The Beginning of Translation
The art of translation began in early BCE as ancient civilizations inevitably exchanged cultures and languages as a consequence of trading tangible goods. Envoys were sent back and forth between officials for trading deals and warfare, and conquests imposed language changes and cultural practices on those conquered. Marie Lebert, a translator, editor, and proofreader for International Correspondents in Education (ICE) describes a translator’s role as
a bridge for ‘carrying across’ values between cultures (2022, In Classical Antiquity section, para. 4).
In the 21st tech-centered century, translators of the written word and interpreters of the spoken word play indispensable roles in bridging functional methods of cross-cultural communication, especially for governmental and NGO operations and military correspondence.
The expansion of globalization and the Internet’s accessibility makes it easier than ever for people from all over the world to connect and interact, so media platforms and businesses can reach anyone in any country with an internet connection. This phenomenon has resulted in higher demands for language options on websites and translating marketing campaign launches of products in multiple countries. Beyond the Internet, tourism and travel industries provide instructional materials and services in several major languages.
Consequently, the tendency of technology to produce immediate results has created a need for instant-translation software and smartphone applications that anyone can access. These translation software programs consist of “MT (machine translation) and CAT (computer-assisted translation)” (Lebert, 2022, In the 21st century section, para. 6). Machine translation refers to translated text and speech completed by a machine such as Google Translate while computer-assisted translation software assists a translator, and those are only accessible and known by experts in the field. Everyone can become their own translator by using machine translation for traveling in foreign countries or completing a foreign language assignment. Unfortunately, machine translation falls short in certain instances, and implementing localization requires trained experts familiar with a locale as the next step in the translation process, which will be further discussed below.
Localization vs. Translation
Localization and translation are not interchangeable terms, nor do they refer to the same process. Akorbi (2018), a translation and localization tech company that connects companies with employees, vendors, and customers with language services, defines translation as the simple change of a word from one language to another and explains that it "is often used for technical documentation, such as medical and legal documents" (Translation Services section, para. 1). The prefix trans- comes from Latin roots meaning 'change' or 'transfer' and relates to other words like 'transform' (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). No message is lost through translation because technical documents, by nature, avoid casual jargon. Localization services delve deeper because they must consider cultural norms, so it is viewed as the next step further in the translation process. In Akorbi's (2018) description of the localization process, they reinforce the term 'local' since "the language is adapted to fit the local culture you are trying to target” Localization Services section, para. 1). The original language style concentrates on formal, procedural, and technical language in contrast to text with cultural-context slang and idioms.
Localized content examples include entertainment sites (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube), digital marketing campaigns, and e-commerce sites that use specific terminology in that language to derive meaning. Marketing campaigns are known to use viral internet memes, plays-on-words, and figures of speech to promote their messages and identities. These elements are also referenced in a country's pop culture, such as their music, movies, and television shows. Therefore, translators must localize figures of speech in international messaging so that a similar meaning can be genuinely captured and understood by global audiences in different countries. For example, 'It's raining cats and dogs' is a common idiom in English to express the intensity of rain, but if someone translates this expression directly without considering localization, audiences from other countries will find it odd, even when directly translated into their language.
Although certain languages dominate official global proceedings, they are not used consistently in every area of the world, nor are they used with the same cultural significance. People in countries where English differs widely from their own native language, for example, may learn English from a young age for the sake of possible job opportunities. While many can read some essential English terms for travel, this does not necessarily mean that every person speaks it fluently and can understand the cultural implications of that language.
Additionally, even in countries that share the same dominant language, some differences will arise depending on the location. Localization divides a language into locale codes such as 'Spanish-Argentina' or 'Spanish-Chile' (Israel Science and Technology Directory, n.d.). Additionally, businesses attempt to apply localization by not only offering services in different languages but also adding the locale versions of those languages. Anthony Pym (2001), a professor in Intercultural Studies and Translation research, calls attention to Microsoft's inclusion of 7,000 languages. He states that
the fact remains that the target side of these operations is tremendously diversified, indicating a willingness to sell multilingually rather than impose a monolingual world (Commerce and the 'Killer Language' section, para. 4).
Some languages may dominate, but there is a considerable benefit in acknowledging and addressing multiple languages and their locale versions regardless of size and commonality.
Of course, other languages follow the same code pattern as Spanish such as 'Arabic-Iraq' vs. 'Arabic-Jordan' or 'French-Belgium' vs. 'French-Congo' (Israel Science and Technology Directory, n.d.). The localization step in the translation process will address the locale of a language if it is spoken in more than one country dominantly. Pym (2001) reinforces this idea by stating that “the term ‘locale’ designates both a language variety and a set of cultural preferences…” (Basic terms section, para. 10). For example, there is no single type of English. There are variations such as British-English, American-English, and Australian-English. These varieties of English can be generally understood by citizens of other countries, but their colloquialisms, spellings, and figures of speech highlight stark differences that can even confuse fellow 'English speakers.'
To truly connect to international audiences, businesses and online media should find ways to localize their translations to avoid possible innuendos and offensive messaging found in purely translated content. For example, instructors of foreign languages often warn their students about certain phrases that automatically come from translation sites like Google Translate. A French instructor writes, "to say 'I’m excited,' do NOT say Je suis excité(e)...Indeed, for an adult, excité(e) means aroused" (Je suis excitée – J’ai hâte section, para. 3). And in fact, the very phrase she warns against is the first phrase Google Translate gives when entering 'I'm excited.'
Localization in Use
Increased localization efforts are also seen in subtitles on video streaming sites in an effort to reach global audiences. Many language enthusiasts have commented on Netflix’s localization efforts in the last couple of years. Cécilia Falusi (2020) wrote an article for TCLoc, an online graduate program in Technical Communication and Localization, making a sound observation regarding Netflix's translation methods for its subtitles. She describes how the challenge is not easily solved even by a resourceful corporation, “managing a multilingual localization project is a challenge because they have to tackle every aspect of the translation process" (Even for Netflix, Multilingual Localization Is Challenging section, para. 1), and then further demonstrates Netlix's current process, "Netflix outsources translations. All of these tasks are usually executed by several Directors of Localization, Localization Project Managers, and Language Managers…” (One Project to Manage, Several Tasks to Divide section, para. 2). Pressure to increase the accuracy, effectiveness, and authenticity of their subtitles sparked debates on how to consume media as a foreign audience and present creative motion pictures to international audiences.
From "Locale" to Global
In foreign relations, humanity cultivated specializations in two art forms: building bridges in collaboration or walls in rejection. Translation remains a fundamental tool in uniting human experience through the written and spoken word. However, shifting focus to localization will refine the translation process that AIs cannot replicate, especially in texts with more cultural considerations. Regardless of a translation algorithm’s ability, translation software lacks the humanity and practice that localization requires and that can only be produced by professionals who are well-practiced in the art of translation. Despite some inevitable hegemonic influence, the world does not exist in a monolith, and localization rightfully acknowledges multilingualism and establishes a better translation code for text and media with full integrity for speakers of any language. Thereby, it behooves the world to implement multilinguistic measures and multi-cultural considerations in products, services, and entertainment rather than forcefully impose one or two languages as the standard across
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