Thursday, 27th September 2007
One of the topics at the recent Global Information Industry Summit in Berlin was about doing business in markets where the cultures and languages are different from that of home, such as the Middle East and Asia. The Middle East is a region of 18 countries that share one common written language, but many different spoken languages and local cultures. In Asia, the language and culture landscape is even more complicated. To enter those markets requires to make products readable and usable in the local contexts. This discussion led me to look into the so-called localisation industry which is renaming itself as the globalisation industry.
The localisation industry emerged in the late 1980s, initially as a function of the software industry which was among the earliest to leverage the global communications infrastructure including PCs and the Internet for low cost worldwide marketing, sales, distribution as well as support. While software is increasingly becoming an integral part of products and services in many other segments, the localisation industry now represents manufacturers of automobiles, heavy equipment and consumer goods, retailers, media and entertainment companies, legal firms, financial institutions, governmental and non-profit bodies, and many others. Localization has a very important role for the information industry as digital contents are becoming mainstream.
Localisation is not the same as translation, although there is overlap between the two. Localisation goes beyond textual components of products or services which are normally within the scope of translation. According to the Globalization Industry Primer published by the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA), the issues that localisation commonly addresses include:
* Linguistic adaptation: Besides textual translation, a Web-based information product may require adaptations to the visual layout due to space requirements of particular languages for the user interface
* Physical modification: A BMW sold in U.K. needs to have the steering wheel on the right side of the car. If a database vendor requires on-site terminal installation, it is likely that the physical configurations such as keyboard layouts are to be modified for local norms
* Business and cultural differences: How to handle differences in currencies, accounting conventions, address and telephone number formats, etc. may have big impact on business success or failure. If credit card is the only payment option for online buyers, that product is doomed to fail in markets like China today
* Technical challenges: Languages that require special character encoding or adaptation of user interfaces to right to left writing formats may take significant efforts in engineering design. Even more challenging might be processes where human-machine interaction is required.
The LISA publication gives a good introductory overview of the industry, major issues and key players. A good example of what localisation services deal with in the software industry is well documented in an article titled Chinese Localization
by SimulTrans .
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