In Translation/Localization

Have you ever visited a website where things felt out of place or just not relevant to you? If so, you’ve seen firsthand why localization is important, even if you didn’t know what it meant. It’s a little like visiting a foreign country without any preparation. Everything can cause confusion, from figuring out currency to navigating using unfamiliar signs, and symbols to just not knowing how to ask for help.

Many translation projects require a process known to the language industry as “localization.” The L10n (localization) process for a product, document, website, marketing material, etc. is just as important in the translation project as the translation of the words themselves. When content is properly prepared, L10n is an easy process. However, when companies don’t prepare their content for L10n or fail to consider global communication needs during the development stage, then the L10n process can be very difficult.

L10n Defined

Defined by Bert Esselink in his book, A Practical Guide to Localization, localization is the process through which content is made linguistically and culturally appropriate for the target locale (country/region and language) where it will be used and sold. It’s common abbreviation – L10n – comes from the 10 letters between “l” and “n” in “localization.” L10n is especially necessary for the translation of websites, software, and video games, as well as documents that have many graphics and/or are culturally specific to a certain country.

Let’s Explore a L10n Example

If you were an American company selling baseball equipment and wanted to sell your equipment in Germany, all you need to do is translate the English to German and German customers will flock to the website, right? Wrong. Why?

Well, first and foremost, baseball isn’t very popular in Germany. The players and fans are more a niche group. If your content presumes a large audience of devoted fans familiar with the sport and willing to spend money, it probably won’t be very successful with the general population in Germany. Instead, your content will probably need some L10n to resonate with the small but devoted German baseball fan population.

Beyond that, the logistics of your B2C direct sales website may not work the way you intend in Germany. Think of the payment page on the website as an example. The necessary information required in the American website (such as state, zip code, and phone number) is not applicable for someone buying your product in Germany. Pricing must be stated in Euros, not US Dollars. Even your warranties might need to be localized to conform with German consumer protection laws, which generally require a minimum two-year guaranty on products.

L10n Tips

The best way to prepare a product for L10n is to know upfront what makes the process easier.

  • Either avoid pop culture references or be prepared to more drastically change your content to fit your target audience’s pop culture. Take our above example of baseball in Germany. A marketing campaign demonstrating three faults with your competitor’s product with the tagline “three strikes – you’re out!” probably won’t work in Germany. The solution is to either create content that is culture-neutral or be ready to change your references. Perhaps the same ad might instead refer to the yellow and red cards used in soccer, which is wildly popular in Germany.
  • Having the ability to easily change content to suit cultural preferences or reading styles, including imagery, slogans, and design is key.  For example, while most languages read from left to right, that isn’t the case for all. These are all important factors to consider when thinking through the layout of a homepage, for example.
  • Another practice to consider is date formatting. In the United States, month/day/year is the common written form of abbreviated dates. However, in many other countries, day/month/year is the common form. So, 4/1/19 might be April 1st or January 4th, depending on where you are in the world.  A very simple idea, yet it can cause many problems, especially for a company selling tickets for events and other time-specific areas. Other common issues like this are discussed in our blog, “Global English. What Is It and Why Should You Use It?
  • Always consider the context within your content. Your localization team aims to translate the meaning of your content in a way that is culturally relevant to your target audience. But if your text doesn’t provide the necessary context, they can be left guessing. A very basic example of this is the word “bass.” Is this a fish? Or does it describe deep or low sounds in music?  The context of the content should answer that question, and if it doesn’t, your localization team will need your help to make sure you aren’t trying to sell your customers the best sounding fish they ever heard. You can explore this concept further by reading one of our previous blogs, “Set Context for Content Localization Success”.
  • Lastly, a practice that makes L10n easier is to always allow room for textual expansion. Textual expansion is a very important factor in L10n.  Most languages expand when translated from English. In other words, there are more and/or longer words needed in the target language than in English. For instance, languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, and Arabic result in a text expansion of around 15% to 30%. Some other languages tend to contract, like Swedish, Finnish, and Korean.

Proper L10n is key for any successful translation project. The topics mentioned above only scratch the surface of what localization really means, however. In our next blog, we’ll dive even further into the world of L10n and what you can do to better prepare your content for the global market.

Vocalink specializes in custom localization solutions tailored to a specific product and market. Backed by a specialized technical team, our language solutions team is ready to assist with any translation or localization need. Connect with us to learn more!

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