Localization – noun - Adapting a software, document, or website product to various markets or localities so that it seems natural to that particular region. This may require a variety of steps including translating user interface text, modifying formats for numbers and dates, and replacing culturally inappropriate graphics or system design.
As you can tell from the official definition, localization is no small task.
What is localization?
In fact, the localization process is just one part of the larger internationalization and globalization processes, all of which must incorporate translation to some extent.
To understand this concept more clearly, imagine that you are a product manager for a new software application that is being pushed out to multiple international markets.
Your product development team likely assembled comments from distributors throughout the world whose customers requested new features for your yet-to-be designed software. Your marketing department has determined the global demand for such a product and has developed a global branding campaign. Your design team begins work on the look and feel of the software.
Here is where internationalization comes into play. You and your team must consider the following:
- Color schemes and graphic selection that avoids offending potential customers,
- Dialog boxes wide enough to accommodate text expansion,
- Functionality that supports various date, time, and currency formats,
- Input and output functionality that supports the various character sets (including double-byte characters for the Asian market),
- Right-justified text fields to prevent expanded text from overlapping the graphics, and
- A readily adaptable user interface to allow British customers to read from left to right or Arabic customers to read from right to left.
Selling your software to the customers in your new markets will likely require localizing the user’s manual, software, help files, and user interface from English into each target language.
This is a significant undertaking, in both time and money. Fortunately, proper internationalization may lower your costs and will increase revenue. One software manufacturer found that nearly 50% of all support costs came from consumers in foreign markets who could not understand English documentation and therefore compromised revenue. The translators need to consider the tone, register and resonance of the source text, then try to mimic that in translation in a way that sounds natural to the reader of the target language.
In much of localization, too, this is only the beginning. Besides the register and resonance of a target language, you have the considerations of the locale in which the translation will be marketed. Thus, for any target language, you could theoretically have many translations.
How does localization help businesses connect with their customers?
Today, companies of all sizes realize that they can grow, increase revenue, and maximize the return on their localization investment by communicating with their customers in their native language in as many different ways as possible, including:
- User manuals,
- Service manuals,
- Online help,
- Company websites (often featuring Flash intros, impact movies, and other multimedia tools),
- Virtual storefronts,
- Multimedia versions of Help (included with the product or as part of the software),
- Packaging materials (box art, labels, inserts, envelopes, etc),
- And more!
If the quality of the localization is good, consumers in every country where the product appears should be able to benefit from all written information about that product equally well.
The quality of the localization depends on the experience and expertise of the translator and the quality assurance steps that are taken.
The translators should provide native-quality work. Native quality means that the material, once translated, reads as though it was originally written in the target language. This usually requires the expertise of someone raised and educated in the target country.
Just as simply being bilingual doesn’t make you an interpreter, it also isn’t enough to make you a professional translator. So just what makes good a translator? A professional linguist will possess:
- Native fluency in the target language,
- A thorough understanding of the source language,
- Excellent writing skills, including a grammatical mastery of the target language and knowledge of various written forms and styles,
- Familiarity with current terminology in the desired field (experienced translators maintain extensive reference libraries),
- A working knowledge of the localization process,
- Access to appropriate tools, such as up-to-date computers, multiple software applications, and industry-specific software tools such as Trados, and
- An acute awareness of cultural differences and language subtleties.
With the quality of translation that a professional translator of that caliber can provide, combined with a well-planned and executed localization plan, businesses can easily connect to anyone, anywhere, at any time, with any message.
And that’s truly a powerful ability.
This article contains excerpts from The Guide to Translation and Localization: Communicating With the Global Marketplace, distributed by LanguageLine Solutions. Get your free copy below to further explore translation and localization.