I was recently asked for some hints about developing a career in localisation, and so here I share a bit of information about this rather specialised area of work.
What is localisation?
I covered the definition of localisation in an earlier post, but basically it’s all about changing content (whether that’s content in a novel, a website, marketing materials, dialogue in a computer game, instructions for operating equipment, etc.) so that it works in a different geographical location.
Typically, being a British English native speaker, I am asked to localise from American English into British English, for the British (or British English influenced English speaking) market.
“Oh,” you might cry, “that just means you change color to colour and organize to organise, right?” Well, there is a bit more to it than that, and I really don’t think it’s something that just anyone – even any editor – can do.
What background and skills do you need to do localisation?
As well as the classic attention to detail and background in perhaps editing, or indeed translation (it is actually often seen as a branch of translation, which brings its own issues, as we’ll find below), I think that it is vital to have experience in the language out of which you are localising: the way it works, its vocabulary, its punctuation, its spelling.
I used to work for an American company in its UK office. I spent a lot of time working on documents aimed for the two marketplaces. I travelled to America and had a lot of dealings with American colleagues, as well as travelling to America at other times, and got a good grasp of the difference between the two cultures. Still, like translators are meant to do, I will only localise out of US English into UK English. I do edit American English, so I see it and am made aware of its differences and special rules on at least one job per week.
Because of the links with translation, you also need a very special set of skills to do with operating specific, specialised translation software – which is very often not easy to use. I’ll talk about that in a minute.
I’ve also got a number of reference books – the New Oxford Style Manual is good on the variants in spelling, and I have other books in addition to the resources I use to edit in US English.
What is involved in US – UK English localisation?
As I mentioned above, it’s not just a question of changing the or spellings to our and taking out some zs (actually, British English of the Oxford variety does allow zs; however, I’ve found that all of my localisation clients or those who ask for work in specifically British English prefer to have the s spellings which they associate with British English – I do as I’m asked!). American and British English differ in terms of their spelling, punctuation and other grammar, and terminology. Here’s an invented example (US English on the left):
Now, of course, English is nothing if not subjective, and you might not agree with my choices here, but this serves as an example of the level of work involved in localisation. I might not change so much in every sentence, but there are an awful lot of issues to be aware of.
Another important issue is the range of texts involved in localisation projects. Most of mine have been under Non Disclosure Agreements, but I can tell you that I’ve worked on instructions for medical devices; dialogue for computer games; error messages for software; marketing materials for various large multinationals; and quizzes for people who sell a particular brand of product. So you need to be aware of the different registers involved in English writing, perhaps more even than when you’re editing.
How do localisation jobs work?
Herein lies the rub. As I mentioned earlier, localisation is often seen as akin to translation. And very often, a British English localisation is just one of a whole slew of translations into other languages that is being done, or it’s being handled by a company that handles translations and is used to dealing with translation software.
So, while pretty well all of my editing and proofreading jobs come in Word or PDF files, just one document to be annotated or changed, my localisation jobs come in the form of:
- A Word document that has been output from translation software and has two columns, one for US English (the Source) and one for UK English (the Target), usually with the US English pasted into the UK column to be changed and marked up, broken up into sentences or sentence fragments, often with some highlighted in different colours
- An Excel document in two or more columns, again broken up into sentences or sentence fragments. Sometimes the UK English is pre-populated into the Target column, sometimes not.
- A file to be manipulated using standard translation software like Trados or Across. To use the full versions of these, you might need to buy and download somewhat expensive software.
- A file to manipulated using the client’s own proprietary translation software – this is often web-based and free, but can take some learning, and they are ALL DIFFERENT
I’m not going to go into the details here, but basically any work done in a translation management system can be a bit frustrating for the localiser, as typically you’re not changing words in every segment, yet you will have to mark each segment as translated, often by hand and using a repetitive set of actions. All very well if you’re a translator, poring over every word, not so great when you are only changing one segment in five!
How do I get localisation work?
I tend to get my localisation work in two ways:
- Through my membership of Proz.com, which is a jobs (and more) website specifically for translators, but which does have editing (usually non-native English texts) and transcription jobs
- Through people searching the web and finding that I discuss and offer localisation
I have several regular localisation clients. However, I don’t think I would want to do only localisation, as it’s quite a specific field and the projects involved can be quite long and complex.
In conclusion, localisation is something I would only suggest you go into if you have …
- Good, solid experience with US and UK English
- A high tolerance and capacity for learning new software interfaces fast and dealing with often recalcitrant and tricky systems
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