As a translation agency offering language translation services and localization for almost 3 decades, we’ve localized thousands of documents and videos of all shapes and sizes. At least once every few weeks a client searching for document translation services asks, “What is the difference between translation and localization?” In order to answer this, let’s first look into the whole picture.
By itself, translation, in the context of language, refers to the rendering of a word, a thought or idea from one language into another. Or more specifically, according to Merriam-Webster, “a process of rendering from one language into another.”
Localization is a subheading under the broad term of translation. It refers to translating a document or video for use in a specific location or region. Several countries have more than one official language. Here in America, our closest example is Canada with both English and French as official languages. We can break this down further into countries that have the same official language, but one that varies from country to country, this wikipedia page lists territories where English is an official language.
Why Does Language Localization Matter to Business?
A company or entity wanting to sell products or services to any of the aforementioned English speaking countries would do well to research the local nuances in order to successfully communicate their interests. This is because of the subtle differences between dialects from region to region. In a previous article, we discussed different words with the same meanings in various versions of English. This is a key example of the importance of localization translation.
A Localization Case Study
Let’s say you’re living in America and you see this ad about an upcoming art installation. Aside from the cool photo, what pops out to you? Perhaps the spelling of the word “colour?” While numerous English speaking countries use “colour” as the official spelling, the United States isn’t one of them. What message does this send to the customer? It could seem like a lazy translation with no attention to detail in regards to language localization.
While an example like this may be okay for a hoity-toity art piece, it surely wouldn’t be okay for a technical document translation. For businesses, branding and communication is key. If that first impression is botched, your likelihood of a potential customer moving on to a competitor of yours increases. But wait- that’s not all…
Date, Time & Unit Localization
In addition to making sure your written words are correctly localized for your target demographic, you also have to consider localizing numbers, date and time formats, currency, symbols and more. Let’s zoom in on our previous example's details:
The date and time is nothing short of confusing to an American reader. To meet American standards, this would need to be localized to 12/28/19 @ 5:30pm- a big difference! While this is a simple example, other instances are more complex- especially regarding metric to imperial conversions which if done incorrectly, could result in product failure, or even a lawsuit should someone use an improperly localized technical translation.
Last but not least is the concept of internationalization in regards to translation and localization. The definition varies greatly, but in our context here, internationalization is the design and layout of a document or product so that translation and localization can be easily implemented. A simple example here would be if a client needs Spanish translation services, or Chinese translation services, they require more page space in comparison with English because they have more text per sentence on average. Equally important is leaving additional space on product labels to add numerous unit formats, like inches vs. millimeters.
Whatever it may be, we are a translation company that has offered online translation services for hundreds of clients throughout the world. Unlike many of our competitors, we specifically use native translators to ensure that your document is localized properly to ensure your client or customer gets the message as you intended. With your new understanding of translation, localization and internationalization, don’t hesitate to reach out and contact us for a free quote on your next project.
Of the five following languages, which one has the most native speakers?
Chinese (Mandarin) has 1.2 billion native speakers
Spanish comes in second with 400 million native speakers
English comes in third with 360 million native speakers
Hindi ranks number 4 with about 330 million native speakers, but it’s complicated
Arabic comes in last, but like Hindi, it’s also complicated
The above figures are estimates and the numbers while close, are always changing. To add to the confusion, languages such as Hindi and Arabic can have such dramatic variations, that people who speak what they consider to be the same language are often not able to fully understand each other. Here we are talking about “native” speakers. If we consider people who speak an additional language, the numbers change significantly. For example, the total number of people who speak English fluently (not necessarily native) increases to more than half a billion, thanks to English being at the forefront of global business relationships.
Which language has the most words?
Most scholars would agree that English has the most words. However this can be quite tricky to calculate. English comes out on top because it borrows many of its words from the Germanic and Latin languages. It is also constantly creating new words with its emphasis on science, medical and technical inventions. The problem we encounter is, what constitutes a word? And if a single word has more than one meaning should this be considered two words or more? Let’s take the word ‘bear’ for example. Here are a few of its possible meanings.
*I couldn’t bear to see that movie again.
*She will get married and bear a child.
*A bear was spotted behind my neighbor’s house.
*The walls were not strong enough to bear the weight of the roof.
*Next year that tree will bear fruit.
*His excuse doesn’t bear close examination.
*I’m not going to bear the blame.
*That statement doesn’t bear repeating.
*Bear to the left or the boat will hit the buoy.
So what happens in the translation process when there is a word in English with no corresponding word in the target language? This takes us to the topic of: “transcreation”.
As currently understood and used, transcreation deals primarily with articles and copy written for the advertising industry. It is used to create an understanding of the meaning of the message and not simply a translation of the individual words. Let’s look at some common business slogans that word for word have little meaning in a foreign language, without being transcreated into a slogan that would reflect the meaning in that other language. I will give examples of “transcreation” in the world of advertising in the forthcoming blog.
Case Study – A Word is Born
Well, it wasn’t actually born the way puppies or fish or birds are born, but rather invented, or just plain made up.
In 1947 John Robinson Pierce, while working for Bell Telephone Laboratories, invented an electronic device he named a “transistor”. It replaced many of the functions of vacuum tubes, which back in the day were commonly used in radios. The device transfers an electrical current across a resistor, hence the term transfer + resistor, shortened to transistor. When you go to a global translation website today to find out what this word is called in different languages you’ll find that the following languages adopted the word without changing the spelling:
Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Italian, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Turkish, Catalan, Czech, Romanian, Estonian, Filipino, Hawaiian, Hmong, Malay, Norwegian, Scots Gaelic, Somali, Sudanese and Welsh.
Other countries have incorporated the same word, but changed the spelling slightly to conform to their specific pronunciation.
Croatian = transistor
Slovak = tranzistor
Finnish = transistori
Hungarian = tranzisztor
Polish = tranzystor
Romanian = transistor
I didn’t include the character-based languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. because they use phonetic symbols to express the sound of the spoken word.
Since the beginning of human time, families, tribes, villages and countries have created words to define their world, express their feelings, thoughts and ideas. With the advent of the internet, jet travel and international business, the interchange of languages is growing and changing at a rate faster than any other time in history.
So what does this matter to us as translation industry professionals? There’s a couple key takeaways from the concept of transcreation and how it relates to our business. First and foremost, transcreation renders computer translations unusable. This is why here at TSI, we never use computer translation applications in the process of our work. Second, it shows the importance of hiring the right translator for the job. For example, when dealing with transcreated words relating to a specific industry, it’s essential to match that project with a native translator well versed in the lingo or jargon pertaining to said industry.
Because of our close to 30 years of experience working with very niche markets, our team of translators is ready to handle language subtleties with ease. If you have a need for translation of documents that are unique, don’t worry- we can handle them at TSI. There’s numerous ways to contact us for an estimate.
Almost 50 years ago Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Since then several countries have either created their own versions of OSHA or they have adopted similar rules and regulations used in the USA. The rules deal with asbestos, fall protection, cotton dust, trenching, machine guarding, benzene, lead and blood-borne pathogens, among other work related issues.
Some of our earliest work at TSI was translating OSHA documents 25 years ago for American based companies who had employees who were not native English speakers. The first job was Latin American Spanish, then Haitian Creole and French Canadian. Later on the number of languages expanded as companies with affiliates worldwide decided to offer the same information and training to their employees living and working abroad.
Many of the topics needing translation were and continue to be related to Construction, General Industry, Maritime and Agriculture standards that protect workers from a wide range of serious hazards. Examples of OSHA standards include requirements for employers to:
Provide fall protection; prevent trenching cave-ins; prevent exposure to some infectious diseases; ensure the safety of workers who enter confined spaces; prevent exposure to harmful chemicals; put guards on dangerous machines; provide respirators or other safety equipment; and provide training for certain dangerous jobs in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
A common misconception amongst employers is that if they do not have a warehouse or manual labor workers, OSHA does not apply to them and their business. This is not only false, but also opens up business owners to federal government fines and possible revocation of business licenses. It also puts them at risk because employees can file lawsuits against them for failure to follow OSHA regulations.
The US Department of Labor has a number of posters in various languages for you to hang in your workplace. While these documents are very helpful, there may be others that only exist in english. If you need OSHA documents translated, here at TSI, we have extensive experience working with this documentation and can help make sure your business is in compliance with federal regulations. Our experienced translators’ familiarity with OSHA language ensures that there’s no confusion for your foreign language speaking employers.
Please reach out to us if you’re in need of document translation. Here at TSI, we would love to add you to our robust portfolio of happy clients. Contact us for a consultation or a quote.
Many people love to write, but one aspect of writing whether creative or technical is the editing process; rarely is a first draft ever good enough. Anyone who has worked as a copywriter understands the amount of tedious reviews their work needs to go through before it hits the press (or the web). But there’s many times when the quality of writing isn’t up to par for translation. A solid source document is the first and most important part of the translation process. The following three tips are ones that we live by at Translation Services International and serve as a great guide to cleaning up your copy.
What is the purpose of the document, letter, brochure, manual, video, advertisement, training program, etc.? Typically it depends on the company’s division requesting a quote. Are you selling a product or service, describing the function of a computer program, training someone how to operate and maintain a compressor, informing employees about company policy, etc.?
2. Who is writing?
It has come to our attention that quite often, writing assignments are handed off to employees who might not have proper training or experience. This will be illustrated in the continuation of this section. The Internet has many sources to help understand the basics of most writing assignments. For help writing business letters check out this guide from Purdue.
Here’s a helpful scriptwriting guide from Column Five Media. There are obstacles involved in video scripts that will be explained in a future article.
If the company you work for sells products or services and you are writing the advertising copy, here are 5 helpful tips for advertising copy.
It is not uncommon for the documents we receive to have major spelling or grammatical errors. We also see this on company websites, which in turn create a negative image of the company. If they don’t care enough to exhibit high quality writing, a reader might wonder if they care enough about the products and services they are selling. Some errors are simple typos wherein the wrong key is inadvertently typed, while others are basic misspellings. Words that are commonly misspelled are loose for lose, it’s for its, recieve for receive, seperate for separate, embarrased for embarrassed, — — you get the picture. If you feel that spelling is one of the areas where you need help, here is a link to the most common misspelled English words.
3. How to review and proofread a document
Writers need to put themselves in the position of readers. A writer may have a vast amount of knowledge in the material they want to communicate. But this can be both a boon and a bane when it comes to communicating their thoughts. Because what seems to be quite clear or easy for them to understand might be totally misunderstood by a reader. Writing coaches suggest the following:
When following these three tips, your copy will be primed and ready to pass of to our agency to commence the translation process. It will save you time, money and ultimately result in a greater experience with the reader.
The debate regarding the origin of language has been going on for several millennia. Within the past few years however, linguists have spread out across the globe looking for evidence of primitive languages. One of the more compelling areas of discussion is the continuing prevalence of languages based on whistling, perhaps whose origins sprang from the imitation of bird songs. Below is a link to an BBC Future article called “The beautiful languages of the people who talk like birds”.
What can we learn from this and how does it apply to our contemporary world? Like the people who talk like birds, we as modern day humans tend to alter our speech patterns, vocabulary, and accent based on our neighbors and local community. This explains the evolution of the American accent versus British, Scottish, Kiwi, etc.
But accents usually don’t alter how we translate the written word. Just like speech, there have been slight adjustments in sentence structure and spelling throughout the course of the english language. For example, the word “color” as we would spell it in America is different that what the folks on the other side of the pond write which is “colour”. Now how did this come to be? With this one- it’s political.
Noah Webster (yes, of dictionary fame) was a famous lexicographer who, when America was establishing herself as an independent entity from England, developed updated spellings of certain words to make them more unique. Color is one of these. Grammarly.com dives in even deeper here.
As the owner of a translation company, it’s subtleties like this that are extremely important when understanding where your client’s final product will land in the world. Spanish in Spain is drastically different than Mexico or Puerto Rico. It’s these little subtleties that make a translated document read “native” as opposed to “foreign” and one of the reasons we strive to use translators whose native tongue best fits our client’s needs. Good luck doing that with a computer!
Considering the popularity of emoticons, emojis and animojis, who knows- perhaps someday we will be translating those as well.
Learn more about Translation Services International and the services we offer.
I’ve often heard clients ask, “What’s the most important thing I need to understand about translation? Is it the size of the project or the difficulty of the language or the country where the document will be used, etc.”
The short answer is, none of the above. In a few words, translation involves converting the source language (eg. English) into a target language (eg. Chinese). I use Chinese as an example because it is one of the fastest growing languages in our field of work and it comes with specific issues that will be discussed later on. The answer to the main question is the source language. You’ve most likely heard the expression “garbage in, garbage out (GIGO).” Although this typically relates to the scientific and mathematical world, it also has significance when it comes to translations.
Making Sense Out of Nonsense
I’m not writing about nonsense in a pejorative or derogatory way, but rather to indicate writing that is not understandable. It’s like reading a paragraph, a sentence or even a phrase and not knowing what the writer is attempting to convey. This happens more often than not, and for this reason, among others, at Translation Services International we thoroughly proofread every document that comes in. If we are given a document in English that for whatever reason we can’t understand, how could we possibly expect a translator, whose native language is not English to understand it. That’s why it is imperative and absolutely necessary for us to take the time to make sure that we don’t have garbage or poorly written documents going into the process. What are the causes of bad source documents?
In this business there’s no room for garbage in, garbage out. If we don’t understand it, it doesn’t get delivered to our team of translators. For those reading this blog who are writers and want to hone your proofreading skills, I’ll be adding a section called, “How to prepare your documents for translation into any and all languages.” Feel free to reach out for a quote.
Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.