Sometimes considered to be luxury translation, localisation could be described as more of a distant cousin of translation serving different purposes.
Localisation could have been called regionalisation.
It is the adaptation of a product to a local market and culture embodied in a language.
How is localisation done?
The skills required for a localisation task are different from those used for a translation. More than fidelity to the original copy, we would expect a localisation to appropriate the original copy and adjust it to a local audience. Localisation does not necessarily imply a change of language. Thus copy written in Spanish from Spain (Castilian) can be localised in Mexican, Argentinian, Chilean, Colombian or Bolivian.
In order to guarantee a quality localisation, it is essential that ‘localisors’ are native speakers of the target language. More than mastering the language, they must know the local customs, habits and culture to avoid the risk that their work doesn’t ‘sound right’ to the reader. Expressions, vocabularies, phrases, conjugation, grammar, cadence and punctuation are all elements that can be used to adjust copy to an audience.
Localisation is not relevant in all industries and all media. Its use depends on the user experience that you want to offer your audience. A tourist guide on the city of Brussels is not intended to sound Belgian, someone from Lille reading a description of a hotel in Marseille does not need to hear the cicadas, unfortunately! A hotel chain may prefer to erase cultural differences and guarantee a single, standardised customer experience internationally. Human beings are creatures of habit, and some travellers like to find some familiar points of reference when they change countries. Localisation is a Godsend for some, but more expensive than standardisation of content, products and processes.
Conversely, a communication strategy may aim to position itself closer to the client and the client’s identity. You have to speak their language, express yourself in their words and create an atmosphere of closeness and intimacy. Some words may give the game away. A Brit will not be fooled if the list of ingredients in a recipe includes an ‘eggplant’ rather than an ‘aubergine’. We may also want to offer travellers a local and localised experience and address them as we would speak to a local.
It is therefore the DNA of the brand, its strategic choices, its budget and its business that determine whether localisation is necessary or whether a neutral translation, erasing regional features, is the best option.
What should be localised?
Localisation is not just about content, and in our globalised world our daily lives are steeped in details that we do not even realise are there. In the box that your latest mobile phone came in, there are three types of electrical outlet for the charger: the product is localisable. In the soft drinks aisle of the supermarket, the “personalised” Coca-Cola bottles do not bear the same names in France (Marie, Jean, Michel, …) as in the United States (Chris, Jess, Alex …) or in Australia, or Mexico. The product marketing material has been localised and the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign has been universally recognised as a great success.
Thus large multinationals offer the user a unique and localised experience depending on the country and the market which is going to consume it. You cannot buy a McDonalds Chicken Porridge outside Malaysia, and to taste Brige Nuggets you will have to fly to St Petersburg. Be careful not to confuse localization and transcreation, which is also a marketing tool linked to translation.
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