What's in a Term? When it Comes to Localization, a Lot!

Aug 22, 2016


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Article ImageExecuting content globalization is about dealing with a variety of details. Performance and success depend on how successful such details are addressed. Content creators sometimes consider terminology to be a low-level task or detail. They should never do so. One wrongly used term can damage the effectiveness of content for some time. While it is quite easy for anyone to spot a terminology mistake as far as spelling or meaning, it actually goes deeper and further than an obvious glitch and spoils critical touch points in the digital experience.

Formalizing, managing, and mastering terminology for one market is a challenge. Doing it in multiple target languages and for several locales can drive many people crazy if not included in globalization blueprints and roadmaps from the outset. It has to be scoped, defined, and structured to ensure accuracy and consistency of terms across any type of content ranging from user interfaces to digital properties or user documentation. Here are a few considerations and guidelines that should help globalize terminology effectively over time.

Institutionalize and Maintain Source Terminology Relentlessly -- Whether it is in English or any other source language it must be known and used by everyone referring to the same meaning within the same context(s). If there is no common and safe ground for terminology to begin with there will be none for localized terminology subsequently. And of course native speakers are going to be confused as well.

Focus on Actual Terminology -- Some content owners or creators defining terminology may start with too much to incorporate in an official list of terms. Some vocabulary may have to be included if it is context sensitive and dependent. This may apply to common names, verbs, or adjectives. However, terminology should remain focused on terms that are specific and matter most of all during terminology efforts. A wise start needs a wise choice.

Care for Accuracy and Consistency at All Times -- Accuracy defines variances that may be necessary or acceptable to use terms in a certain context to remain meaningful and fluid for users. Consistency has to ensure that terms with the same meaning in the same context are not mixed with others. It is easier said than done as both criteria have to be balanced. Bear in mind the same term may appear in a number of content items. Therefore any modification or mistake affects several areas of your products and services. Digital ecosystems make it easier than before to keep this under control.

Leverage Technology Whenever it Adds Value -- As the amount of content grows and the number of channels available to customers increases, using one of the terminology management tools on the market place is likely to add much value. The time when a list of terms in Word or Excel was good enough is mostly over. As terminology has to be shared, kept alive, and enforced, technology brings benefits in that area too. Ideally it should be connected or integrated with a content or translation management solution. It could be used a standalone tool as well as long as it is accessible to all content owners who are authorized and assigned to maintain terminology.

Elevate Terms as More than Words -- Attributes enable us to categorize terms but also to explain why they are different and how they are actionable. Words need definitions. Terms need definitions and guidelines. So definitions should come together with information regarding context sensitivity, examples of use, alternatives, synonyms, spelling rules, or capitalization conventions. For example highlighting the degree of sensitivity helps group or link terms per type of content, client, product, or project. It is also another good opportunity to tap into the power of international personas

Localize Terminology with the Appropriate Level of Granularity -- As creating and maintaining multilingual terminology are significant investments both activities require a sensible approach. One list of terms per language may not be enough. You may have to set up glossaries per market, product, or segment of customers along the way. For instance one glossary in Spanish is likely to miss targets as the use of some terms has to be discriminated between Spain and Latin America, and between various Latin American markets. Decisions must be made regarding the opportunity or the requirement to localize terms, or keep them in the source language. This applies especially to brand and product names, as well as to labels in localized user interfaces. In some countries localizing such terms may be counterproductive according to local experience standards and content branding objectives, whereas not localizing may simply not be customer centric in other markets. It is about getting the balance right.

Some people may still question the fact that terminology is not an after thought and glossaries turn out to be great business assets globally. Plenty of misused and ambiguous terms are there to convince them and put rationale forward again. You can see good (or bad) examples all around you. Let's think about brand names that are translated into another language without checking first, or generic terms in any language, which generate confusion and hesitation in the mind of potential or existing users.  Finding painful cases of such details making or breaking customer experiences does not take long. The mission is to avoid joining the series of examples.

(image courtesy of Shutterstock.)