What is the Role of Localization in Translation Services?


People often thought that localization is the same as translation. While both of them rhyme, the former is different from the latter. Let’s debunk this misconception and find out why they are both indispensable. Translation is translating the text from a source language into another. As Ken Liu, author of The Three-Body Problem “Overly literal translations, far from being faithful, actually distort meaning by obscuring sense.”

Good translators always consider the grammar, sentence structure, context and the audience. And when you (or your hired translators) fail to understand this principle, you’re going to be the object of ridicule to your target audience. In the west, for example, KFC’s tagline, “Finger lickin’ good” became a hit. But when the company translated that tagline it became cannibalistic – “We’ll Eat Your Fingers Off” – in Chinese.

There could have been a better version of that tagline if they considered localizing the thought of that phrase that would have been suitable for the consumers in Greater China. In that sense, localization in the broader sense means any effort that goes beyond translating words that will facilitate proper adaptation and context for the target audience.

Localization helps companies to be culturally relevant

When you visit famous western brands’ websites, you know that they were implemented based on their marketing strategies. The best practices—where to put the banner, the psychology of colors, the call-to-action button on white spaces, fancy and aesthetically-driven designs—not to mention the data extracted from Google Analytics or other tools for measurability.

KFC’s English website and its Chinese version tell us how localization helps companies to be culturally relevant. The former features the iconic Colonel Sanders – the founder of the company – in almost every corner of the page and the menu plus the store finder. Simple and straightforward. And the shade of red is somewhat lighter compared to the latter.

But on the Chinese version, aside from the translation of texts and phrases, you’ll see a colorful homepage with a different website structure and other elements were changed to connect with the consumers in Greater China. Instead of Colonel Sanders (probably some don’t have an idea who he is), you’ll see the famous panda (熊猫) cheerfully presenting the menu boxes of soups in bowls. (And you thought KFC is all about the “finger lickin’ good, but you see some noodles!) There are also promotional banners and offers that are not seen in the English version.

Localization provides experimentation and product testing opportunities

Another example to further understand what localization means is that companies also consider offer products and services to a particular market based on the demand and supply. If a particular product or service is saleable in the US, but not in Greater China or vice versa, then localization takes place.

Next example is Burger King.

Burger King’s English website is also straightforward, featuring the line-up of their menu – burgers, fries, hotdog sandwiches (new product), and that tagline, “Take a break from boredom, swipe it, flip it, share it.” The Cheetos Chicken Fries are mouthwatering. But too bad, they’re not available in China. Why? Perhaps, Cheetos is a favorite of a westerner.

On the Chinese site, you see almost the same color and structure of the website, but that black and red burgers look so spicy. The chicken fries are spicy, too. Aside from the traditional burgers, you’ll also find these two in their menu. You won’t find the tagline, “Take a break from…” but two prominent social media icons are strategically placed in the upper-right corner and then below the page: Weibo and WeChat, which brings us to the last point.

Localization helps companies to connect with the audience

As you all know, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are not available in Greater China. So how do foreign brands promote their products and services without these mainstream social media channels? Well, in China, Weibo and WeChat are go-to of marketers and companies to connect with the consumers. WeChat’s model is centralized. It’s like the Swiss-Army knife of Chinese consumers.

They can send an IMs, group chats, video and voice calls, receive subscriptions from the companies they follow, book a taxi, pay bills, listen to music via QQ; you can almost do anything there. WeChat is also showing sponsored ads to users like Facebook. And McDonald’s is also taking advantage of the local promotional channels like the QR codes.

Unlike the English website that features an opt-in subscription for the mailing list – newsletter is not useful here – the Chinese version has a QR code instead because it’s easy to scan and share via local IMs like WeChat and Weibo. The English version displays all the western social media channels.
KFC and Burger King’s websites also have the local Chinese social media channels. And if you subscribe to their official accounts on WeChat, even their marketing strategies are more relevant to Chinese consumers.

What do you think of the localization strategies of the world’s famous fast food chains in China?

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