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Translated or Localized? That is the Question.

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The translation industry is full of people claiming to be “translation and localization experts”. It is for this reason that a lot of people tend to think that the words “translation” and ”localization” are interrelated and in some cases, there are those who believe that the two words are synonyms. Although there might be a breath of truth in this regarding the fact that they are interrelated, there is in fact an incredibly great different between the terms. In light of this, it is also safe to say that not all offices claiming to be experts in the field of localization have the capabilities nor the resources to execute localization projects.

Translation is the process of expressing text that is written into one language into another, keeping not only linguistic but cultural aspect in mind. This regards grammar, language variation, style, terminology, layout, etc.

Localization has a much broader scope than language alone. Language is indeed a very important aspect of localization, but localization goes a lot further. Regarding text alone, one part of localization entails changing every aspect of product documentation so that it is appropriate for a certain country. On the one hand, this extends to currencies, weights and measures, dates, addresses, and phone numbers. On the other hand, it also consists of adapting marketing and cultural aspects to the customs and local requirements of a society with regard to factors including language style, graphics, and colors among a variety of other factors. In the case of technical products, even certifications and declarations to meet legislative criteria expected in the target region. In fact, if a text is not translated but instead localized, keep in mind that the source text may have to be changed completely to be more appealing or to avoid from being offensive.

However, localization (also known in the world of language as L10n) does not only have to do with documentation. It actually has to do with changing the entire product itself to meet the criteria required in the target region relating not only to linguistic, but also technical, cultural and business aspects. This can even go so far as to change the physical structure of the product itself. The “product” could be seen as a sub-product, such as documentation in the case of the above, but a “product” can also be a video game, a website, or even an electrical device, movie or a commercial.

If the difference is still unclear, look at some of the best examples of localization available. They can be found in just about every cartoon known internationally by children. In order to meet the cultural requirements of every country the cartoon plays in, the scripts are not just translated, but the names of characters, songs and even storylines are changed.

A great example would include the localization of the program Sesame Street, a popular American children’s program that is now shown in hundreds of countries. The popular characters, such as Big Bird, the Cookie Monster, Elmo, Bert and Ernie known by children in the United States have been replaced by a completely different set of characters such as Alberdo in Mexico, Bluki in Spain, Archie in Ireland, Boombah in India, Nac in France, and many others. Keep in mind that the names of these characters have not just been translated, but the scripts and storylines have also been completely changed to suit the target country. The localization of the program entailed a complete restructuring of the entire program and not just merely adding a dubbed translation to the existing program.

Very often, companies need translation of slogans and think that a mere translation is sufficient. In some cases, this is true depending on the exact purpose of the slogan in general, but in many cases, a localization of the slogan itself is required, meaning an entirely new slogan in the new language might have to be devised. Always keep in mind that translators are responsible for and trained in the field of translation and marketers on the other hand are professionals in the field of marketing. There are companies that pay thousands of dollars and more to marketing offices to develop slogans consisting of just a few words. In order to do this, products are segmented according to a specific target groups taking age, nationality, product placement, consumer availability into account along with several other factors. Although these slogans can be translated from a linguistic aspect for a different country, the target group changes. Therefore, merely translating the slogan will not guarantee that the slogan is just as effective for another region or culture.

Let’s have a look at the product 7UP, a popular soda. In many languages, including almost all European languages and even the Middle East, it retains the same pronunciation, or in other words the product name has just been transliterated and pronounced in the same manner as the original name. In Chinese however, it has been localized, and is referred to as qī xǐ (七喜), which is literally translated to”7 Happy”. Whether this was due to matters concerning facilitating pronunciation in Chinese or the local customs of a typical Chinese target group is unknown, but this product is marketed in China under this name.

So the next time you go global and have to internationalize your product, brand or slogan, ask yourself if you need a mere translation or if localizing is required. Be sure to ask your language service provider (LSP) what measures are taken with regard to the localization process to ensure that these meet your localization needs.

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