Localization is the process of adapting language to a local culture’s norms and expectations. Languages are not bound by national borders. And languages vary from region to region, dialect to dialect, and accent to accent. Differences in vocabulary, spelling, and cultural references are all important to local audiences. For instance, different dialects of German are spoken in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium. In this case and others, language is not one-size-fits-all. 

Tailoring your content to local audiences is a great way to show that you care about their individual connection to your content.

How To Localize Content

To localize written content, you might need to change the spelling of some words to match the local spelling and update phrases that are region-specific. You might also need to update everyday details that might seem universal, like date and time. 

Consider which format your new audience uses to talk about time. If two characters agree to meet at “2:30” someone might think they are meeting before sunrise. If it is actually 2:30 PM, localize the time for people who use the 24 hour clock and change it to “14:30.”

To make your content easy to understand for local audiences, consider what else is different in their day to day lives:

  • How do they write addresses?
  • What is the format of local phone numbers?
  • How do they write down dates: month/day/year, day/month/year? 

You can also localize video content by adding subtitles in different variants with the correct spelling for each. For example, at Amara we have 5 different variants of Spanish available to create subtitles in. If you have a narrated video, you could localize by re-recording the narration with local-language voice actors.

A short video describing video localization is from the Amara Subtitling YouTube channel.

Localization or Localisation?

If you create a video with captions in American English and want to adapt it to share with British English audiences, you would need to make some spelling changes. Otherwise, your British English audience might think that you don’t know how to spell “aluminium!” American English uses the suffix “-ize” while British English uses “-ise.” For example, if you made a video about localization for British audiences, you would change it to “localisation.” Some similar words come to mind:

  • equalize would become equalise 
  • globalize would become globalise 
  • optimize would become optimise 
  • prioritize would become prioritise 
  • visualize would become visualise

Take a Walk in Their Shoes! 

Localization is about tailoring your content to fit the expectations of local audiences. You might need to revise idioms, metaphors, similes, or other phrases. “Taking a walk in their shoes” and “in the eye of the beholder” might not be  familiar expressions to your new audience, for example! In that case, you could localize by either finding a local variant of the phrase or using a more general phrase that can be understood literally. 

Localizing after translation can be an especially challenging task. Even the most common phrase in one language might not have an equivalent phrase in another language. And if you just translate a phrase word-for-word instead of trying to find a local equivalent, you might lose meaning.

Pay attention to cultural references and consider them in the context of your target audience. If you say that something is a “touchdown,” someone who isn’t familiar with American football might understand your reference. Don’t worry, there are other sports metaphors that have a larger global audience.

How is Localization Different from Translation?

Both localization and translation are about creating access to content across linguistic divisions.

Localization is the process of adapting content within a language for a target culture. 

Translation moves from one language to another while localization moves within variants of the same language. Localization can be used after translation to prepare content for local audiences within the target language in the translation.

If you translate a video into Spanish, for example, you might also want to localize your translations. You might have audiences in multiple countries who use different variants of Spanish from each other. If you only translate and do not localize, audiences who use a different variant will be able to tell the difference. Something as essential as which pronouns to use is not standard across regional boundaries. 

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