Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Guidelines for globalization and localization. Is there a need for language restriction?

A few weeks ago, we shared Microsoft’s Guidelines for globalization and localization in our Twitter feed, which you can find here:

Whilst I agree with most of the guidelines and recommendations, I have my reservations about others. For instance, some of the recommendations are quite obvious and every developer should take them into account, such as making sure to use the correct formats for numbers and dates, support international units and currencies, and display the fonts correctly. To some people, things like accents can be an annoyance, but they are extremely important. For instance, a little tilde on the “n” is the difference between “I am 3 years old” (Tengo 3 aƱos) y “I have 3 anuses” (Tengo 3 anos) in Spanish.

But even these small, obvious changes need to be applied with caution is some cases. To give you an example, customers would expect to see their currency, with the correct number formats, displayed if they were to buy an app in the store. However, if they were playing a game whose story is based in the US and a character is buying something in a store or a bar, it would seem odd if the currency were anything other than USD. As always, it’s all about the context.

It goes without saying that things like cultural references, images, brand names, etc. need to be thoroughly researched before entering a new market, so I won’t go into much detail about that. You can read more on that here: and

What struck me about Microsoft’s guidelines is the fact that they recommend avoiding colloquialisms, metaphors and technical jargon. They are indeed the hardest things to translate, but should professional translators not be able to convey them? I believe they should.

Let me explain myself. A lot of the time, this type of language is right at the core of the product and forms its very soul and essence. Let’s say we have a game or an app packed with puns, metaphors and humour. Should we not respect that, and convey them in a way that will be understood by the target audience and have the same effect on them? Why should the product be altered, so that it becomes less humorous and therefore loses part of its appeal? I am all for adapting the product to the target market, but always in a way that recreates the effect and purpose of the original. Jokes cannot be translated literally, instead a professional would find an equivalent in their target language which, in literal terms means something completely different, but appeals to the consumer in the same way the original product did and, in this case, makes them laugh.

The same applies for technical jargon. If a product is targeted to the general public, it should not contain a lot of technical terms in any language. However, if it’s targeted at a very specific segment of users who understand the jargon and use it on a daily basis, then the right translator should be used, who can understand these terms and knows their equivalent in the target language. Scientists wouldn’t expect to read dumbed down texts just because they are translations, they would expect these texts to use the same style and jargon as texts written in their own language.

In my opinion, it’s all about context and effect, recreating the purpose of the original product in the target language; and the more invisible the translator is, the better. Culturalisation implies adapting the product to suit the needs of the target market, so that it’s just as appealing as it was in the original market, not altering the very essence of the product and turn it into something that it is not.