The other day, a friend of mine made an attempt to tell one of her friends what I do for a living as she introduced me to her. I could tell she was a little frustrated when she said: “I’ve never really understood what you do. I know it has to do with translation.” Indeed, translation is part of what I do. I’m in the Localization business. It is not as obscure as she made it sound, you can find an explanation in Wikipedia. But I’m going to try to explain in a way that you will remember and even tell to someone else. Please, let me know if I’m successful.
Translation: The first step
Localization is the process of adapting a product (in a broad sense) to a different market, in another country, in a way that it will be perceived and used as the original product would, in the market for which it was created in the first place. Let’s say Microsoft wants to sell Word in China. To be able to generate interest in the product and sell there, people should be able to understand what they see on their computer screen when opening the software. The users would need to understand the end-user license agreement that they have to accept before using the program and understand how to use it when reading the user guide. Thus, the first step is translation.
Localization: is it really necessary?
The goal of localization is that the customer product experience in China be the same experience as the customer in the US. For this, the product needs to work not only functionally but also culturally and linguistically in the target market. One example of poor localization is the Kia car Bongo, branded in Brazil as the Kia BestA. Little did Kia know that BestA means “beast” or “stupid” to Brazilians. Can you see yourself driving a car with the word stupid printed in the back? I don’t know if it was a sales disaster, but certainly it was the joke of the day… for a while. Bongo does not sound attractive but BestA is much worse.
Not only names can be an issue. Colors, date format, the direction of how the language is read. We cannot translate in Arabic and make the reading of a software interface flow from left to right, since this language is written and read from right to left.
Summarizing: the localized product must be appropriate for the target locale’s cultural conventions, must appear to be built for the user cultural and linguistic environment, and the meaning and customer experience must be the same as the one in the original culture.
Can you tell your friend what localization is? Did I do a good job?