Localization: Redundant? Or a useful neologism?*

For many years now, we’ve been hearing the term “localization” bandied about to refer to the cultural adaptation of a translation, especially in the IT and video game fields. Why did the translation industry need this term?

According to the Larousse French dictionary, localization is defined as “the adaptation of a product, productive or commercial activity to a geographic area based on a variety of natural, technical, economic, cultural and social factors” [our translation]. At first glance, this definition does not directly refer to translation.

Also according to Larousse, translation means “the expression in a target language of what was stated in a source language, while maintaining semantic and stylistic equivalencies” [our translation].

The Wikipedia article on localization states that “language localization differs from translation activity because it involves a comprehensive study of the target culture in order to correctly adapt the product to local needs.” But isn’t this a flagrant misunderstanding of what translation is?

At university, I learned that translation was a global language transfer process characterized by faithfulness to the source text, respect for the author’s tone, mastery of the source and target languages, writing the target text idiomatically so that it can be understood by its target audience, and cultural adaptation. This process goes well beyond Larousse’s brief definition.

The term “language localization” seems to arise from market globalization. Perhaps this was an opportunity to create a niche.

Later in the same Wikipedia entry, it says this: “In addition to translation […], the localization process might include adapting graphics, adopting local currencies, using proper format for date and time, addresses, and phone numbers applicable to the location; the choices of colours; and many other details, including rethinking the physical structure of a product.” Yet aside from the choice of colour, translation professionals take all these precautions before sending the document to their client.

Creating the notion of localization seems to have bifurcated the translation process, dissociating it from the cultural adaptation implicit within it, rather than meeting a need. The question remains: is there a reason for the neologism? Or is the term redundant?

*Text translated by Alison Newall.

Pricing in translation*

In the big world of the liberal professions, pricing varies widely among the various fields and services. In Quebec, the 46 professional orders—whose mission is first and foremost to protect the public—have over 385,000 members, including architects, lawyers, chemists, chartered professional accountants, human resources counsellors, criminologists, dentists, engineers, doctors, notaries, pharmacists, psychologists, social workers and certified translators. To be accredited, all of these professionals have had to take recognized courses and meet the criteria of their respective orders. They are all subject to the same laws and regulations arising from the Professional Code that governs the practice of 54 professions in Quebec.

With regard to fees, professionals usually opt for a set hourly fee which applies to all actions done for the client. For example, a lawyer’s bill will state the time spent speaking on the phone with the client, searching for information, meetings, appearing in court, etc. Dentists, for their part, bill clients for services based on a set schedule for exams, cleaning, scaling, X-rays, etc. What about translators?

Translators in private practice mainly bill by the word, although there is a slight trend toward hourly billing. Whether by the word or hour, the price may vary based on the nature of the text, the amount of time allotted for doing the work, and any additional work required, such as layout or image processing, if any. Note that translation work first calls for a careful reading of the source text, contextual research into the topic, identifying terminology in the text, and finally rendering the message idiomatically in the target language. All of this work is based on one essential condition: the professional translator must also have an in depth knowledge of at least two languages and two cultures. More than “functionally bilingual,” the translator must have a mastery of the target language, and a thorough knowledge of the techniques of the craft, skills that are acquired with many years of training. Not just anybody can be a translator!

Translators, like their counterparts in other professions, are moving toward billing by the hour for the professional services they render. In the meantime, both billing styles coexist in perfect harmony.

*Text translated by Alison Newall.

The Industrialization of Translation*

The race for the title of the planet’s largest language services provider is in full swing. A case in point: Lionbridge’s recent acquisition of CLS Communication (owned by Lexi-Tech). However, the mergers of such industry giants also speak to how industrialized the translation market is becoming, a process that has been underway for some time now.

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