Overcoming the Language Paradox

How to elevate localization within your business

By Pascale Tremblay


hile language is everywhere and connects everyone, it is sometimes viewed as the least valuable asset within a business setting. This is what I call the “language paradox.”

Recognizing that language is often undervalued in a business is not new. However, this awareness presents a significant opportunity for language professionals to elevate language as an essential asset.

Localization professionals are uniquely positioned to contribute their expertise in implementing structured processes in language business operations. With the growing availability of language AI tools, it becomes crucial to establish structured workflows for processing all languages, including content expertise review, quality assurance, and stakeholders’ input. Language professionals can play a pivotal role in uniting content creators, copywriters, and localization teams and in developing a transformational approach to operationalizing languages into a business environment.


Why localization is undervalued

The significance of language as an instrument for interlinking human beings and their experiences is overlooked as language-related tasks are relegated to mundane roles and perceived merely as routine components of occupational duties. Notable exceptions to this are roles such as copywriters and communication specialists. Yet, it is within the framework of a localization infrastructure that we observe the stark disconnect from language within an enterprise.

In a mature localization program, there is a strategic effort to interweave content components — to connect every part of the whole — for a seamless and holistic language experience. Localization teams invest considerable time and resources in quality assurance, managing glossaries, and creating style guides. They strive to ensure that these assets cover not only targeted content, but also the entire content ecosystem to leverage terminology across all functions and constantly provide a coherent, practical cost differentiation.

But why is it still so challenging for localization teams to bring a holistic approach to content? And more importantly, why is it so difficult to show the vital role of languages in the company’s success?

There is a prevailing attitude that harmonization of the source language, typically spoken by the majority of the employees, will happen naturally as a matter of course. Additionally, teams writing content in the source language have an inherent advantage given their alignment with the majority of the market reach. They are not under constant pressure to demonstrate ROI or justify productivity through higher output at lower costs. While there are brand terminology guidelines and glossaries in source languages, most departments within an organization don’t leverage language with process efficiency and cost differentiation as a goal. Language, as an intellectual asset that every human can leverage to do their work, is so obvious for the speakers of the source language that it becomes invisible and intangible.


A new approach to elevating localization

The language industry has consistently faced challenges in clearly demonstrating the vital role of localization and globalization in achieving corporate success. Until now, the industry’s approach has been advocating for the necessity of localizing content and tailoring products linguistically to cater to the diverse requirements of customers across global markets. This approach, while valuable, has remained relatively static over time, and the vital role of localization has remained under the radar.

However, as enterprises continue their digital transformation, the integration of language technologies into core enterprise ecosystems is providing new paths for localization to grow in significance within the organization. In fact, localization is increasingly expanding on a dual path of language proficiency — i.e., translation and transcreation — and language capabilities — i.e., content enablement at scale through a language technology stack.

This transformation is incredibly important for the following reason: within the core ecosystem of an enterprise — no matter how many languages are being translated — a failure from the language technology component creates repercussions across the entire ecosystem. Therefore, to ensure viable workflows, not only is it now necessary to partner with localization, but it is also an opportunity to gain visibility within the enterprise.

The question now is how we can effectively convey the transformative potential of AI to those at the helm of enterprises, and thus become agents of change. Solving the language paradox by integrating and operationalizing all languages into a unified and holistic ecosystem will allow us to leverage and scale the benefits of emerging technologies faster and set language assets as a competitive advantage.

Pascale Tremblay is a Seattle-based global strategy consultant with experience empowering organizations to enable their fullest potential. Previously the director of localization at Gap Inc., Tremblay now advises and develops language capability initiatives for growing companies, including organizational development, strategy, and technologies.


Related Articles