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The World’s Shrinking… Localization And The Foreign Language Web (Guest Post)

Posted by on Jan 19, 2010

This is a guest post by Christian Arno, the founder and managing director of Lingo24, a company that owns translation services. It’s a very interesting article, and I’m glad she’s asked to post it here. I hope you enjoy it, and comment if you can.

The world’s getting smaller. Not literally, of course, but in the sense that digital communications has helped bring down the barriers that time and space had inherently created. Thanks to the internet and affordable means of mass communication, we are closer than ever before towards living in a true global village.

However, there is still one remaining barrier: language. It’s unlikely that Earth’s six billion+ population will start speaking a single communal language any time soon, so this leaves global businesses with two options:

• Assume English as the international language of business

• Translate, localize and communicate in a language that international clients understand

The first option becomes rather redundant when you consider that three quarters of the world’s population speak no English whatsoever. So that means that localization is the name of the game for companies seeking to tap into new and emerging markets. To go global, businesses must think local.

Localization is the art of tailoring communications towards a specific cultural, linguistic and geographical group. It’s not good enough to simply consider the language alone – words can mean different things between, for example, the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish spoken in Latin America. The same applies to the French in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Canada. There’s even key differences between German (Germany) and Swiss German.

Similarly, seemingly trivial points can affect international communications significantly. The conventional way of writing ‘one million’ in English-speaking countries would be: 1,000,000.00. In many European countries, this convention is reversed, so in the likes of Germany, Italy and Denmark, it would be written as: 1.000.000,00. Some countries – such as France and Finland – don’t use any thousands separator at all: 1 000 000.00.

Closer to home, there are significant differences between US English and UK English, to the point where each dialect is often treated as a separate language within marketing companies. The last thing any international marketer wants is to assume that a colloquial term used in Scotland will be understood by their target audience in Texas.

The internet has helped bring equilibrium to the world of commerce. Businesses of all sizes can now ‘go global’ with little more than a networked computer and a touch of entrepreneurial savvy – big companies with big marketing budgets are now facing stiffer competition with small to medium-sized businesses getting involved in the international arena too.

And this can only be a good thing as increased competition normally means a better deal all-round for the customer. However, it’s worth remembering that a global mindset must go hand-in-hand with a local ethos. The customer is all that counts.

Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over a hundred employees spanning four continents and clients in over sixty countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated over thirty million words for businesses covering every industry sector and their turnover in 2009 was $6m USD.

I thank Christian for this article, and I hope y’all have learned as much about this topic as I have.

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2 Comments »

Glen:

Interesting and informative.

I happen to work in a Canadian city where a local business has been bringing in workers from all over the world.
Currently South America, China, Poland and some African nations.

What, if any, are the major languages spoken in the world.
.-= Glen´s last blog ..The Drink =-.

January 19th, 2010 | 5:57 PM

Hey Glen,
Here’s the top 5 major languages spoken in the world.
1 Mandarin (Chinese)
900 millions (native language)
300 millions (second language)
1,2 billion total
2 Hindustani
829 millions total
3 English
360 millions (native language)
720 millions (second language)
1080 million total
4 French
200 millions (native speakers)
400 millions (second language)
600 millions total
5 Arabic
185-200 millions (native language)
200 millions (second language)
480 millions total
Hope this helps.
Best,
Nora

February 4th, 2010 | 6:36 PM