The chances are good that by reading this you already know quite a bit about l10n, but if you’re scratching your head as you read this, it could be because you didn’t know that l10n is the numeronym for localization. Localization is not to be mistaken for the mere translation of words. It is a whole industry involved in the contextual adaptation of texts and it’s growing rapidly. As the number of internet users rises globally, so does the number of those interested in downloading the latest smartphone apps and localization is becoming ever more important. So, if you’re just starting to dip your toe into international waters, you’ll want to be armed with as much information as possible. After reading this article, you’ll know about all the l10n-related stats, facts, and data you’ll ever need.
Localization is a Big Business
Language related services make up a massive industry, with an annual growth rate of 5.52%. Despite technology merging global tastes and giving companies low barriers to market, the language frontier still exists. It’s very real and not going to change anytime soon. According to the Centre for Next Generation Localization, it’s the fourth fastest growing industry in the United States. Whether you spell it with a “z” or an “s,” by the way, is the very essence of localization. Tailoring your texts to suit your audience at all times. The total size of the global language industry was estimated at around $40 billion in 2016 and is expected to climb to some $45 billion by 2020. So, if you’re wondering whether you’re in the right industry, that should answer the question for you.
L10n employs a lot of people
It’s not easy to get an exact count, seeing as freelance translators may also work to some extent as localizers. However, the Common Sense Advisory, houses a database of approximately 18,000 language services providers (LSPs) worldwide. Furthermore, the EU Directorate-General launched a report in 2012 that found that around 330,000 people are employed as translators or interpreters globally. Some 78% of European translators worked on a freelance basis. In the US, however, over 3,000 language firms employ more than 55,000 language services professionals. When it comes to localization, it must be remembered that you need more than just a great translator to do the job. You need a localization manager, local marketing experts, skillful developers, UX managers, designers, and an efficient translation management platform. What does all that translate into? The fact that localization employs a lot of people!
You can’t sell in English to non-English Speakers
Common Sense Advisory research showed that if people can’t understand a website, they won’t buy products from it. They specifically studied individuals residing in different countries of the EU. The participants did not speak English. When presented with websites in English only, they clicked out of them faster than you could say “page loading!”. The study found that a massive 87% of them would not buy from an English-only website. Consumers simply aren’t confident enough to part with their money on a website in a language they can’t understand. Whoever helped to perpetuate the myth that the whole world speaks English has caused many global companies to fail at the international marketing game. Newsflash: not everyone in the world speaks English. Another newsflash: you’re not the only one in the market with an interesting product to sell. Your potential customers will simply click on a site that caters to their needs and speaks their language. Whether that’s a global competitor or a local provider on the ground. And it’s not only the words they need to see in their own language to instill confidence. You need to ensure that the whole user experience is pleasurable and feels natural to them. That means that you need to study how different colors work in different markets. What currency they use, the date and time format, weights, measures, images and so much more. If you blunder into new terrain with a monolingual website, you are gambling with your sales from non-English speakers.
Localization is not the same as translation
Call it localization, or call it l10n, whatever term you’re comfortable with, it’s not the same as translation. Many people get translation and localization confused. So, don’t be surprised if you need to explain the difference, client after client. Translating your software, website, or mobile app into the language of the country you want to do business in is a great start. But, it is only the start. You’ll need to have a team of people keeping an eye on pertinent details. Texts that are merely translated tend to miss the context in which the text is perceived. Just imagine you have a product page that sings the praises of a new car’s traction control in the snow. Now translate that message into Spanish for a Caribbean audience. The Audience is probably going to feel out of place in year-round heat. Worse still, when using that same page across all 22 Spanish-speaking countries and you’ll soon find out that there are big differences in the perception of the texts. People don’t speak a language in the same way, they don’t celebrate the same holidays or live in the same climate. They don’t have the same culture, ideals, beliefs, humor, or even purchasing preferences. You’ll need to research all of these under a microscope before expecting to gain a successful foothold on a foreign shore.
You Need a Lot of Space
Space may be the final frontier, but when it comes to l10n, it should be at the forefront of your mind. When it comes to designing your website or app, you’ll need to be obsessed with space. Just as any good designer knows the importance of letting a website breathe and not cluttering the design with too much noise. This concept needs to be vastly exaggerated when it comes to localization. Why? Because not all languages take up the same amount of space or read from left to right. Arabic, for example, reads backwards, from right to left. Japanese, Chinese and Korean, as well as other Asiatic languages, read vertically. If you haven’t left room for flexibility in your design, it’s going to break, look ugly and need some costly tweaks and fixes. So, consider your dropdown menus, CTAs and download buttons. Even languages that share the same alphabet can be deceiving. A simple phrase in English may take up just two or three words. But in French or Spanish, you may need several more. German can take up to 40% more space than English, so ignore this need at your peril.
L10n requires internationalizing your website
It’s best to plan for localization from the start by internationalizing your website. Of course, you can make major changes to your website later, but major changes tend to be expensive. Here’s another cool shorthand for you. Internationalization is commonly known as I18n. You’ll hear about I18n a lot as you move through your localization project, so it’s good to get comfortable using it.
When you internationalize your website, you’re essentially preparing it for other languages. This will make it much easier when you want to move into each new market. Leaving enough space, as mentioned before, is a key factor in your design. But, in I18n, your developers will really show their worth. They will get busy with valuable behind-the-scenes preparation to launch your international versions. Part of this will be about applying Hreflang tags to your URLs. These will let search engines know what language a certain page is in.
Unicode (UTF-8) is the real key to internationalization, though. You’ll need to make sure that your programmers are using it. Unicode is the industry coding standard to support different languages. It covers just about every language you can think of and assigns a unique symbol to each character, standardizing encodings across server and browser. 99% of compatibility issues are solved with Unicode. There are some very rare cases when you’ll need to use UTF-16, and that’s if you’re working with some rarer Asian languages.
Internationalizing your website isn’t only about your programmers. You’ll need a united team with everyone on the same page. A good translation management software will help you do this. You’ll need to explain to your translators how to work with strings and give them the work to translate in context. Your developers will then need to separate the content from the code and store it. This means that you won’t have to break your strings each time you want to localize for a new country. Internationalization of your website is a process and investment but will smooth the l10n process for you in the long run.
China is the most lucrative market and one of the hardest
95% of Chinese online shoppers will only use websites that are in their own language. So, why is it that just 1% of US retailers offer websites that are specific to China? China is the most lucrative app market in the word, with app revenue expected to hit $42 billion by 2020. However, it’s also the hardest market to crack. You have to comply with various standards to get through the great firewall of China. And you also need to tap into the psychology of a vastly different culture. Many international companies have tried and failed to localize for China. So, you’ll need to carry out ample research before deciding if this is a suitable market for you.
Carrying out a localization project requires a lot of research
Many companies have crashed and burned in their efforts to localize their message to different markets. Usually, it’s simply because of a lackluster effort and a poorly translated website. But, sometimes, it’s actually way worse than that. You really don’t want to become the laughing stock of a country because of a strange-sounding or off-point translation. Worse still, would be offending a local community because of inappropriate images or wording. So, getting help from local teams on the ground will prove invaluable when rolling out your localization project. Using local translators and marketers who can ensure you steer clear of cultural taboos is essential. They can also help you avoid costly lawsuits and comply with legislation. Remember what they say, failing to plan is like planning to fail. This has never been more important than it is with l10n right now.
Localization requires correct SEO and ASO strategies
You have a well-thought-out SEO strategy for your home market, don’t you? Well, you’re going to need to do that for your target market abroad and the respective localized versions as well. Localization is an awesome way of improving your SEO around the world, as long as you get it right. So, when you’re localizing your website for different markets, let’s say, for France, you’ll need to know what keywords and search terms French people use when looking for a product like yours. These differences are very noticeable, not only between languages but between different countries as well. Just think about the difference in accent and vocabulary between Brits and Americans. British people wear jumpers. Americans wear sweaters. British people go on holiday. Americans take a vacation. You’ll need to know these key differences so that your localized website doesn’t fly under the radar of web users. The same is true with your mobile app ASO strategy. You’ll need to make sure that you use the right keywords. The right app name, imagery, and translations from region to region, app store to app store are vital. You’ll also need fresh, local, relevant links pointing to your different language version websites.
L10n is dang hard
Maybe one of the most important things to know about localization is that it’s hard. Dang hard, in fact. Not only do you have a ton of languages and dialects to contend with, but you have the cultural and technical issues involved as well. You have to combine a team of people working all over the world with very different sets of skills. You have to be a master coordinator and wear a lot of hats. Localization pays off, its ROI is undisputed. But if you’re going to do it, you need to know how much work it’s going to take. Finally, just for fun, let me leave you with a few localization facts to ponder:
- There are 3.6 billion internet connections
- 77% of North Americans own a smartphone
- There are almost 7,000 languages in the world
- iOS users spend more money than Android users
- Nintendo experienced one of the most costly and exhausting localization debates in history with Pokémon Go.
- Distomo found that localized apps generated up to 128% more ROI than non-localized apps
- There are now 2.8 million apps in Google Play and 2.2 million in the App Store.
Many thanks for reading and if you want to know more about localizing your website, mobile app, or software, get in touch today!