Sandhya Nair and Gopal Dambal
Infosys Technologies Ltd
The process of translating a product and its documentation into different languages or adapting a language for a specific country or region is called Localization. It involves product translation, cultural adaptation (for specific countries, regions, or groups) and customization to accommodate for differences in diverse markets. Language localization is not merely a multilingual translation activity, because it involves a comprehensive study of the target culture in order to correctly adapt the product to local needs. For example the usage of the term Electronic Clearance System (ECS) in the Indian banking scenario is predominantly referred to as Automated Clearing House (ACH) in the global markets.
Localization is sometimes referred to by the numeronym “L10N” (as in: “L”, followed by ten more letters, and then “N”). Localization can be done for continents, regions or countries where people speak different languages, or where the same language is spoken: for instance, different dialects of Spanish, with different idioms, are spoken in Colombia than are spoken in Latin America; likewise, word choices and idioms vary among countries where English is the official language (e.g., in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Philippines).
When it comes to the processes involved in global sales, apart from differences in distance, time, and production processes that extend across countries, etc., there are also inherent intercultural processes and challenges that need to be addressed. Many companies prepare themselves well by taking up localization infrastructure audits, instituting procedures for production, development, marketing and management. It is therefore surprising that the cultural challenge is pushed aside. After all, the products will be used by people in the target countries. Yet it is difficult to find any references to market culture aside from generic marketing processes. Considering that the product is packaged in words, be it software, an application, a user interface, a website, marketing collateral or a user guide, localization plays a pivotal role in the ability to sell the product, and in the ability to obtain a return on the investment.
Localization is a complex process requiring the use of computer-aided translation (CAT) tools that streamline the work process, improve translation memory, provide consistency and quality, and provide major cost savings. It is a structured process that is easy to manage and run with professional partners. The financial investment aside, localization is highly relevant to and vital for small and medium businesses and startups, to ensure that the original concept envisioned by the product company is also well received by users in different markets as a matter of course.
Elements of Localization
Localization requires an in-depth understanding of the technical and functional domain, language, culture and other parameters that are specific to a region. For example, banking practices and the usage of banking terminologies in Middle Eastern countries vary from that of South East Asia. Such a complex and critical domain not only requires functional and technical knowledge, but also knowledge of legal, regulatory and other banking practices. As the scope is endless for all languages world over, most product companies take the route of hiring consultants for their Localization requirements.
As illustrated, the Localization environment is a potpourri of talent coming from different backgrounds, education and experience. However, content design, organization and management are the prime requisites to efficiently handle Translation or Localization services. This requires people with varied skill sets such as:
- Business communication
- Domain knowledge
- Project management
- Quality control
- Eye for detail (editing)
- Soft skills
Often, the Localization industry requires interaction with people all over the world, depending on the target language. There is the excitement and exposure to interact with people from different regions and backgrounds.
Value add from Technical Writers
A technical writer enhances the understanding of a product or service to an intended audience. Translation and Localization, like technical writing, is all about effective communication. Localization is an extension of technical writing – encompassing other elements like social, cultural and regional parameters.
Possessing strong skills in the basics of effective communication make technical writers the preferred candidates for the localization industry. Their ability to write or translate without losing the context adds significant value to products or services. Some of the key traits that technical writers bring with them are:
- Inclination to communicate:
Technical writers have an intrinsic aptitude to communicate in an easy to understand style. Effortless and user centric communication through various channels gives technical writers an edge over other professionals.
- Understanding audience:
Audience analysis is the base on which a technical writer builds content. Localization requires an in depth understanding of varied audiences and can be quickly appreciated and understood by a seasoned technical writer.
- Techno-linguistic advantage:
This is perhaps the most important area in which a technical writer can contribute. The technical knowledge advantage, powered by intuitive writing capabilities can break the most complex communication barrier between the product and the end user.
- Project lifecycle know-how:
An experienced technical writer with good exposure to project management and the software development life cycle can immensely contribute to product or service Localization. An end-to-end understanding of the project life cycle coupled with good negotiation skills enables a technical writer to readily identify gaps, risks, improvements and possible remedies.
- Eye for detail:
Reviewing, proof reading and editing are some of the skills required for examining documentation in different languages for uniformity, consistency and end user acceptability. A technical writer with these skills can appreciate Localization requirements naturally and not as an imposed process.
For some years now, the IT industry has been the primary growth sector for writers, with English as the predominant language. However, various other industries like Automobile, Medicine, Banking, Finance, and Legal, Transport, Logistics, and Entertainment industries have also caught up. Business expansion across the continents has raised the importance of well localized products, especially in non-English speaking countries.
In India, the translation and localization industry is gathering due attention. Though not many companies are working in this segment currently, well known Indian and foreign MNCs working with products have already realized its scope and importance.
Technical writers are equipped with technical and linguistic advantages which are crucial elements of Localization. Proficiency in foreign languages like Spanish, French, German and Japanese can boost the career and growth path of technical writers. Technical writers with a blend of skills like strong communication, domain knowledge, project management and hands-on experience in foreign languages are surely going to be in demand in the near future. The career progression for such talent is also high as they will become responsible for defining the multilingual strategies for companies.
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About the authors:
Sandhya Nair leads the Multilingual Services team responsible for envisioning and executing state-of-the-art multilingual strategies for Finacle, the universal banking solution developed by Infosys. The team has developed a robust translation infrastructure and innovative translation management practices.
Gopal Dambal is a member of the Multilingual Services team at Finacle. He is responsible for the execution of Translation and Localization activities in the capacity of Content Lead.