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  • Writer's pictureRick White - Director of Client Services

The Basics: What If You’re Asked to Manage a Translation and Localization Project?

You’re new to the translation and localization process. Let’s look at how it works.

Hundreds of languages and hundreds of cultures– they all represent opportunity. Whether your company creates eLearning courses, does market research or you’re tasked with writing technical documentation, translation into other languages is a subject you should understand. It can be a complex process, one you have to get right. A great translation, properly localized to resonate with another culture, can make your entry into new global markets much easier. On the other hand, a poor translation sends a big message about your lack of commitment to that culture…

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

In this series, I’m going to enter what is known in Zen as ‘beginner’s mind’, a mindset that resets perception of how the translation and localization process works. By understanding or revisiting the basics, you can ensure a quality translation and localization process, while maintaining cost controls and making your deadlines. Like most businesses these days, translation and localization services is constantly evolving with major breakthroughs in tech like Neural Machine Translation (MT) and project management workflows that can really streamline every step of the process.

Let’s start at a hypothetical beginning: Your company has never developed products for a different language from your native language (I realize that this is increasingly unlikely but maybe you as an individual have never been exposed to the process. This is for you too.) Management or marketing has determined that you are going global, starting with China; a market too large to ignore. And you’ve been tasked with translating your product information into Chinese, including finding vendors, getting estimates, setting timelines (scope), and implementing a quality control system to make sure that your translation is culturally relevant. Unfortunately you don’t speak Chinese, have no one around who does, nor are you aware of what might offend people or simply confuse them if the translation isn’t correct.

What You Need to Know

Start by understanding the factors mentioned above (and a few other things you need to think about):

  1. Machine Translation – Can’t we just run it through Google Translate?

  2. Hire a translator – How do you find them and qualify them?

  3. Language Service Providers (LSPs) – These are the vendors that provide translation and localization services (like Language Intelligence).

  4. The localization process– What exactly is it, and why is it important?

  5. Translation Workflows – How do we get from the beginning to a successful end product?

  6. Transcreation – There is content, like marketing content, that works well in your language but may be meaningless in the language of a differentculture  (or be actually offensive or unintentionally humorous). Transcreation is the process of making this content work in another cultural context. Consider it a subset of Localization.

  7. Internationalization – Writing your content with translation in mind. This is a step in the workflow that can save time and money later.

  8. Audio / Video – Voiceovers, text, and interviews need to be translated. Subtitles or rerecording with native speakers and syncing? Who actually does the voiceovers and who does the editing, etc.?

  9. Text Expansion – The same sentence in different languages can be much longer or shorter. This impacts design, layout, timed things like voiceovers in AV, etc.

Yes, this is getting a little more complex. Let’s take a quick overview of these factors.

Machine Translation

This is a big deal in the translation world and it gets better every day (Google uses neural machine translation which actually learns every time it is used). But it is nowhere near being a viable alternative to review by native speakers. What it does offer is a starting point. Translate the text with MT at the beginning and the entire process can move ahead faster.

Hire a Translator

Yes, you could hire a translator directly, and for smaller jobs in a single language that may be a viable option. But are you capable of finding and qualifying a good one:

  1. Are they native speakers of your target language (a necessity)?

  2. Do they know your subject matter?

  3. Who have they worked for and how long have they been a professional translator?

  4. How do you review their work?

  5. Can they work with your technology platforms?

  6. What if you need more languages?

This gets complicated pretty fast.

Language Service Providers (LSPs)

These are vendors which manage the Translation and Localization process end to end. They have qualified translators, project managers, linguists, and technology designed to streamline the process, eliminate duplication of effort, and ensure quality and accuracy. And they can manage your move into multiple languages and cultures. Here at Language Intelligence, for example, we’ve worked in over 100 languages across a variety of industries and disciplines.

Localization Process

We’ve all seen bad translations of things like manuals, either unintentionally funny or incomprehensible. That is because they have not been localized to the culture of the target market. Things like colloquialisms can’t be literally translated to cultures where they don’t have context. How do you take a phrase like ‘he hit it out of the park’ and adapt it to a country (like most) where the rules of baseball are a mystery?

Translation Workflows

How exactly does this work? How do I write an RFP for my project? How do I know how long it will take and how much it should cost? What do I need to provide and in what format? Who manages quality control? All of these things fit into the workflow of an LSP. I’ll be covering that in my next Basics post.


Let’s see what Wikipedia says about this:

“Transcreation is a term used chiefly by advertising and marketing professionals to refer to the process of adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context. A successfully transcreated message evokes the same emotions and carries the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language. Increasingly, transcreation is used in global marketing and advertising campaigns as advertisers seek to transcend the boundaries of culture and language. It also takes account of images which are used within a creative message, ensuring that they are suitable for the target local market.”

Transcreation is localization of creative writing as opposed to technical writing.

Confused yet?


In the translation world, internationalization in the process of creating content designed for translation from the beginning, as opposed to translating existing content. If you have the option of starting out with the knowledge that your work will be translated into other languages, there are best practices for internationalizing your content. Eliminating colloquialisms, slang, understanding what acronyms mean in other languages, and whether they will mean anything- these things, when considered during creation of the originals, will save you time and money down the road.

Audio-visual Elements and Text Expansion

Video, podcasts, recorded interviews, embedded media…all of these things need translation too. An LSP should provide transcription, subtitles or voiceover narration recorded by native speakers, and other multimedia content, in context. This can get complex because the same meaning in two different languages can take more time and space (a translation into German from English, for example, can be 30% longer). This affects narration, synchronization, design, and desktop publishing in significant ways.

Ok, I’ll stop for now. It’s a lot to take in. But all of these factors impact the success of your translation project. And that effect multiplies outward, impacting profitability and reputation.It worth your time to get this right early on.

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