Best Practices for Localisation

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Rahel Bailie (Chief Knowledge Officer at Scroll LLP) describes content as the “new front door” to your business. From the home page to the error message on your checkout- content enables customers to understand your product and connect with your brand. The process of localisation adapts your content to make it understandable and recognisable by different local markets. Examples of localisation range from translation through to updating cultural references within your content. It can quickly descend into a major headache, or appear an impossible task from the outset, without a clear process from the very first piece of content creation. Rahel’s talk is a generous guide of best practices that will make creating and maintaining translations and localisations as painless as possible.

Rahel first establishes the three key challenges of content :

  • Content is important. It helps customers understand your product, services, instructions and ultimately your brand. We always say “content is king” but when it comes down to it product never treats “Content as king” and this will create difficulties for your entire business later down the line.
  • Content exists as part of a life-cycle, not part of a supply chain. The translation is not the final step of that feature. It will continually be improved and edited. Your processes need to be setup to handle these constant iterations and versions across your product.
  • Content can’t be managed like data. Assumptions and associations generated by language changes dependent both on the reader and the context within which it is used. Unlike data, you can’t chop and change sections without reference to its locality.

To address these challenges, Rahel recommends following three key practices:

Manage your source content well

If it’s written poorly in the source it’s going to localise badly (and probably cost more money to do so)

  • Use plain language principles
  • Control the vocabulary- if you have a widget call it a widget everywhere
  • Avoid jargon, gestures, euphemisms which may translate badly
  • Colours, gestures and images matter. The symbolism of an image or theme will be understood differently dependent on the culture.
  • To overcome this you should practice not only translation but transcreation: taking a core concept that you would like to communicate, abstracting it from the symbolism within your content and find a matching counterpart for it within your target country.

If in doubt, test the source content via Google Translate as you’re creating it.

Maintain source control

Create a superset of source content translations. When content is duplicated in multiple places via translation, it can make fixing mistakes and errors a lengthy process. If you fix the content source in one place and have a superset of translations it enables you to:

  1. Translate it once and then re-use the translation of that phrase or instruction across all outputs
  2. Fix it once in one place and then update simultaneously

Don’t to be too granular when creating the source content sets as much of the meaning will depend on the surround text. At less than a sentence level you tend to lose nuances. To help maintain sentence level context it’s also key to use standard semantic structure and metadata tagging as much as possible. For example, personal names in Western countries are made up of given name, middle name and surname but can be encoded surname, given-name, and middle initial. It’s useful to decide upon one of these structures and stick to it throughout your source control- even better, use metadata to specify exactly which one you mean.

Three Critical Processes

Content development

  • You want technical communicators or user assistance writers who know the tools- (don’t let product managers or developers write it!)
  • Maintain consistency between grammar, structure, punctuation, tone and voice

Agile Development

  • Run content creation in parallel with code creation so that they can be tested together
  • Don’t store your content in a database as it will lack the functionality that writers need
  • Transclude rather than copying and pasting in order to be able to edit only the source content

Translation Development

  • When planning translations make sure you don’t only translate from language to language but also market to market
  • Automatic translation
  • Use translation memory in order to save costs as it can identify terms that you have translated already and so don’t need to pay for again. Make sure you consolidate it into a single memory and are ownership of it as opposed to the translation company

Rahel’s talk is a whirlwind tour through the world of localisation and contains a wealth of further resources and technical information for you to explore. Bon voyage!

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