Localisation: A Newcomer’s Guide

04/06/2013 | Rebecca Twose

Localisation is an integral element of Language Insight’s translation service – but if you aren’t familiar with the concept of localisation you won’t recognise its value. So, we felt it was only right to provide you with a quick and easy guide to localisation in translation.

If you’re struggling with the concept of localisation, the best way to understand it is to put yourself in the shoes of a holidaymaker. Where are you going? Well, for the purposes of this blog post, your destination is the USA.

The reason for this is that the official language of the United States is English, just as it is in the UK where Language Insight’s head office is based, so tourists heading there won’t experience any language barriers. However, a language barrier is not the only factor that can cause points to get lost in translation.

Let’s say you have just touched down in America and, after checking into your hotel, you fancy a bite to eat. You’re not after anything fancy and so pop into a branch of a chain restaurant, like Pizza Hut.

Now, in the UK when your meal is over and you’ve settled the bill, you might leave a small amount of money for your waiter to show your appreciation for the good service (if it was good service). Typically British diners will leave anywhere between a small amount of change to ten percent of the bill as a tip, but they might also leave having not paid anything. However, this sort of behaviour is unlikely to go down well in the US – particularly New York.

In Manhattan, diners are expected to leave a tip, and this is often stipulated on the bill. Some restaurants will even provide a guide for the customer, but the general rule is that you tip at least 20 per cent – and more for good service. If you really felt the waiter did a bad job, even then it is expected you will leave a ten percent tip – as well as filing a complaint. Tipping the British way in New York is unlikely to go down well.

So, you finish your meal and settle the bill before walking back to the hotel. Later on, you decide you would like to head to a different part of the city to have a drink. In the UK, you would most likely ask the hotel receptionist to book you a taxi with a company the hotel regularly uses. However, if you’re staying in an American city you will probably be directed straight outside to flag a cab instead. Don’t forget, your driver will be expecting a tip too – usually of 30 per cent.

During your visit to the Big Apple, you’ll rarely have to worry about trying to communicate in a language you don’t speak, but there are other things that could trip you up. As you can see from the above examples, just because you speak the same language does not mean you’re on the same page as the person you’re speaking to.

So, can you have translation without localisation? The answer is you can – but you probably shouldn’t.

If you have been in charge of coordinating a market research project taking in focus groups in different countries, you will be presented with results recorded in a language that you don’t understand. You could run the files through a machine translation tool – after all, you’ll get a speedy result and it’s free or low cost. However, whether the translation makes any sense is another matter. Certainly, the information you get back is unlikely to be reliable enough for you to trust.

The reason for this is that it has not been localised. Just because you’ve changed the language from one to another does not automatically mean you’ll understand the answers, just like you can be speaking the same language as a person in the US but there are still plenty of cultural differences that could cause a gap in communication.

In order to ensure the interviews you have collected contain information that will be valuable to you moving forward, you need to ensure they are translated and localised. Members of your focus group are likely to have said brand names, slang words or idioms or mentioned cultural customs that you aren’t familiar with. A basic machine translation will not make things any clearer, but hiring a professional human translator will.

Translations should always be done by someone working into their native language. A French document you want translated into English, for instance, would be given to a professional translator whose mother tongue is English and who is fluent in French. Any slang or colloquialisms mentioned in the text or any customs that would be unfamiliar to an English reader will therefore be explained in the English terms that provide the closest match or description.

As an English person in New York, having Google Translate on your smartphone won’t help to explain the tipping system. Imagine how useful it would be to have a New Yorker with you to let you know how much you are expected to tip, or where best to get a taxi from once you have finished your meal? They provide that cultural insight that a computer program just can’t.

Because you won’t risk offending a waiter and will know how to get a taxi quickly, you will have a better night than if you weren’t equipped with this information. Similarly, by getting back a transcript of the focus group interview that has been translated and localised, you will have a much more reliable source of information upon which to base your business development strategy.

We hope that’s made the subject of localisation a little easier to understand. Next time you require a translation, be certain that localisation is at its heart.

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