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When you publish your documentation around the world, translation and localization need to be a priority. Otherwise, your content is no better than babbel. 

The tower of Babbel is an old Judaic story. In this story, there was only one language, and humans were able to do anything they put their collective effort towards. In this case, humanity wanted to build a tower so tall, and so grand, that it would upstage God himself.

God, not being a fan of this plan, snapped innumerable languages into existence and caused confusion among the builders. The humans, unable to communicate, left their work behind and scattered based on their language.

Dramatic, isn’t it? The takeaway hits home.

This story, in addition to providing some anti-Babylonian-propaganda, offered a stark picture of the impact of language barriers. The purpose of the content you create is to be useful to users in every language you serve. You want them to achieve the same goals. With one language, that wouldn’t be difficult, but we don’t have such a fantastical luxury.


Language Is Crucial To Learning & Customer Experience

Your product is meant to be something useful and your content is there to help people become proficient at using it. The instructions that, you hope, guide readers to understanding your product clearly have to do that in more than one language.

Good translation takes a great deal of work and, because it’s often treated as a publishing afterthought, we see passable translation. Instead of displaying the care we have for our content in its initial publishing language, it displays a half-hearted translation effort. 

Exceptional content should remain exceptional regardless of the number of languages it’s translated to. We’re not here for passable translation. This means that we need to understand our content delivery goals, and to do that, we need to fully grasp the difference between translation and localization.


Translation & Localization: Similar, But Not The Same

It might seem like we’re splitting hairs here, but the two hold important differences that make them unique. 

    • Translation: This is when you take content in one language, and turn it into other languages such that the meaning remains the same. 
    • Localization: This goes deeper, translating meaning into other languages as well as adapting idioms and idiosyncrasies that are unique to different cultures and locations.

Basically, translation relays equal meaning between different languages, while localization makes sure that meaning is conveyed in ways that are contextually applicable despite more particular linguistic differences.

Where translation is, shall we say, the technical side of switching words from one language to another, good localization is music to your ears. 

Take the Polish expression, “Słoń nastąpił ci na ucho?

It’s an idiom that’s meant to inform someone that they have no ear for music. However, it translates literally to: “Did an elephant stomp on your ear?” 

While you might question the number of idiomatic expressions used in the content you’re developing, the example accurately depicts the difference between the literalness of translation and the contextuality of localization. Translation decodes words and localization gives meaning to their context.

They must work together to work best.


Create Content With The World In Mind

Gone are the days that English is considered the language of the internet. People around the world browse, interact, and consume content in their own native languages, which speaks to the importance of the care we take in translating and localizing the content we produce.

This goes far beyond merely getting the words right. When you develop content that’s built with an international audience in mind, you’re making a valuable investment in the people who will interact with it. 

No matter the language, the best message your content can send is one that you took the time to communicate with care.

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