Why localisation is so important for translators

Why localisation is so important for translators

What is localisation?

Localisation exists in many different areas of life. One particularly special form of it, namely the translation of texts and websites for international (online) trade, keeps us at lingoking busy on an almost daily basis. That’s why we’d like to say a few words about it here.

A term with multiple meanings

Anyone talking about “localisation” (i.e. the process of locating) does not always mean the same thing. Medics employ this term when describing where on the body a patient has pain. In logistics, it is used to talk about getting a fix on transported goods. It has a similar meaning in the world of mobile communication (locating smartphones via special apps or iCloud). For economists, “localisation” is synonymous with “regionalisation” and refers to the process of adapting to a chosen target market. Software developers localise their products in that they modify cultural and linguistic conventions to fit with those prevalent in the target country.

Localising websites and software

Companies that also want to sell their products in other countries cannot avoid adapting their website. All the content must be linguistically adjusted so that it can be understood by foreign visitors. Literal translations can come across as strange, or even embarrassing or offensive. Many words just have a different meaning in other languages. Worst-case scenario, this can lead to sales difficulties or even legal problems. (Don’t believe it? Here is a good example – things that no company wants!) Therefore, special care is of the essence when translating.

The product most often localised is software that has been developed for the global market. It is then adapted to the conditions of the relevant national market, a complex task that can usually only be achieved by translators with the relevant programming knowledge.

A good example for poor translation can be found on Facebook, by the way. If you set your mood in your Facebook status to “feeling cool”, the word “relaxed” appears in German (possibly coming at it from the perspective of “chilled”?) – while “has a cold” appears in Italian.

Localisation also takes place in the case of languages that are supposedly the same: when converting from British to American English, and vice versa. Someone in the USA talking about “pants”, for example, means “trousers” in Britain. Embarrassingly, “pants” is only used there to refer to underpants. Localisation is even needed here.

To deliver a correct translation, you have to take into account the peculiarities of the target market as well as the traditions, cultural idiosyncrasies and customs of the consumers living there. And translators are usually pros at that.

What definitely has to be localised

During localisation, the whole website is not just simply transferred into the target language: it must be integrated into the marketing strategy of the advertising e-commerce company in order to reach the intended target group.

Things that must definitely be adapted according to national conventions are, for example:

  • Times (12- or 24-hour format)
  • Dates (order of day, month, year)
  • Temperatures (Celsius, Fahrenheit)
  • Telephone numbers (country and city dialling codes)
  • Measurements (centimetres, inches, grams, pounds, etc.)
  • Currencies
  • Clothes sizes
  • Cultural norms (nothing too risqué)
  • Religious traditions (the rules surrounding national holidays)
  • Legal regulations

Apart from that, it is necessary to make audio-visual changes: you use the symbols, punctuation, fonts, pictures, graphics and audio output of the target country and adapt the whole localisation to the consumer behaviour of the target group living there.

What is not localised

In the interests of a consistent company policy and the corporate identity, certain content should not be localised under any circumstances when translating a website. For it presents the advertising company as a global player.

First and foremost, that includes:

  • The brand message
  • The company’s central headquarters/sales outlet
  • The tone of the advertising message

In most cases, translators receive instructions from the company on how to translate the content. So no need to panic if a localisation request turns up in your inbox. 🙂

Have you already had a go at localisation? What difficulties did you come across?