So you’re thinking of expanding your client base to other countries by having your website translated in several languages, or to have your novel translated, or have your movie dubbed for other countries. The obvious part is you need a translator, a professional translator -see previous post
But wait, that is not all. You’ll also need to localize, in other words to adapt, your product to your target audience, which might be very different from the one of your country. It is very simple, if you want to reach out, you need not only to speak to people a language they understand, but put yourself in their shoes, figure out what their needs are, what they best respond to, what their sensitivities may be, yes, that’s marketing all right, and PR. Diplomats are trained for that, or so we hope. The general public is not. So what is, exactly, localization?
Definition: Localization (…) is the process of adapting a product or service to a particular language, culture, and desired local "look-and-feel." …“A successfully localized service or product is one that appears to have been developed within the local culture.”
- Language translation, though being a large part of localization, is not everything you’ll need to do to localize your product or services. If you’re planning to export your services, product, or concept, there is more work to do than just have the content translated. Often you’ll need also to adapt time zones, currency, product names, gender roles, etc. Some of these, such as gender roles, can be tricky, and that is when you’re going to need a cultural consultant if you want to avoid blunders and have good job done.
- On the other hand, everything doesn’t have to be localized: Let’s say, you’re having a book or a movie translated from Arabic to French for France, people’s names don’t necessarily have to be adapted. Why? Because France, having a significant Arabic speaking population from Northern Africa, is very familiar with common Arabic names such as Mohamed, Mounir, Latifa, Yasmine, Leila, Nadia, and the like. Then what do we do with the longer names such as Abdelkarim, Abdelhaq, Abdelrahim, etc? You can shorten those into the diminutive of “Abdel” commonly known in France. The other, more obvious reason for not adapting those names is of course to maintain flavor and authenticity; if the action is set in Algeria, you’re not going to change “Leila” into “Laura”, that would be preposterous. I recently read an article mentioning the damage done to some literary translations by overdoing it with localization: If an American novel is set in the Bronx, changing the street names while translating into French, using actual French street names, or worse, literally translating those street names, literally kills the flavor and the novel itself. I don’t think French readers who buy a translation of, let’s say, a roman noir set in the Bronx want to see street names such as “Rue de l’Amiral”.
- Now if I take the same movie described above, and that I want to adapt it for Quebec, I will need to hire a translator who translates into Canadian French, and in all likelihood there may be differences with France as to what needs to be localized or not. For that you’ll need a professional localizer too. Some translators also do localization, so do yourself a favor here again, hire a professional, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble and will have quality assurance, remember what the definition says …“A successfully localized service or product is one that appears to have been developed within the local culture.”
And here I’m not talking about cultural awareness at the localization stage, but sometimes even before that, at the creation or production stage. If you are a film producer and set the action of your movie in a foreign country, travel to that country. Otherwise it is always a very good idea to hire cultural consultants, native to that country, so as to make sure your depiction of that country and its customs is accurate. You cannot reasonably try to save money by skipping this stage, for you may end up, at best, with a flop and bad reviews, or worse, protests from the concerned populations or their representatives, because they will feel you have given a false or biased image of their society.
No, the staple diet of the French is not frogs. Nor are dogs the staple diet of Chinese people. No, adultery in Morocco is not punished by lapidating, nor a hundred lashes, but by 1 to 2 years in prison if there is a complaint from the spouse. And Morocco, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, even though they share a common language, Arabic, speak different dialects and practice their religion, Islam, more or less strictly. Therefore, the status of women may differ considerably between those countries. No, all Native Americans didn’t live in tepees. Nor does the majority of Arab speaking people live in Bedouin tents. And Eskimos don’t live in Igloos.
This is not about freedom of expression; it is about accuracy and professionalism.