Most people agree that localizing is important, especially when it comes to marketing. However, I have found that some of my clients do not understand how it is different from a regular translation.
There are some clients who want word-for-word translations because they feel more comfortable with it, or a specific circumstance warrants it. For instance, it drives me crazy that my wife only wants word-for-word translations for her blog’s word of the daily emails for learning French. I understand why she needs to do it this way – it is easier for those learning the language. In some cases, she has to rewrite her English sentences because certain things you can’t say in French that you can in English. It either does not makes sense or means something entirely differently here.
Localizing a translation is an art form. You are breathing life into a translation so that people can receive the intended message or experience. Strong advertisements, slogans, and product names are intended to convey a specific image in the customer’s mind. Translators must make sure to preserve this image when localizing the translation.
A famous localization mistake was when the United State’s Dairy Association expanded its “Got Milk?” campaign into Mexico. They later found out that their Spanish translation really meant “Are You Lactating?” The translator did not fully understand the meaning of the short phrase, so the ad campaign failed.
When I localize an ad for the French market, I must clearly understand the meaning of the message. This is very difficult to do unless you have fluency in the original language. I have lived in the US and Canada, plus speak most of the time in English to my American wife (which annoys her as she is now trying to learn French).
If the ad is supposed to make the reader feel nostalgic of a simpler time, then I must find a phrase in French that brings the same image to the target audience’s mind. This is much more work than providing a simple word-for-word translation. If a client wants me to localize his slogan “France. The home of Romance.” for his website, I would translate it to “La France, la patrie du romantisme.” If I translated it word-for-word, it would be “La France, la maison du romantisme.” This, however, would be a weak slogan because the word “maison,” while it is technically correct, it is not used in this context.
It is important that the localization is done by a native speaker of the language, who is familiar with the target audience’s customs, traditions and religion. I only localize translations for the French market because I was born and raised here. Even though I lived in Canada for a year, that is not long enough to really be able to localize translations accurately. However, I have excellent translators in Canada that I use for clients needing this service for Canada, or from time-to-time, I will do the translation and run it by them for second opinions. If the localization is done by someone who knows the language but is not from that country, the translation could have an unintended effect on the audience.
For example, in 1994 when the French telecom company Orange launched its ad campaign in Northern Ireland, it said “The future’s bright… the future’s Orange.” To a typical English speaker, this slogan seems fine. However, if the company would have hired a native of Ireland to localize the slogan, it would have found out that the color orange represents the Protestants. What was understood by the locals is that “the future’s bright… the future is Protestant, loyalist.” I cannot imagine that many Irish Catholics signed up for this telephone service.
Even localizing the product names and descriptions is important. For instance, Gerber is famous for its baby foods in the United States. However, its products would not do well in France unless it changes it name. The meaning of “gerber” in French is to vomit. If I did not know it was a popular brand in the US, I doubt I would buy that for my daughter, no matter how tasty the picture looks on the front.