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July 13, 2015

Localization: are you the weakest link?

There is an old proverb that says, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” While many of the links in the chain could be quite strong, it only takes one weak link to break the chain. There is one process chain in particular where this proverb rings true: localization. However, more often than not, little or nothing is done to identify and strengthen the weakest link in that process.

When it comes to localization, there’s a common misperception that if there is a problem with the translation then the vendor is to blame. In some cases this may be true, but in every localization effort (no matter how large or small) there is a shared responsibility between content authors and translators to ensure that the translation is accurate and is completed both on time and within budget.

localization chain

If any link in the localization chain breaks, the chain itself fails. Half of these links are owned by content development.

If we look at every link in the localization chain, we can start to see where the possible failure points may be.

What content creators control

Style guide: A corporate style guide defines how all content should be developed and presented, from writing style to publishing standards. If the rules in your style guide are ambiguous (or worse, if you don’t have one at all), your entire content development effort is left to chance. A good style guide should inform both the source language content development effort as well as the localization effort. In short, it’s the single source of truth for developing all of your content, in all languages, for all audiences.

Terminology: Just as a style guide informs how to develop content, a terminology reference (repository, term bank, master glossary, etc.) informs which words are correct to use, in which contexts they can be used, what they mean, and (perhaps most important) which words never to use in their place. A good terminology reference can prevent unintentional misinformation, and can and should be localized on its own so all terms are properly defined for each target language. Leaving terminology to chance can lead to perfectly cromulent results.

Quality of writing: Writing quality plays a very large role in translation quality. If the wording is unclear, or if the same concepts are written in different ways, then translators may misinterpret how to translate the content. Consistency in writing is critical; a formal editorial review can enforce consistency. Even with a style guide in place, it’s easy for writers to become out of sync without an editorial review.

Consistent formatting: Regardless of what tools you use to author your content, consistent formatting can significantly reduce translation turnaround time and cost. If your tools use templates, adhere to them 100% of the time, and provide the templates to your localization vendors (they should be reviewed for localization appropriateness and modified as needed for target languages). Whoever formats the translated content can then apply the localized template and avoid hand-formatting, provided authors haven’t used formatting overrides.

What localization vendors control

Translation workflow: The translation vendor should have a system in place to manage the overall translation effort. These systems track which translators are being used, which content they are responsible for, and all of the checks and balances between starting and finishing the translation work. Lack of such a system, or a breakdown in this communication chain, can cause deadlines to slip and costs to rise.

Translator qualifications: Translating content requires more than just a strong command of the source and target languages. A good translator must also be familiar with the subject matter, and be very familiar with the regional variations of the target language. The translation vendor should select the appropriate translators for the job and consistently evaluate their work.

Translation memory: It goes without saying that a good translation vendor uses translation memory (TM) in their workflow. Leveraging the TM can ensure consistency in translation and reduce overall translation costs and turnaround times, provided the source content is also consistent. If inconsistencies are found, the translation vendor should work with the content creators to correct it so the inconsistency isn’t added to the TM. Further, the TM itself should be audited on a regular basis to clean out any inconsistencies that may have crept in over time.

In-country review: An in-country (or local) review of translations is critical for tailoring translated content to the target audience. Language varies by location (would you like a pop/tonic/soda/coke to wash down that sandwich/hoagie/grinder/sub?), and the local review ensures that the translation is appropriate for the target audience. Failure to conduct these reviews can result in misunderstandings between the audience and the content, causing a scramble to correct the issues and a negative perception of your company in that location.

Any one of these links could be a point of failure in your localization chain. By identifying and strengthening that link, you will not only improve the quality of your localized content, but will likely save time and money in the process. Evaluate your localization chain often; strengthening one link may help identify another than also needs attention.