Chapter 10: Localization
If you buy an English translation of Cien años de soledad, the novel by Gabriel García Màrquez, you do not expect the story to be transferred to the Midwest of the United States. Instead, you know that this is a translation of a book that was originally written in Spanish and that the story takes place somewhere in Colombia. Other than the fact that the language is different from that of the original version, you want the translated story to be identical to the original-taking place in the same location, with the same cultural background. Even when translated, the novel's linguistic nuances should be as close as possible to those in the original text that Garcia M rquez wrote.
The opposite is true when it comes to software. Most people would not necessarily care that the software they are using might have been developed in a small town in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, for instance. Instead, people expect software to give them the impression as if it was developed in their native tongue and culture-Japanese, French, Arabic, or German. Thus software localization is geared toward adapting software not only to the language but also to the culture of the target market. Translation is only part of the job.
Imagine you buy some educational software for your eight-year-old, and you notice that the children in the software program sip a lot of coffee. While many parents in Brazil might find that behavior absolutely natural, most parents in the United States probably will not. Thus if you want to sell your localized product in the U.S. market, you might want to replace the coffee with some kind of soft drink. However, in a localized version for the European market, soft drinks might not be the best choice either, since many European parents consider coffee and soft drinks to be equally unhealthy for their children.
Those who are involved with software localization need to consider these sorts of cultural differences. In contrast, when translating a book or a movie, there is no need to account for cultural variance. If parents don't like the fact that the children sip coffee in a product, they simply need to find another product. The translator won't change the cultural context for them.
Yet another consideration is the geopolitical requirements that need to be addressed for the successful localization of a software application. For instance, in Germany too much bloodshed in a children's game could easily lead to the product being banned altogether. Some terms might be politically sensitive in the target language, even though they are appropriate in the source language.
Indeed, localization does entail a vast amount of translation-including all of a product's text, menus, dialog boxes, buttons, wizards, online Help, printed documentation, packaging, and CD labels. Multimedia files need to be translated, too, and if the product contains videos, the spoken text needs to be carefully re-synchronized as well. However, again, beyond merely translating the language, localization also needs to adapt the product to the particular locale in which it will be used. Currency, address, number, and date formats need to be changed; the sort order possibly needs to be adjusted; and for many Asian languages the fonts and the font size have to be changed, too. Arabic and Hebrew require right-to-left (RTL) layout of not only the text, but of the whole user interface (UI), including buttons, menus, and dialog boxes. (For more information on RTL lay-out, see Chapter 8, "Mirroring." ) As a result, if you are going to localize into certain Asian languages, or into Arabic or Hebrew, you must design your software to support culture-aware features right from the start. The final localized version of the original software product should look and feel as if it had been designed in the user's home country.
The locale for which you adapt your product can be a country or a region where numerous languages are in use, but where there is still a common language and culture. For instance, Mexico has many indigenous languages such as N huatl, Huave, Totonaco, and many others, even though the official language of Mexico is Spanish. The localized product can also be marketed in a country where the language of the localized product is not the primary language used in that country. In addition, one version of the localized software can be used in more than one country, provided these countries share the same language. For instance, the French language is used in more than 53 countries, and the Arabic language is used in more than 23 countries.
Now that you have seen an overview of issues that are pertinent to local-ization, this chapter will examine certain specifics such as what elements are typically localized. It will also discuss what capabilities localization tools should have, who comprises a typical localization team, and what constitutes effective localization management. Part III,"Localizability," divided localizability into two categories: software localizability and content localizability. Similarly, this chapter views localization in terms of both software localization and content localization.