Localisation is used to adapt a translation so that it can effectively communicate with a different culture, so much so that it might even be confused with an original text.
Of course, localisation is not only applied to written texts. All media requiring translation can, and often must, be localised, even websites. So, what does localisation actually entail, and how does it differ from translation?
What does it mean to ‘translate’?
In general terms, the act of translation involves transferring meaning, tone and intention (i.e. purpose) from one language into another.
The aim of the game is to preserve the complex system of references that give the text its form and consistency.
As you might imagine, this is by no means a simple task. All translation tasks come with their own set of difficulties and as such, it is often necessary to hire an expert in a specific subject to produce a good translation.
This is very much the case when it comes to translating technical or very specialised texts, but also when working on literary texts, which often require specialised translators who are familiar with the author’s previous works.
Localisation and what it actually means
Translating a text involves transferring a message from one linguistic medium into another, while localisation brings said translation alive and renders it authentic in the target culture.
Localising a translation from Italian into Russian may require the use of very specific cultural references, puns, and linguistic registers, so that Russian speakers feel ‘familiar’ with the translated content, even though it was not originally intended for them.
Content that has been both translated and localised is often far more effective as it allows the text to speak directly to its target audience, thereby overcoming any language or cultural barriers.
When translation doesn’t quite cut the mustard, you need localisation
Standard translation is perfectly functional when translating technical manuals, scientific texts, instruction manuals, legal documents, and so on. Finding an exact match for technical terms that are widely used in those fields is essential, and there is often no need to localise texts that are not intended to foster any sort of emotional connection with the reader.
On the other hand, literary translation (both prose and poetry) and, paradoxically, website translation – one of which has ancient roots and the other, a much more recent history – aim to evoke very specific emotions in the target audience. In most cases, websites need to convey a sense of reliability, safety, efficiency, and so on.
It’s important not to overlook the corporate values conveyed by websites, which often have very deep roots in the culture of the country in which a particular company was founded and continues to operate. But how exactly do you convey these qualities to customers born and raised according to a completely different set of cultural values? The answer is simple: localisation.