From the back of your ramen package to the trade agreements that got those noodles across the ocean and into your bowl, an entire industry makes each piece of text legible for you, me, and everyone else.
It’s no secret that language is one of the most fundamental components of our day-to-day lives. From making the labels on our shampoo bottles and TV subtitles accessible to minimizing miscommunication during international accords, translators help make the world go round. When translation is performed well, we take it for granted, but as soon as the adjectives are in the wrong order, the entire story loses meaning. Almost everyone has lost something in translation, so how can we better understand the industry that demystifies the messages around us?
When you start working with a translation company, also known as a translation or language services provider (TSP or LSP), you encounter terms like localization and closed captions. Next thing you know, you’re lost even when they’re speaking English. So, let’s clear up some of those terms and figure out what the language industry does.
First, the core definitions:
When you need something in another language, you’ll need to decide if you need it in spoken or written form. There’s translation, and there’s interpretation. Both are widely used but knowing which is which is key. Translation is the written word, and interpretation is spoken.
People in the language services industry aren’t following outdated practices from centuries ago.
Linguists have learned to adapt their translation and interpretation to ever evolving languages and to use modern technologies to speed up their work and guarantee quality.
One way they do this is through transcreation. Fundamentally, linguists refer to transcreation as the translation of texts that must be adapted or rewritten to communicate the point effectively in the target language. Translating advertisements illustrates this best. For example, McDonald’s ads look very different in a culture where eating out is common and drive-throughs are ubiquitous than in a culture where eating out is a rare and special occasion.
No translation will ever be word for word. In fact, it shouldn’t. Literal translations are rare. That’s why you can’t rely only on artificial intelligence and need to include human input for any documents that are important for your company. Translators must be very creative in translating marketing projects, and technical projects call for substantial subject-matter expertise.
One area where creativity is needed in globalization. Sometimes globalization in the language industry gets confused with general conversation, because outside the industry we tend to think about outsourcing employees or the omnipresence of media. However, in the context of business translation and localization, globalization is the way companies plan and implement strategies to be competitive around the world.
Implementing these strategies also has its own term: internationalization. Internationalization is how companies prepare their product or service to be truly globalized, by making their product the kind that can easily be localized into other languages. Some common examples are supporting left-to-right languages, using culturally sensitive images, and putting dates in a format that is understood everywhere, such as YYYY-MM-DD.
Mentioned above is something called localization. Localization is a modern concept that began in the 80’s when tech companies went global. However, localization isn’t just for digital products – software, websites, games. Though that sector drove the creation of the modern translation and localization industry and remains a major part of the localization world, it includes many factors that apply to other industries, such as adapting graphics to local cultures.
We don’t notice when localization is done well, because someone spent the time to make sure the person/food/clothing/climate in the picture speaks to you as an audience member. But the second one of those things is off, we as readers are very quick to notice it. The aim of localization is to give a product the look and feel of having been created specifically for a target market, no matter the language, culture, or location.
Localization goes beyond the written copy and graphics. Another tool the language industry uses to make a product more enticing is subtitling. This relates to the written translation of multimedia content.
Of course, audio translations are options too, either voiceover or dubbing, both of which are huge parts of the global market. Voiceover is mostly narrative. It is not lip-syncing or focused on matching the tonality and emotion of the original footage. Voiceover has low emphasis on nuance of tone and emotive content. You can see an example of a video with voiceover by clicking here.
Sometimes referred to as Language Replacement, dubbing is the recording of alternate languages by professional voice actors mixed with the audio track of the original video footage. A well-crafted dub is unnoticeable to the viewer, just like good localization. It’s truly an “acted” voice recording that uses sound engineering and editing to ensure lip syncing, making the original actor seamlessly mouth their dialogue in the target language. Lip-syncing is tricky to nail. Word choice becomes extremely important as the translated video must be synchronized with the lip movement of the actors on-screen. The result, as compared with voiceover, is much more precise.
Now you’ve got an idea of what many language service terms mean! Even if definitions and theory aren’t your thing, at least when you look at that ramen packet or think about the supply chain that got it to your grocery store, you can ponder the complexity of language work behind it.
Want to read more? Theoretical definitions are in our industry standards. Both the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and ASTM International have standards serving the translation and localization sector. Or ask us for more information!