Helping international audiences understand a message is the central purpose of cross-cultural communication. In order to do this effectively, technical communicators need to prepare documents with their audience in mind. Typically, when preparing documents for international audiences, communicators either globalize their message, or they localize it.
As Ugur Akinci wrote in an article about globalization and localization, the difference between these two methods is as follows:
- GLOBALIZATION requires Cultural Sanitation.
- LOCALIZATION requires Cultural Adaptation.
To globalize a document, a communicator must “sanitize” the document by removing cultural references, idioms, metaphors, and language that won’t translate well into another language. Typically this is a cheaper option, but the downside is that this method can create a document that is boring to read.
Localization requires communicators to translate documents in such a way that cultural references are understandable and specific to the target audience. This can be a difficult and expensive process since a document can have audiences that speak dozens of languages. However, this method will create more readable documents
Which one should I use?
When choosing between these two methods, it’s important to consider the audience and situation. How important is your document? Is it just a brief set of instructions? Or is it a manual that will be referenced repeatedly? If it is a very important document, perhaps it will be worth the time, effort, and resources to localize the document, especially if your target audience speaks one language (e.g., an operation manual for a product that is exclusively sold in Germany).
Meanwhile, if you have a simple set of instructions for a cheap watch to be sold worldwide, expending resources on localizing the document is not worth it. It would be better to globalize it so translators will have an easy time preparing it for the target audiences.