Localization Tips from a Global Content Strategist [Q&A]

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If you’ve decided to localize your content, congratulations! You’re on your way to providing a truly global user experience. But localization is a complex process. And without the right planning, it can be costly and filled with delays. That’s why it’s important to approach the process properly.

To get a new perspective on content localization, I sat down with Bill Swallow, Director of Operations at Scriptorium. He specializes in content strategy with an emphasis on handling challenging localization and terminology scenarios. In his many years of experience, he’s seen his fair share of content types, technologies, requirements, and challenges. Read on to learn some tips and hear his advice on localization.

What common challenges do your multilingual customers face?

All of our clients have identified a serious problem with their content. The most common issues are in localization; localization takes too long, there are problems scaling an inefficient process into more and more languages, and so on.

Some clients have traditional needs, such as translated manuals or online content. Others require multilingual product labels, UI strings for desktop and mobile applications, multilingual training, and so on. All are incorporating some level of reuse and filtered/conditional content in their translated deliverables.

Do you need to bake internationalization into your content strategy from the beginning?

It’s best to include internationalization from the beginning. Even when our clients assure us that internationalization is not a priority, we assume that situation is likely to change and make sure that our strategy is compatible with future internationalization requirements.

As with any requirement, “folding in” internationalization later in implementation is likely to cause problems. The more complex your technology stack, the more likely that new requirements will result in cascading problems. We typically recommend against using systems that are difficult to internationalize because of the potential time and money required to align them.

What are the hardest monolingual assumptions to reverse?

For content development, the most common assumption is that translation “just happens” later and content developers can write source content however they want to. But the less care you put into writing your source material, the worse or more expensive the translation becomes.

Content that’s inconsistently written or makes heavy use of slang, colloquialisms, and idioms is extremely difficult to translate. Likewise, content that heavily uses word- or character-level conditional text or variable text can be difficult to translate. Correcting these practices involves training, a solid style guide, and regular editorial reviews to ensure that the style guide is being followed.

What is the worst anti-pattern in multilingual publishing you’ve seen?

Oh, there are so many… But the worst anti-pattern is also the most common: treating localization as a single-action milestone at the end of a project. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen localization work start at the end of a project cycle, only to unearth many fundamental flaws either with the source content or the systems supporting or consuming the content. In a best-case scenario, the translated content comes back a bit later than expected.

Any and all multilingual factors need to be addressed at the beginning of and throughout a project. Not addressing multilingual concerns up front alienates your audience and will certainly increase your translation costs, delay your project, and is likely to create a very embarrassing situation for your company.

When and how should your content strategist and language service provider collaborate?

Ideally, there should be close collaboration between content strategists and language service providers (LSP) at all times. At a minimum, the content strategist needs to craft a strategy that is flexible and adaptable to current and future language translation services needs. The LSP must provide support for all content needs—a variety of formats, complex terminology variations, and so on.

Both parties must collaborate closely to avoid conflicts among systems, style, format, and processes. Sharing samples that illustrate format and content elements is always helpful. The content strategist and LSP should also look for ways to expedite the translation process, possibly with an iterative approach, rather than waiting for the source to be 100% complete before beginning the translation work.

Also, timing is critical because holidays in different regions affects translator availability. This approach helps identify and solve problems early in the project. Even if the LSP is an external resource, the LSP is a critical partner.

Bill Swallow, Director of Operations at Scriptorium, specializes in content strategy with an emphasis on handling challenging localization and terminology scenarios. He also supports clients with project and change management, content technology implementation, and training. Bill is a regular speaker at industry conferences worldwide.

About Scriptorium

Scriptorium helps companies manage, structure, organize, and distribute content in an efficient way. We do so through three core services:

  • Assessment: identify what’s not working (and why), and craft a solution tailored to our clients’ business goals.
  • Content strategy: develop a comprehensive plan for our clients’ content lifecycle, including content modeling and information architecture.
  • Implementation: configure content systems, develop workflows, and provide the training necessary to efficiently manage the content lifecycle.

Our goal is to help companies turn their content into a valuable business asset. You can visit our website for more information.

We’ve also recently launched a coaching service for managers.

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