What’s all the fuss about localization?

The term “localization” gets thrown around a lot in our industry these days, especially when it comes to software, web, or video game translation. In fact, you could say it’s the buzzword of the moment. But do you really know what it’s all about?

Culture matters

The Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) defines localization as “the process of modifying products or services to account for differences in distinct markets”. In other words, it’s all about making modifications to suit a specific target market — and that involves far more than just translation.

It essentially means that cultural barriers must also be taken into account when adapting your source message correctly to the target audience. It’s all about modifying your message in order to suit certain cultural, functional, and linguistic requirements. It goes without saying that something you may find funny, could have the opposite effect on people living on the other side of our planet.

Even if your text has been perfectly translated there are heaps of pitfalls when it comes to specifics of the target market’s local culture which have the potential to cost your company dearly if ignored.

Starbucks discovered that the hard way when they tried to introduce its Gingerbread Latte to the German market. Since the Italian word “latte” is a rather risque term in German, their campaign unsurprisingly fell flat on its face.

Is translation ever enough?

Of course, there may be times when investment in localization may not be strictly necessary. For example, in exact texts such as technical and medical documentation, the focus is on specific terminology, meaning translation is often sufficient.

However, in the majority of cases translation is merely a stepping stone on a text’s road to its new target audience. This is due to the fact that localization allows content (both textual and graphic) to be fully understood by the target user as originally intended and with maximum effectiveness.

For the end-user, localized content is perceived to have been created locally due to its ability to fully engage with the target culture.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

There’s no two ways about it, localization means financial outlay for companies. But don’t dismiss it just yet.

Even if 2020 isn’t exactly the best year for your business, it’s possible to elect for partial as opposed to complete localization. The viability of these options can depend in some part on the type of product, but it’s fairly commonplace in a number of big industries.

When it comes to video games, it’s generally the publisher of the game who decides whether to opt for full or partial localization. It comes as little surprise that major releases almost always have a full localization (printed material, interface, web, and dubbing).

Small gaming companies or freelancers on the other hand tend more towards partial localization with reasonable success (printed materials and interface).

Think business

When it comes down to it, both translation and localization constitute short-term expenses for long-term rewards. If you’re looking to expand your business and put it on the global stage, then you have to invest in local color and flavor.

Translation and localization both do that to some extent, but they’re miles apart in other ways. Only you can decide which one best fits your business.

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