Mind your localization before you start translating

LOCALIZATION WHAT? DID YOU EVER TRY to find a translator for your content, and came across localization denominations that you had a hard time understanding?.

In order to pick the right service for your business, you have to understand what that service is, how it works and how it can help you grow.

That’s why I created this introduction to localization, where I explain some of the most used terms in the industry, such as:

  • Content Localization
  • Marketing Localization
  • Localization Strategy
  • Localization Manager
  • Localization Specialist
  • Translation
  • Transcreation
  • Copywriting

I hope you will enjoy reading this article, and that it will make your life easier, next time you look for translation services. Here we go!

 

Some life wisdom…

If you’re smart and have a full belly, nothing can stop you from becoming a great philosopher.

One evening, I was having dinner with my partner, when he asked:

“Do you know who said this?”

May the bridges I burn light the way.

A discussion started about the meaning of the phrase and we both had different interpretations:

  1. The bridges are burned and I can’t go back to fix them. Let them at least light my way ahead.
  2. I am not afraid of burning bridges. They will light my way ahead.

We went on talking about the best way to interpret this, and two questions came up:

  • What is the meaning of the expression “burning bridges” in the English speaking cultures?
  • Will the original meaning of the expression shade more light on the correct interpretation of the quote?

A quick online search brought us to the Urban Dictionary – which writes:

Burning bridges

  • The act of unpleasantly or permanently ending relations with another person, or an organisation.
  • To act harshly/disgraceful upon leaving a situation to ensure that you will not be welcomed back.
  • To cut off the way upon which you came from, making it impossible to return or to retreat.

Popular wisdom says, that you should never burn a bridge, otherwise you will end up alone and regretting what you did.

So what is the correct interpretation of this clever twist?

A matter of interpretation

“Hmm, we would make completely different translations of this quote…” I said.

“Yes, we would”, he agreed.

Taking a minute to analyse our translation request, I came up with the following strategy:

  • I would use transcreation as a technique because the expression burning bridges might not mean anything in other languages.
  • After learning the definition of this expression in English, I would look for an expression with a similar meaning in the target culture.
  • The expression I find in the target culture must have the same cultural weight.
  • After I found the expression, I would have to come up with a twist as clever as the original phrase.

But how far can I take my creativity when I localise the content? The boundaries of the transcreation act are set by the correct meaning of the original phrase, also known as the source text.

Content localization

Localization is a service that helps businesses adapt their products and content for a new audience. There are two types of localization and they accompany each other, pretty much like two bicycles in the desert:

  1. Product localization: This service helps you adapt a product to a new market, like the McSpicy™ Paneer burger from McDonald’s created for the Indian market. All vegetarians, thumbs up!
  2. Content localization: This service helps you adapt your marketing message for a new audience in your target market. For example, if you sell a lightly spiced paneer burger in India, don’t market it as a burning hot treat, filled with chillies. Unless you really want to disappoint your customers.

Marketing content is all the content you produce for your business, such as written content or text, and visual content or images, graphics, videos.

Writing new marketing content is time-intensive and costly, and this is even truer when you have to do it in a foreign language.

In order to speed things up, you need a good localization strategy.

Localization strategy

If you want your content to travel the world fast, make it available on all the possible channels.

“But this requires a lot of new unique content!”, I hear you say.

Yes…

Or, you learn to produce content in a clever, sustainable way, so that you can reuse it with minimal effort, all the while keeping it fresh.

When it comes to marketing localization, the same strategy applies: reuse as much of your existing content as possible. If the content cannot be reused 1:1, localise it with as little effort as possible.

There are 3 localization techniques:

  • Translation – use this technique for all the content you need to localise, if possible…
  • Transcreation – if not possible, because of the difficulty of the source text, adapt the text for your target audience, unless…
  • Copywriting – you really cannot reuse anything from the source text, in which case you should simply write a new copy in the target language

But these localization techniques alone, won’t do the job. You need someone to analyse your content and make the right decisions for you.

Localization manager

Most people don’t know what a localization manager is or does. She might as well be a baby giraffe sticking out its tongue at you!

Or, she could be the one person in your organisation, who knows your content inside-out.

Using the principle of maximum output with minimum input, a localization manager will have a range of tools and methods, for successfully localising and maintaining your international content, in multiple languages.

Content analysis

A localization manager will analyse your content and decide what needs to be localised and how. She will also make an estimation of the efforts needed for completing the job.

Content production

Localization managers are the best content production managers: they know all your content by heart, as well as your CMS tools, marketing strategy, terminology, compliance regulations and target users.

Project management

Well-planned localization projects can turn your efforts to enter a new market into a success story. From asset management up to finding the best translation team and localization strategy, a localization manager will take care of all the life cycles of your content localization.

Quality management

Launching a new product or service in a new market is only the beginning. Your presence in the market needs to be consistent every day, across all your content. A localization manager monitors all your platforms and tests them on a regular basis. She is also the quality gatekeeper of your source content and a knowledge specialist for all your content and products. International marketing campaigns, SEO techniques and brand identity compliance: your localization manager will make sure that all your content is always up to date.

Workflow design

As we all know, in a multi-channel business landscape, content volumes can easily escalate. More so, when the content needs to be produced in several languages. Good collaboration workflows for the creation, approval, localization and maintenance of content are key to your success. Your localization manager oversees the production of all your international content. She will notice where the gaps are and create appropriate collaboration workflows to fill in those gaps.

Technical integration

High volumes of content mean that you will have more and more files to send for translation and to import in your CMS tools. Your localization manager helps you automate this process, by choosing the right localization tool for your business and integrating it with your in-house CMS tools.

Localization toolkit

The localization industry is a tough field to work in. On one hand, you have high volumes of content and many requestors with varied needs, as well as a large team of localization specialists to organise. On the other hand, you have to make sure that every single sentence is translated well in each target language. The content has to be competitive, compliant and on the brand.

This is where a localization toolkit comes in handy. Such a toolkit may include:

  • A localization kit template
  • A terminology management process
  • Style guides for all your platforms, brands and products
  • An international copywriting briefing
  • Documented content creation and localization guidelines
  • Documentation of the localization workflows, including the technical setup
  • Project checklists
  • Reporting metrics, data tracking and budget control

Localization Specialist

Living the life

Finally, the localization specialist is your freelance translator working remotely. She spends her days typing on her laptop from her cottage in Bali. Sometimes, she will stop to think about a word and contemplate the exquisitely green rice field growing right in front of her window. In the afternoon, she goes for a peaceful yoga class, followed by a healthy dinner at a local organic restaurant.

In her free time, she takes art classes, writes books, learns new languages and pretty much lives the life!

We all love a good urban story, don’t we?

Meanwhile…

It’s Friday evening, and Renato, a highly talented translator who works for a world-renowned institution, is preparing to turn off his computer and call it a week. He’s looking forward to a weekend trip with his family to a nearby lake.

Suddenly, a new e-mail comes in: “Urgent translation”. The attachment is a 30 pages NASA document, including some scary looking mathematical formulas. Deadline: Monday noon.

Renato takes off his coat and sits down at his desk. He has a long weekend ahead.

Your localization specialist

Your freelance translator is a face you rarely see. If you have an in-house localization department, you probably don’t even know her name. Your localization manager takes care of that.

Yet, the localization specialist is the ambassador of your business in international markets. She transforms your content and sells your products in a language and to a market that you don’t understand. How does she do that? With words.

The power of content

A localization specialist has specific content marketing knowledge under her belt, and this differentiates her from other fellow translators. She has gained this knowledge through years of experience and self- or further education.

This is a what a localization specialist can do for you:

Translation

Classical translation services are on the menu of any localization specialist.

Transcreation

A good localization specialist is usually also a talented writer, who can adapt even your most difficult marketing copy for a new market. She knows how to research her target audience: first by asking you a set of targeted questions, and secondly by searching information online in forums and understanding how the target audience thinks and speaks. Like this, your localization specialist is able to tell your story, the way your new audience wants to hear it.

Copywriting

A well-trained localization specialist knows when it’s time to stop transcreating and start writing independent copy. Since this is a more demanding job, the localization specialist has all the tools in place to find out exactly what your needs are. She is well-aware of company guidelines, compliance regulations, brand identity and campaign goals. And she will ask you the right questions to get this information from you. The result will be an appealing marketing text, that is legally and brand compliant, and meets all your business needs.

SEO

A localization specialist knows what SEO is and how it works. She knows how to look up key terms online and pick the right ones for your business. Because she knows how important choosing the right words is, she will communicate closely with you, in order to line-up the SEO strategy for your product in the target language.

Target audience

A localization specialist knows that the target audience is the most important when localising your content. Therefore, she will go to great lengths to learn more about your business, product, brand and target audience. This can be done by collecting information directly from you, as her client, and by making a thorough online research of your audience. She will want to know how your audience thinks and speaks, what their dreams are and what they admire. The knowledge thus gained, will be transformed into content that boosts your business.

Going back to our bridges…

After outlining my localization strategy, I decided that based on the meaning of the expression burning bridges in the English speaking cultures, the interpretation that I should go with for my translation is:

2. I am not afraid of burning bridges. They will light my way ahead.

My logic was that since it is generally believed that burning bridges is a bad thing and no one should ever do this, then the phrase is a twist on this popular belief, and it means that you should not be afraid of burning bridges.

May the bridges I burn, light the way.

It might even be a great thing to burn them because those burning bridges will light your way ahead.

This seems like a pretty logical interpretation. Right?

The bad boy in the hood

I thought I had everything figured out with my little translation exercise, when it dawned on me that I’d forgotten to ask an important question:

  • Who said these words and in what context?

It turns out, that the person who said these wise words, was no one other, than the one and only Dylan McKay, from the TV series Beverly Hills, 90210.

Now Dylan, being the troubled rebel he was, made some pretty bad choices and ended up on the wrong side of life, and even of the law, several times during the show. He surely didn’t take to heart the advice of not burning bridges…

With his story in mind, I went back to our interpretations of the phrase, and this time I thought that the first one might fit even better for the translation:

1. The bridges are burned and I can’t go back to fix them. Let them at least light my way ahead.

It could be that Dylan simply wanted to learn from his past mistakes, improve himself and his relationships with the ones around him.

This is a better interpretation. Don’t you think?

What is wiser?

Funny how a dinner talk turned into a classical localization dilemma. Sometimes, texts are very straightforward and don’t need much interpretation.

But in 99% of cases, the texts do leave room for interpretation and that’s why context is essential for their correct interpretation.

Interpreting the wise words of a character from a popular teen series might make for an entertaining dinner talk.

But in order to know the correct meaning of the phrase for translation, I guess we have no other choice, but to ask Dylan himself.

Claudia Befu