After attending events across countries, we realized that we belong to a very tight knit industry and people outside of our “clan” rarely know what it really is that we do. When we tell people in San Diego, we work in the field of localization we usually get a blank stare. Local what? Understandably so! If you search for localization in any newspaper you will have results about medical studies and genetics or moving companies. Not quite that either! In order to answer some of the questions we have heard over the years, we figured we would address those in this blog.
Let us explain what this strange word “localization” means… Though most of you may have never used the word, localization is influencing our global village and economy every day and is essential to our international business success.
What is Localization?
According to several definitions found in dictionaries and sources like Wikipedia, localization refers to the process of adapting a product or a service to the technical, linguistic, and cultural requirements of a specific country and locale. The term localization is often associated with software and websites. The localization process includes translation, but that is only one of the steps involved in the process. Localization implies that you need to customize and optimize a product to put it into the proper linguistic and cultural context.
If you look at the written text, many cultural aspects need to be taken into consideration. Localization includes adapting all those unique details. For example:
- Writing system and language: character set, encoding, word order, punctuation, hyphenation…
- Numbers: date, time, phone numbers, currency, measurements…
- Culture: company names, address formats, trademarks, color associations, image appropriateness, cultural context as well as legal standards.
Being aware of those aspects will help optimize your message to a specific market.
Why would I need to localize my website, software or products?
Sales: The answer is simple – to increase your market share and to add new customers who don’t speak English The US market is not doing so well right now, people are affected by a slower economy and are not purchasing as much. A localized presence (via your website or marketing material) allows you to cross language barriers and to attract a larger number of customers, no matter where they might be located. This is especially true for companies active in international markets. Have you noticed how some of the phone companies or bank ad signs in parts of San Diego are only in Spanish?
And while the economy is sluggish here in the US, this may not apply to markets such as China and Latin America, especially Brazil… So, a product released only in English could miss out on huge segments of existing and emerging markets worldwide. If you are a mid- to large size company, you can invest thousands of dollars developing your product or service. Adding localization is normally only a fraction of the initial development costs but will allow your potential market to grow exponentially. Localization is a vehicle for growth in revenues, profit and market share.
Global Branding: If your product is localized it represents good PR and heightens your corporate visibility. You will not only be seen as a global player but as one who respects and appreciates the cultures and customs of other countries. Localization is a vehicle for increased visibility and international presence.
Compliance: Some countries will require having your product localized if you are trying to sell there. Canada and Europe have the lead on that. In Europe, in most cases you will not be allowed to release only the English version of your product. Then, there is Canada. It all started with the province of Québec where French is mandatory. Nowadays, if you want to release a product anywhere in Canada, you are required to have your content available both in French and in English. Localization can be a legal requirement.
Who is involved in localization?
The usual localization teams typically include:
* a translation team consisting of a translator, editor and proofreader. All are carefully chosen and tested based on their specialties and linguistic ability;
* an engineering team for software and web project;
* a desktop publishing team for formatting and layout of brochures or marketing material;
* a project manager as the “conductor” and main point of contact for your project. They make sure you can sleep at night while your multilingual project is being worked on. They have the sleepless nights instead.
What about Google Translate and Machine Translation? Why can I not just use those?
The truth of the matter is machine translation technology has been getting better and can be useful. But the reality is that as such machine translation cannot be used to increase international sales. Would you trust a translation that makes “Nous essayons plus difficile” out of “We try harder!”? That one probably needs a bit of editing, doesn’t it?
You want to know the meaning of a word or a sentence in Chinese, go ahead and use Google Translate. You are trying to sell your service to Mexico, you might really offend people with a terrible word for word translation and will have created the opposite of what you wanted. Fewer Sales, more complaints! I talked to the principal of a foreign school in San Diego recently who had tried Google Translate for his site. It took him a day to take the site down after receiving tons of complaints about how awkward it was.
My uncle speaks French – why not just ask him? How about the housekeeper, she speaks Spanish?
If you drove a BMW and your uncle knew a little bit about car repair, would you take it to the garage to have it fixed or would you ask your uncle? Hmmm, still not convinced. Ok when you need a suit for your next big networking event, do you ask your sister who happens to have a sewing machine to make it for you, do you go to the mall or to the tailor? We are to languages, what a tailor is to your suit. We make sure it fits perfectly!
What languages do you suggest localizing into?
In order to answer that question you need to take a look at two things:
If you want to expand on the international realm and want to address an international audience, you will need to look at the potential of specific overseas markets. According to Internet statistics and based on experience, here are the “Top 10” languages requested for any kind of localization:
- Europe: French, Italian, German, Spanish (this group is also known as FIGS).
- Asia: Chinese (Simplified used in China and Traditional used in Taiwan), Korean, Japanese. All are double-byte languages that require slightly more localization effort.
- The recent trends and growth in the “BRIC” countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and the Middle-East especially with Dubai’s appeal have made those markets quite attractive for companies and the demand for Brazilian Portuguese, Russian and Arabic languages has increased.
If you operate in California and try to address non-English speakers who live in the US, or your company needs to be compliant with local, state or federal regulations, chances are that the language catalog will be quite different. According to data from the 2000 U.S. Census, 60.5% of Californians speak only English, while 39.5% speak another language. Spanish composes the second most popular language grouping in the state, being spoken by 25.8% of Californians. Chinese is a distant third, spoken by 2.6%. Tagalog is spoken by 2.0%, Vietnamese by 1.3%, and Korean by 0.9%. Armenian, Japanese, German, and Persian are spoken by 0.5% each. More than 30 languages are spoken every day in California alone, so the list could get long!
In short, this is some information about the term localization. As always, the deeper you get involved in this subject, the more you will encounter new aspects and new challenges. As a localization company, it is our job to assist clients with their international business needs.
Source : Marie Flacassier, BeatBabel LLC