin by defining the differences between these terms:
Translation is what companies have been doing for decades. Taking a document or an interface and converting it to another language. The same word structure, the same concepts, the same interpretation. What this means is that a manual that was written for the European market will be translated word by word for the Asian market, for the American market, for countries in Africa. Straight translation without consideration for the knowledge of the end user or how that end user will interpret the words. (An example of translation mistakes: 9 Little Translation Mistakes That Cause Big Problems).
Localization takes translation to another level. It is when a successful translator translates not merely the words, but the concepts from one language to another and more, from one society or culture to his or her own.
And finally, globalization. Globalization is, in many ways, the opposite of localization. Localizing means making the content more understandable to the local market. It means translating the content and the context for local consumption. Globalization means smoothing out the differences; it means writing something in a way that it is universally understood. It means avoiding euphemisms, idiomatic phrases, cultural references, and local nuances.
As we write for the internet, we are more aware than ever before that the audience we are reaching crosses all borders – physical, cultural, perhaps even economic. In a recent document that I reviewed, I saw the phrase “crystal clear.” How will that translate? I asked the writer?
Well, in Hebrew, that would be phrased using language that, when translated back into English, would mean “as clear as the sun.” But if you spoke to an English speaker and said that something was as clear as the sun, they would likely wonder what you were trying to convey.
While technical writers are often challenged with learning new tools, globalization presents a major shift in how we write, the words we use, the audience we address. Bringing globalization back to the area of translation/localization. Without question, the more careful we are to write language and culture-agnostic content, the easier the translation process will be.