Localisation as a career

28 Oct

localisationI 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, 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


Related posts on this blog:

Read all of my careers advice posts here!


Posted by on October 28, 2013 in Business, Localisation, New skills, Skillset


Tags: ,

14 responses to “Localisation as a career

  1. Krys Williams

    October 28, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I’ve done a bit of US to UK localisation, but must confess to finding the work far less enjoyable than translation from a non-English language.

    I refuse all translation work in Excel, because I do not consider it a suitable medium for working with words! The 2-column Word format also annoys me and I rarely accept work in it. Working with proprietary software is again a no, no. It’s simply not worth the effort, in my opinion, to learn a new program from scratch for a job that might pay a couple of hundred pounds, with no guarantee of further projects from that client in the future. I would only consider it for a large project worth several thousand pounds.

    I used Trados for about ten years (from Trados 6 to Studio 2011) and always loathed it for the way it hogs memory, freezes up the computer or crashes, and throws frequent hissy fits making it impossible to generate a clean file.

    One day last spring, a client asked if I’d be willing to try MemoQ using a temporary licence from their own server. I accepted the job and was instantly converted! I now have my own full licence for MemoQ and continue to be delighted with the software.


    • Liz at Libro

      October 28, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Thanks for your full and informative comment, Krys! I would say that now I only work with these software setups if I know I’m going to have a long-term relationship with the client. My real bugbear is having to click on something on every line to send it through or say I’ve looked at it, when localisation really doesn’t change every word or even every sentence!


      • Krys Williams

        October 28, 2013 at 10:05 pm

        My bugbear is the way a segment might only be part of a sentence. I don’t know how much it would apply to US-UK “translation”, but certainly with non-English languages, it’s often better to shift the clauses in a sentence around. CAT software doesn’t give that global view. It focuses on a specific segment. I’ve found myself having to go back and forth a lot. Of course, it then also means that the translation might not necessarily be a translation of the segment in question, but of the segment preceding or following it!

        I hope that you are paid for the untouched segments. After all, you still need to read through them and check they are acceptable. When I have 100% matches or repetitions come up in a TM, I still charge 30% of my normal per word rate for them (in line with the 30/60/100 system originally proposed by Trados for users of its software) to compensate for the time needed to read through to ascertain that no change is required. I would think the same rule applies in your case.


        • Liz at Libro

          October 29, 2013 at 9:53 am

          Yes, Krys, I get paid for all of it, I just get a bit frustrated at the endless clicking to put through something on which I’ve done nothing. I do get paid a bit less than translators, though, obviously (which I think is right!). I find the segment thing a bit annoying, too – it happens less often but you do want to move them around sometimes still. I also feel compelled to comment on any typos in the original!


  2. Nic

    October 28, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Last issue of the magazine I edit, one advertiser went through a number of submissions before we were happy with the submitted piece from a “medical claims” POV. I didn’t dare start on the “Is this really suitable for the UK market?” conversation … and the language, design and stock photos were bad. So bad even the non experts in the office cringed. All very “cheesy American”.

    And of course, the advert bombed. I don’t think it had crossed their mind that the British not only use language differently, we consume advertising differently, and we respond to different images.

    I had the same issue when I worked for a pan-European family-led company – it simply didn’t do as well in the UK as in Europe not because the products were wrong for the market, but the marketing and promotion were. I knew it wasn’t going to change when they ignored the native English speaking marketing person and instead would get me to proof read what their translators had come up with…


    • Liz at Libro

      October 29, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Thanks so much, Nic – it’s really interesting to read this level of detail from the other side of the relationship, and shows how important this work is – and not just at a spelling level, but a cultural level.


  3. Amelia

    October 28, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Wow, a blog post that touches so accurately on what I do! As an English editor it can be very difficult to explain that I work with localisation and that a lot of it, as you quite rightly point out, is related to translation in one form or another.
    I found my niche in localisation after working for a translation company, and everything you mentioned, from the software to the other language combinations, all plays a part.
    I would say that I’m so used to using CAT tools for localisation now I often wish my regular English copyediting work came in the same format! Contrary to some comments I would say that the value of the software is definitely worth the investment for regular work. Thanks for a great post!


    • Liz at Libro

      October 29, 2013 at 9:55 am

      Thanks for your comment, Amelia, and I’m glad you feel I’ve represented this side of editing work accurately. I find the CAT tools I use now fine, but I felt it was worth warning editors that it’s a very different way to work, and a steep learning curve at the beginning. The first one I used was Crossweb, the web version of Across, and I just could NOT work out how to save each segment! The people I was working with were very helpful, luckily! And of course the more of them you work with, the more familiar the next one is.


  4. Graham

    March 25, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Hi, Liz.

    Thanks very much for posting this advice. I’m a new-ish proofreader and editor (I’ve done the PTC proofreading course, had some basic training in copy-editing, and done some work for non-publishers), who once lived in the US for three years, and has a yellowing Merriam-Webster dictionary to show for it. I’ve also read a lot of writing by American authors. I became interested in localisation when reading about it in your book, and that led me to these blog entries, and I’m wondering about a couple of things …

    – Do you think someone with my background has a realistic chance of getting work in localising from US to UK English? I probably can’t use, as I’m not a translator.

    – You said ‘you also need a very special set of skills to do with operating specific, specialised translation software’, but, later on, you seemed to be saying that some jobs don’t involve special software, so I’m a bit unclear about this. I would have thought (and I hope) that some clients would prefer the localisation to be done completely ‘by eye’, i.e. with no automation involved – do you know whether this is the case? (I’m not asking you to name names.)

    I’d be very grateful for your thoughts on this.



    • Liz at Libro

      March 25, 2014 at 11:23 am

      Thanks for your comment Graham.

      I would say on experience that if you’ve lived in both cultures and if you pick up a copy of a modern American dictionary, American editing reference books like Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook, you could do it both ways, in fact (and also offer editing in US English, which adds a string to your bow).

      Note that I’m on Proz – you don’t have to be a translator, as there is quite a lot of localisation work that goes in association with other-language translations (so they’ll have a US site translated into European languages and UK English, for example), so go for that!

      Regarding the translation software, a lot of the agencies do demand use of it, again because they are often doing multiple language translations and you have to fit in with that. It can be a pain, as it’s automated to fill translation memories etc., which is all very well unless you’re only changing one sector in five but have to move over and accept sectors 1-4 even though you don’t change anything on them. So there is work out there that doesn’t use the software, but a lot of it does.

      Thanks for mentioning that you’ve read my book, by the way, and I hope you found it useful. Do take a minute to pop a review on Amazon or your own blog, etc., if you can, as it does help to spread the word. Thank you!


      • Graham

        March 25, 2014 at 11:55 am

        Thanks for your quick and helpful reply, Liz. I will have a go at signing up for I was put off by the wording on the home page that says “If you are a professional translator or you operate a translation agency [neither of which is true], you may register and create a profile for free” – but I’ll ask their support team for guidance if needed.


        • Liz at Libro

          March 25, 2014 at 11:57 am

          You’re most welcome – I value comments and questions on this blog and try to answer as quickly and fully as I can! Just pop your profile up and go for it – just put English-English as your language pair. I get the benefit from having the Jobs membership, you don’t need full membership as that gets you courses you don’t need as a non-translator. I’ve been a member for years and been the “featured member” on the sidebar a few times, so they know what I do and what I don’t do and I’ve never had any trouble. Good luck!


          • Graham

            March 25, 2014 at 12:38 pm

            Thanks again, Liz – I’ll give it a whirl.



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