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Localisation as a part of web translation

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LISA, the Localisation Industry Standards Association defines localisation as “the process of modifying products or services to account for differences in distinct markets”.

Commercially, localisation is typically carried out by retailers of imported products or by software companies to adapting IT tools to the national context.

In communicative contexts, localisation of informative texts has a similar purpose: to create variants that have the same desired effect on readers of the various language versions. For instance, convincing a Belgian citizen to vote in European elections does not require as much persuasion as convincing a German national, because in Belgium voting is an obligation; and inhabitants of Scandinavian countries behind their triple-glazed windows would not profit from advice on reducing carbon emissions by replacing their old windows with double-glazed ones.

When localising a message, one has to take into account not only concrete factors such as national law, economy or climate, but also more psychological factors related to culture and readers’ attitudes.

EU legal texts are drafted in such a way as to be compatible with any national legal system, avoiding as far as possible the need to localise language versions. Commission administrative documents are not localised either because, although in many cases adapting the contents would make understanding easier, it could also give rise to claims about unequal treatment, for instance in the case of variants in advice on applying for grants or on participating in a call for tenders.

There are areas, however, where the Commission can localise its texts, and this concerns mainly informative texts, such as web texts. As soon as the Web Unit was created in 2006, its translators were granted some freedom to adapt their language versions to better suit their readerships. Translation requesters sometimes indicate whether they like their text to be significantly adapted to national environments. This may happen in the phase of the initial translation request but more often in reply to translators’ questions.

Some of the actions which the reference group members called localising could also be considered as editing: they adapt the text lightly, in order to improve its structure, to adjust the level of detail given to the reader, or to match the style with what the reader would expect.

Reducing the amount of hype, at least for certain languages, and generally streamlining the text, is what web translators call trediting.

Translators in the Web Unit observe the patterns of the administrative websites in the home country/countries of the language. The Spanish translators, for instance, monitor Spanish administrative websites, to see how a subject is treated by them, in addition to following the national media. When a news item comes to be translated, they first check how the theme is dealt with on Spanish websites, and adapt their terminology and approach accordingly.

The Bulgarian translators check Bulgarian news sites and administrative ones, though not as regularly. They have examined navigation labels used on Bulgarian websites and follow the model given by them. They changed the Bulgarian label for the “Privacy statement” to match the (shorter) expression used on Bulgarian sites. The English web editors have many good models to follow, especially on British and US government websites.

The Finnish team monitor Finnish websites, and not only for stylistic reasons but for solutions in addressing the reader and giving advice, although they have noticed that there is relatively little interactivity on Finnish administrative websites and the reader is not often addressed directly.

The German web translators tend to follow German news sites more than administrative sites, doing on-the-spot research for expressions used on financial issues, for instance, or other areas where the vocabulary evolves quickly. Nevertheless, they continue to value established DGT terminology and previous learning.

Strictly speaking, the concept of localising is not particularly well adapted to web contents.

The web is by definition a non-local environment, and the author, translator or publisher of a web page cannot control the geographical distribution of its readers. From this point of view, it is vital to reflect particularly on the objective of translations into the most widely used languages on EUROPA: does their target audience consist mainly of mother-tongue readers, or of a wider public? Does a considerable part of the readership of Spanish, English, French or Portuguese versions in fact live outside Europe, and should translators take this into account?

These considerations are not restricted to languages used outside Europe. Being aware that the Swedish texts are read by Swedes and Finns, the Swedish team has looked for practical solutions for issues such as how to express amounts in euro in Swedish – a good solution being “XX € (ungefär XX kronor)”.

Localising, just like all work on EUROPA, would benefit from having more information available on the actual readers, as well as a definition of the target audience of each website or text.

© European Union

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