Kit Brown-Hoekstra on Localization and Her New Book

Edited by STC Fellow and former President Kit Brown-Hoekstra, The Language of Localization, is the latest book in The Content Wrangler Content Strategy Book Series. Visit for details and to purchase. Kit was kind enough to answer some questions about localization and editing the book.

James Cameron: Can you talk a bit about your background in localization? What spurred your interest in it as a career?

Kit Brown-Hoekstra: I’ve always been interested in other cultures and traveling. I took Latin and Spanish in high school and an anthropology class in college, but I was mostly a science geek. I fell into localization when I was working for a medical device company that needed to develop processes so that we could comply with EU regulations about localization. Dick Crum from Berlitz had done a fascinating presentation for the Rocky Mountain Chapter shortly before this happened, so I talked my boss into contacting him for some training. My boss made me the liaison between Berlitz and the tech comm team. It was a steep learning curve, but I was hooked. In my next job, I helped the doc team and the product development team develop a localization strategy. Then, I worked at Lionbridge for a couple of years, helping clients improve their English content so that it was more global-ready. I started doing presentations and workshops and managed STC’s International Tech Comm SIG for a couple of years. After leaving Lionbridge, I started Comgenesis, LLC so I could continue consulting in this area. I learn something new every day and get to work with people from all over the world. It’s endlessly fascinating.

James: The Language of Localization is structured around 52 localization terms that every business professional should know, with an essay and explanation for each term. What made you decide to structure the book in this way? Is terminology particularly important to localization?

KBH: This book is part of “The Language of…” series that The Content Wrangler and XML Press started. Scott Abel and Rahel Anne Bailie did The Language of Content Strategy a couple of years ago. Last year, Ray Gallon did The Language of Technical Communication. Brenda Huettner is working on The Language of Business Storytelling. All the books follow the same format, which Scott and Rahel came up with. The number 52 comes from the number of cards in a standard deck and because there are 52 weeks in a year. It forced us to really think deeply about what terms are crucial to understanding the field, as well as what terms are becoming more important with new technology and so on. In addition to the book, there is a website ( where we will highlight a term each week for the next year. The first book also had a deck of cards associated with it (flashcard-type cards).  Terminology management is critical to successful localization because it is a key component to ensuring accuracy and consistency. And, localization companies are generally more sophisticated about it than documentation teams.

James: What were the challenges involved in editing a book like this, even on a topic with which you have extensive experience?

KBH: The biggest challenge with this book was the cat herding involved. With 50+ contributors scattered across 24 time zones and with multiple opinions about what is important and how to present it, project management was challenging. We had a spreadsheet to track the status of each term and contributor contact so that we could keep track. Also, English is not the first language for some of the contributors, so my job was to help them get their points across in their voice while making sure the content read well.

Another challenge we had was technical. Luckily, Don Day (one of the fathers of DITA) was our tech support guy. We had varying levels of technical skill among the contributors, and they were dispersed all over the world. We needed a way that they could easily provide their contributions to a central database without having to know XML or DITA. Don came up with a wiki form interface that sat on top of a DITA engine. In the beginning, we had a few glitches (including losing 2 contributions that we had to ask the contributors to redo) and the system was a bit unstable. One of the challenges arose because we were reusing topics from previous books in the series. When we imported the content from the other databases, things went a little wonky and it took a while to figure out what was wrong (the usual issues with a version 1 tool). By the end, it was working pretty well.

James: The book is geared primarily toward practitioners and business. What value might academics working in technical communication and localization find in The Language of Localization?

KBH: Every tech comm student needs to at least understand the basics about localization because everything a TC does ultimately affects the cost and quality of the localized product. This book could be used as a supplement or a primer for TC students to start understanding localization concepts.

James: Do you have any advice for students, new professionals, and established technical communicators who are interested in breaking into localization?

KBH: Learn as much as you can about other cultures. Learn at least the basics in another language. Travel widely and explore the world. Be curious. Talk to your colleagues in other countries to find out what their pain points are. Ask how your content can be more global ready. Find out what your company’s global strategy is. Start researching and asking questions.  Examine your style guides, templates, tools, content, and terminology with a critical eye and ask how well it supports localization. Buy and incorporate The Global English Style Guide by John Kohl into your style guide and writer training. Subscribe to Multilingual and start reading localization blogs. Consider implementing controlled language. Find out who your localization vendor is and ask what their pain points are with your content. Get training or hire a consultant to help you do a content audit and develop a strategy. Some other questions include: What are markets are most important for your company? What are your competitors doing in these markets? What languages are supported? How do your processes and tools affect localization? Who is in charge of localization at your company? What is the biggest barrier to your customers outside your primary market? Is your user/customer journey the same in all markets? How well do you plan for and include localization when developing a product?


Thanks again to Kit for agreeing to answer these questions!

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