Translation and localisation: how does it work?

10/01/2018 | Rebecca Twose

Did you know that the word ‘Translation’ derives from the Latin meaning ‘the carrying from one place to another.’ Translation, at its basic form, means changing the words of one language to another language. However, it is rarely so simple if you want an effective translation to take place.

There have been studies for many years and a trend always seems to appear. People prefer their own language. It’s common sense really. They feel more comfortable reading or listening to something in a language they fully understand. For example, the European Commission determined 82% of people were less likely to buy something online if the website was not written in their language.

However, for a truly effective translation, there are other things you need to take into account, other than the basic structure of the target language. That’s where localisation comes into play.

As the name suggests, localisation is the process of translating a language and then adapting it for a specific region or target audience. Generally speaking, there are several things to consider when localising anything for a foreign audience:

  • Linguistics
  • Physical location
  • Business and Cultural considerations
  • Technical considerations

Of course, when talking about linguistics, you need to consider several things…

Breaking it down

You might wonder how this is done? Do translators just pick up the language, add local context and then whip out the appropriate target language phrase? Of course not, it takes so much more than that. To begin with, the translator must understand local equivalents of phrases, idioms, and slang that convey the correct message. Sometimes, this can prove difficult as these meanings do get ‘lost in translation’ on occasion. In these cases, a contextual middle ground should be used to get the message across.

However, it’s important that we consider the wider implications of localisation. Other things need to be adapted to fit the local area. For example, currencies used in the area, appropriate formatting of addresses, dates and times and phone numbers relevant to the locale. Combined with written translation, all serve to recognise the local culture and custom. Conveying the exact meaning in a way that’s understandable to local people is a skill that takes rigorous training.

Localisation plays a large part of translation services when you consider that people as a whole are much more comfortable and understanding of language when it tailored specifically to them.