Localisation – A brief overview


Defined by the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) as “taking a product and making it linguistically, technically and culturally appropriate to the target locale where it will be used and sold”[1], localisation has been the paradoxical result of today’s globalising revolution. When North American software publishers realised the immense potential for growth of international markets in the late eighties, they set up their first manufacturing sites in Europe and created development teams to adapt the original US-English product to the requirements of European users. To support these European manufacturing and development sites a new service industry was developed and has come to be known as the Localisation Industry (Schäler 1996:22).

Localisation providers had to find ways to achieve a Simultaneous Shipment – later known as SimShip – of the original and the localised version of products or applications[2], as companies faced the potential threat of loss of revenues and market share if products could not be sold in their localised version. Since the early nineties, localisers have invested time and money in implementing Machine Translation systems that could contribute to give them an advantage before  increased competition and assisting them in bringing down the cost of translation (the single biggest cost in localisation) (Schäler 1996: 27).

Four areas are of particular relevance to the understanding of localisation and the implications for translators.

1. Software localisation: This process involves not only the  translation of the user interface elements of a software application, such as menus, dialog boxes, and messages but also other translatable collateral components such as sample files, tutorials, online help, on-screen assistance and wizards. These software components are context sensitive and it is the job of the localisation team to ensure that users can access help or applications from any location and that the location-relevant online help will automatically be displayed, such as  character set, currency, default page sizes, address formats, custom calendars, date/time formats, etc.  Added to this is the fact that software products are updated at least once a year. The development of Translation Memories has been essential in being able to consistently publish multilingual information (Sommers 2003: 75).

2. Video games localisation: Games localisation shares some of the characteristics of  software localisation as both involve combining language translation and software engineering, where translated text strings need to be appropriately placed within the software. Both follow a similar localisation cycle which starts ideally with the internationalisation process and undergoes a set of QA procedures before the release of the final version and  use the sim-ship model, where the original product, normally in English language, is released together with the localised versions (Mangiron, 2004). The localisation team is expected to preserve the game play experience for the target players and produce a version that will allow the players to experience the game as if it were originally developed in their own language. Translators must be familiar with the game domain, register and terminology, the kind of humour present in the game, the use of puns, character names, allusions and intertextual references to other genres of global popular culture, such as comics and films (O’Hagan, M. and C. Mangiron. 2004: 5).

3. Website localisation: The widespread use of dynamic websites to promote businesses worldwide has expanded the opportunities for translators as well as the demand placed upon them to be consistent and quick in their jobs[3].

  • Advertising: The costs involved in advertising campaigns can be very high and only justified by a satisfactory benefit. Transferring the message into the target language is a calculated risk which, can not only contribute to increasing the direct revenues of companies by acting as a leveraging effect on sales abroad, but it also enables them to stand out in a highly competitive market. As Guidère (2000: 325) explains, if the success of international advertising depends on the conversion of the original message into the linguistic code of the foreign consumer, then the language has an intrinsic added value which is indeed very difficult to determine before seeing the effect of the translation on sales. Yet, it seems certain that the amount of money produced by a language must exceed the amount invested in that language. Again, the development of Translation Memories and other localization tools can facilitate the effort of the translator and other contributors of advertising projects, reduce corporate investment and increase consistency.
  • Subtitling: A part from the standard film subtitling, the immediate production of television captions (or subtitles) in multiple languages is another application of automatic translation. Most television companies are legally obliged to supply captions for the deaf and hearing impaired – eventually for all programmes broadcast. Although the translation quality is often poor (captions are necessarily elliptical and context-bound), the service would be impossible without real-time fully automatic translation (Hutchins 1999:  7).

    [1] In Somers, H. 2003. Computers and Translation.Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing

    [2] This was first achieved with the German and French versions of1-2-3 Release 2 by Lotus Development Ireland.

    [3] As an example of this, we could mention the work currently being conducted by the writer for an online publishing house, producer of online business directories throughout the world. From the company’s headquarters inSydney, the company publishes over 12 different sites in different countries. These sites require constant updating, analysing, reporting, upgrading and so on.

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