What is Localisation?

Mar 23, 2024 | Journal

Localisation is often misunderstood, mainly, because most people do not know or understand fully what it stands for. Partly, it is also the result of localisation teams that step outside of their boundaries and start changing things according to their beliefs. However, this is a wrong practice that is not common in the case of most upstanding companies. Those who are acting upon their whim or biases are false actors, who are instead doing either misrepresentation or social engineering. Thus, here I am trying to debunk the myth that discards localisation as a whole by labelling it useless and the enemy of the art.

So, what is localisation? First of all, it is a step of the translation process. Regarding films, series or video games, this step tends to be categorised as a separate process or activity. However, it is still translation, but with an additional focus on the target culture. For example, it is one thing to translate symbols, metonymy, metaphors or allegory from one language to another, it is a totally different thing to carry over the feelings and the hidden meanings behind them. Mostly, symbolism is very different between cultures and may totally mean opposite things. As a result, it is an important step in translation, for this ensures that the true meaning is conveyed.

However, there is truth in the core for the distrust among the audiences nowadays towards localisations, because there have been some very bad actors who have outright changed aspects and themes of the source material that were not necessary and, which was plain to see that it was done to serve personal goals. Thus, in short they went against the author and their right to creative expressions. Creative freedom is important and the translator and the process of localisation should preserve it and instead of altering the meaning, localisation should ensure, help and enhance the process of understanding for the audience.

Therefore, when localisation is done right, the audience does not even recognise it. Even if it is not outlined or highlighted, for instance in the credits, localisation takes place. Maybe it is just a soft localisation, meaning that some symbols or metaphors are adjusted, but not everything. Or it might happen in a more in-depth manner, where a thorough adjustment of various aspects takes place. Nevertheless, it is not done by a faithful team in order to change or alter the original art, but to ensure understanding for the audience.

Consequently, bad translation and localisation happens in this regard, when the original intent and meaning (the creative freedom of the author) are dismissed in favour of some ideology, bias or any intent in both malicious or good faith. However, in the recent years, these malicious actors created a bad name for this sub-field of translation. Therefore, it must be highlighted that social engineering and the deliberate changing of the meaning of the original work is not what localisation is for.

In addition, it should be noted that in the past and in different countries, due to censorship or to certain rules and regulation regarding language and what is allowed to be shown or represented and what is not, localisation took place in a much more in-depth or in an aggressive manner. However, it has to be underlined that in these situations, only the alteration of the original work enabled its release in the given region.

Localisation is a complex process and it involves many things other than texts. It can involve sounds, dubbing, iconography, visual elements, such as graphics, or signs, etc. Therefore, it is a valid field differentiated from translations as a whole. Many teams or professionals may take part in different kinds of works as a result of the multi-layered and complex nature of this field. Thus, a professional may need multiple skills in different areas or a team may need talented individuals of a very divers professional background in order to successfully carry out a localisation project, be it hard, thorough or soft localisation.

Finally, why is localisation important and what is its future? Nowadays, in our globalised world, localisation is still important regarding authentic translations and the presentation of meanings, messages and symbolism. However, it softens as well, because globalisation also allows for a widened range of expectations, knowledge and understanding of different artworks or texts. Therefore, certain words, meanings, symbols, etc. are borrowed or carried over from the source material into the translated work. It is possible only because of the wide spread of information that allows people to understand different cultures more than in the past. As a result, the future of localisation seems to be limited or changing, because it is now visible that the main usage of this practice is to ensure the seamless understanding of the original work and the original aspects are nowadays left intact.

In summary, most translators do localisation automatically; however, big companies, in the case of video games for example, may need specialised localisation teams, because the whole project is more complex. These projects involve more work that is inherently dotted with intertextuality, which needs a specialised professional, or a group of people, who can focus on such aspects. There is another instance, where the translation team is titled as localisation department of a given language. In this case they might be involved in many other processes, such as marketing, organisation, dubbing, etc. Ultimately, localisation is an important step in translation that helps the audience understand the artwork in from of them, but it needs to stay authentic and respectful regarding the source material.