Published by Kerry on 03 Feb 2011 at 10:58 am
Is your organization thinking about scaling internationally? Expanding into other regions may be enticing, but do you have what it takes to go global? Below we’ll talk about case studies, best practices for localization, and whether you’re jumping the gun! Consider attending WiserEarth’s free webinar on localization this Feb 9 at 10 pm PST to learn more!
What does it mean to localize?
Wikipedia defines language localization as: “the second phase of a larger process of product translation and cultural adaptation (for specific countries, regions, or groups) to account for differences in distinct markets, a process known as internationalization and localization. Language localization is not merely a translation activity, because it involves a comprehensive study of the target culture in order to correctly adapt the product to local needs.”
Phew! Essentially, localization adapts your content and technology (such as your website) to cultures and languages other than the one you began with. Our focus is on the adaptation of content and technology.
When to localize
To determine whether you’re ready to make the leap, ask yourself some key questions:
- How many people are demanding this expansion? Is it one, ten, ten thousand?
- Is part of your mission/vision to be global, or multi-local, or serve immigrant communities that don’t speak the dominant language?
- Do you have the time to devote to site localization (setting up translatable interface, designing different homepages, providing support, tracking urls, etc)?
- How will you find dedicated native speakers to translate and guide the cultural adaptation of your content? Is your current content relevant, even if translated?
- Do you have the capacity to sustain your localized versions once the translation is done (ie. regional coordinators, local partners, etc)?
It can be done
WiserEarth localized in French, Spanish and Portuguese last spring, and learned many lessons. When we localized, we relied upon a more crowdsourced model, asking for volunteers to take on the work. Our content was divided into two parts – our website interface (e.g. buttons like ‘Save’ ‘Close’) and our content pages (e.g. our community guidelines, and content policy).
For translating the interface we used a third party website called LaunchPad.net. The great advantage of this site is that many simple word fragments like ‘Save’ have already been translated on for other projects. In fact, the open source Linux project Ubuntu uses LaunchPad, so for most common words there is already a suggested translation available. The only downside of this approach is that you cannot see the words in context on our website. But we solved this issue by giving translators access to WiserEarth in their language – so they could see the site as it gradually got translated and make corrections as they went along when the translation was incorrect, or too long for the space provided. Three key lessons we learned were:
- Keep a controlled vocabulary list – i.e. for words that you use over and over again in the interface. So for us that would be things like ‘Event’, ‘Group’, or ‘ Job’ etc, You would be amazed at how many different translations for simple words like that can crop up if you have twenty people translating at the same time independently!
- Recognize that word order and gender affect translations especially for romance languages. So that meant using tokens for variables like a member’s username so that we could place it anywhere we wanted in a sentence. Also, we had to be comfortable with s/he type gender agreements or we would have ended up with up to three times more translations for male, female and neuter word agreements.
- Allow a number of people to be Alpha users and have them live with the interface and content for a while – so that bugs can be identified, tracked and solved.
- Recognize that some users will have language preferences that don’t match their location. So for example, while we redirect traffic from France to our fr.wiserearth.org subdomain, we do allow that person to select any other language we support if they would prefer it and then only show them that language for the interface.
For content page translations we simply used our own wikipage functionality, made a master list of key pages that needed translation per language, and assigned a translation cheerleader for each language. That person was responsible for recruiting and exhort volunteers, and making the final edits. We thought it was important to only have native speakers of the target language. We even went as far as to prefer Brazilians for our Portuguese translations since this was our target audience and not Portuguese speakers in Portugal.
Finally, translation is just the start of a localization effort. As mentioned above, ask yourself, who is going to manage the new language site for the future? Who is going to curate content and/or manage members and provide support? These are in many ways harder to solve than a straight translation problem.
- Not everyone will be reliable, persistence and engagement pays off when finding translators
- Make translation a game – play one language community against another. Pit the French against the Spanish! Who is 50%, 75%, 100% there?
- Partnerships are key for localizing within a community, they provide the long-term staying power that volunteers cannot.
- You can empower local advocates to help you, and this will increase your capacity
- Expectations will be culturally different: perceptions of time were different in Latin America versus Europe
- Localizing doesn’t have to cost a lot (there are free tools like Launchpad)
- Rewarding your helpers is key (we invited them to events, increased their visibility, and more)
- Making visuals culturally relevant and appropriate is part of localization too! (e.g. we changed pictures of melting glaciers to rainforest for Brazilian flyers)
- Keep the message, and the name, simple: WiserEarth as a name didn’t pronounce well in other languages, but the message of a ‘wiser’ ‘earth’ did.
Find out more
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