Localization is more than a translation. You have heard it many times, we have said many times. But what more really means goes beyond the additional phases that make localization process more complex than your good old translation – localization is more than translation because its effects must be equal (at worst comparable) to the effects of any material generated in the target language/culture/market.
While it is acceptable for the translated materials to somewhat feel like translations because nobody needs to pretend that they aren’t – for example, you can read Shakespeare’s works in German knowing that he didn’t write in German, i.e. that you are experiencing a translated work of art and the additional context information that would clarify the untranslatable or somewhat translatable aspects can be provided in footnotes/appendices – the very purpose of localization is to provide a smooth user experience, indistinguishable from using a product/service developed in the target market environment.
In other words, there is no room for footnotes and appendices in localization. Nor for awkward, vague and misleading phrases. Occurrence of any of this in localized materials is simply a localization failure.
Yet, these things do happen and localization teams often struggle to adapt even the simplest phrases in a specific context. Why?
Struggle for digital attention
Our lives are largely (and increasingly) digital. We are surrounded with textual and visual information. Our days are saturated with texts and images flashing before our eyes at home, at work and at play. The people who produce the content struggle for our attention by investing time and energy into developing catchy phrases, stylized visuals and intuitive user interfaces that communicate as much information as possible in as little content as possible.
Localization needs to adapt all of these aspects into the target culture – but the truth is that not every language/culture is equally suited for this.
Constraints of source language
With almost all source materials composed in English and then translated/localized to other languages, one major constraining factor in achieving the full localization potential often remains overlooked – and it is the very nature of the English language.
Every linguist can confirm that the simplified inflection (i.e. lack of case and gender endings) or possessive noun phrases in English, while great features in themselves particularly if you are a foreign language student, is often the reason for nightmares in the localization department.
It is easy to say a lot with little words in English, while other languages with stricter morphologies and syntaxes may usually need more words to convey the same amount of information and even more to convey a specific tone and produce desired effect. What can be done?
Creative translation or transcreation is the process of adapting the particular tone, style and rhythm of the source materials to the target culture. Its main focus is to reproduce the effect of the message rather than its original meaning.
Transcreation has been used extensively for marketing materials, most often in ads and taglines, but perhaps it can be used for a little bit more. Let us just imagine for a moment that the heart of localization process is not translation, but transcreation.
This would mean that, instead of source text, the localization teams receive instructions, images, application, delivery or product to be localized, information on the target audiences and the desired effect of the localized materials.
Effectively, the primary task of localization team would be to recreate rather than adapt the source materials.
Of course, this approach would never work for materials where the source meaning is crucial (you can forget about it when it comes to any medical, pharmaceutical or technical materials), but it might probably be just the perfect localization strategy for software, games and marketing materials, i.e. all localization projects whose ultimate goal is an immersive experience that would be local instead of localized.
It will take a bit of courage, but, on the basis of everything we have learned thus far, is our belief that this approach is the way to the future with less headaches and more success.