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GILT-Internationalization, a right-brainer approach

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A.M.Sall photoAs a translator, i.e. a member of the GILT crowd, you must know what it is all about

In GILT literature, you will encounter the following: G11n, I18n, and L10n. They simply mean Globalization, Internationalization, and Localization respectively, taking the first and last letters of these words with the number of letters tucked in between. This is a way of making these long words short!

Of course, you know GILT means Globalization, Internationalization, Localization and Translation

The most difficult of this foursome is ‘Internationalization’, a conceptually difficult term, very ‘counterintuitive’ because it entails imagining a product or service in its abstract form.

I quote abundantly from the LISA Primer and then throw in a bit of my own ‘right-brainer’ stuff (incidentally, LISA means ‘Localization Industry Standards Association’. You MUST join this beautiful lady, if only as a free member - just go to and do it, as a matter of urgency).

Now, here goes:

“… internationalization is specifically enabling a product at a technical level for localization.

 …Internationalization primarily consists of abstracting the functionality of a product away from any particular language so that language support can be added back in simply, without worry that language-specific features will pose a problem when the product is localized.”

To ‘language”, I would add all other cultural, situational, environmental factors

You don’t ‘end-use’ an internationalized product: you just use it to make localized, usable versions of the product

Going beyond (or deeper than) the internationalized version would mean changing the very nature of the product, i.e. making another product

Internationalized version: what the product IS, irrespective of the target market, or the end-user (we never forget we are marketers), the very substance, the marrow

It is what makes the product different from - and recognizable among - other related products.

I. Now let’s look at 2 analogies

1. The Human Being v/s Great Apes

What makes a human being different from a chimp? What do ALL human beings have in common?

Finding an answer to these questions will give us what we could call the ‘internationalized version’ of the human being, with ‘localized versions’ based on ‘race’ (whatever that means), ethnicity, nationality, culture, etc.

As we can see, ‘internationalization’ is a conceptually difficult term, it’s very hard to grasp.

It’s like imagining a human being irrespective of his race, culture, nationality … and even gender.

(We all know this would be the key to ‘Universal Brotherhood’, but that’s another story)

Beyond the external, easily grasped aspect, we must reach the very ESSENCE

So, internationalization is both ESSENTIALIZATION i.e. moving inward and UNIVERSALIZATION i.e. moving outward and it can be said that

“essential = universal”, because deep inside we are all the same - a hard equation to swallow for many people

That’s why “Universal Brotherhood” is so difficult, because we sometimes find it hard to imagine what on earth we can have in common with “some people”, (but that again is another story…)

Admittedly, this is a very human characteristic, because we are all ‘born localized’ and we have to go very deep inside ourselves (and others) to discover we are essentially the same.

So, if you have a problem with understanding ‘internationalization”, just think of ‘what all human beings have in common’, or what marks us out as different from the Chimp!

2. Needs and Wants

‘Needs’ are the internationalized version of ‘wants’ or ‘wants’ are the localized version of ‘needs’

(Segmenting, personalization, customization are extreme forms of localization)

An example: “I’m hungry” (a need) could be localized into a countless number of different, even conflicting ways (wants), based on culture (including language), physical environment, history, etc.

“I’m hungry” can mean “I want a juicy, tender beefsteak”, which would be anathema to an Indian vegetarian

or “I want some nice dog meat”, in Korea

or “some sweet worms” in Amazonia

A Maasai friend of mine (East Africa) once told me he couldn’t imagine how a human being could eat fish! He found it quite repulsive

That’s cultural relativity for you!

Another example: you may NEED a browser but you certainly wouldn’t WANT to be presented with a Chinese version of Internet Explorer 7 if you can’t even read Chinese

Now, next time you feel somewhat confused by internationalization and localization issues, just think of the difference between “I’m hungry” and “I want a fat, juicy steak” - or the vegetarian version of this!

II. GILT and Prejudice

To ‘internationalize’ means to strip of all parochial prejudice consubstantial with the very act of creation, because the creator is necessarily rooted in his own culture, with all the attendant prejudices and presumptions, preconceptions and assumptions

The reason we have to internationalize existing products is that the product creator unwittingly - and quite naturally - created a localized version, due to his own cultural, economic, situational factors or should I say biases

Ideally, the product should have been born international(ized) to begin with

To put product creation back on its feet one should

1) first create an international version

2) then localize it for different markets

in the same way as all human beings spring from the same one and common ancestor, only to be later ‘localized’ into a variety of ‘races’

I’m a right-brainer, you see, so I try to steer clear of ‘geekspeak’ and always systematically reinterpret anything that sounds even remotely geeky

III. Commoditization

As a translator, you must be at ease with all these concepts as well as master the tools that go with them so that you can widen your horizons

This is also one way you will reach out to diversify your product (service), branch out into related fields and escape the much-feared ‘commoditization’ of translation services

Well, we’ll talk about ‘commoditization’ (or ‘commodification’ as Guerrilla Marketing Guru Jay Conrad Levenson calls it) one of these days 


35+ year veteran translator and marketer A.M.Sall now advises his younger (and not so young!) colleagues on how to proactively and strategically market their translation/interpreting services - and get all the results they want. Click here to visit his blog at Translator Power for advice, resources and opportunities.

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