What Is Localization for Book Editing?
"We can make you happy products for your client’s pleasure."
Huh? When I was in the promotional products business, I would be contacted via email by a lot of foreign manufacturers. Many of them would include statements similar to the one noted above which would always cause me to chuckle.
I knew that they were trying to tell me that they wanted to help me serve my clients’ promotional needs. But the selection of words and the way they were conveyed makes it awkward and laughable, though it is technically correct in English.
To avoid being misunderstood, authors wishing to reach foreign audiences should consider hiring an editor for what’s called localization. However, the investment in this effort needs to be weighed against potential sales.
What is Localization?
Localization is reviewing and editing communications (text, audio, video) to make sure they follow the language standards and idiosyncrasies of the intended audience. Some of the key issues addressed include word usage, unique spellings, idioms, colloquialisms, cliches, and syntax that are unique to the audience. The purpose of this review is to make sure the communication will not offend or be misunderstood.
Localization is primarily done for communications going to an audience that speaks a different language, e.g., a brochure translated from Mandarin Chinese into English that will be distributed to people who speak American English. But it can also be done for variants of the same base language, e.g., British English to American English. With more businesses doing business globally thanks to the Internet, this can be a critical function.
Ideally, localization edits should be done by a native speaker from the target region or audience.
Localization and Cultural Awareness
When I interviewed for a teaching job to provide computer training to students for whom English was a second language, I was asked to do a classroom demo.
My “students” in the demo were school administrators. In one part of the lesson, I told the students not to “monkey around” with certain functions until they were more experienced with the program. The one student blurts out that in his country monkeys are sacred and asked what I meant by monkey around? I realized immediately what he was trying to do. He was testing me to see how I could interpret an idiom in a culturally appropriate way for my audience.
In some cases, localization may include de-culturing what you say so that you are understood and so that you don’t offend your audience.
It's All English?
I’ve reviewed book manuscripts from the United Kingdom and Australia. I have to admit that sometimes I had to look up word usages to understand what the author was trying to convey. While it is all English, there are differences among the written and spoken versions of it in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.
Spelling is one of the more visible differences among the regional versions of English, e.g., color in the USA versus colour in the UK.
One other thing that varies is numbering systems: Metric (meters, centimeters, liters, etc.) versus imperial (feet, inches, quarts, etc.). An English manuscript from outside the U.S. that I reviewed included references to metric measurements but didn't indicate it was in metric. It completely changed what the author was trying to convey.
Like the monkey example, there also are idioms and colloquialisms that can be unique to each region. So even though it's all English, there could still be occasions for misunderstanding.
The Localization Challenge for Kindle eBook Authors
When publishing on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), authors automatically, and usually unintentionally, expand their reach to a global audience. Anyone with a Kindle device can read any book offered in the Kindle store.
While this offers more opportunities for Kindle authors to earn more royalties and build an international fan base, it does present the dilemma of what language and/or variant of it to use in the eBook.
Though I do get some international sales, what I’ve found is that most of my Kindle sales come from Amazon.com to buyers in my home country of the United States. I don’t know whether this is due to an Amazon search algorithm for placement of my books, or because I primarily promote to my American audience. Regardless of whether Amazon’s algorithms or my promotions are drawing more American readers to my Kindle books, I encourage authors to initially concentrate on localization for their home country and primary fan base.
However, if strong sales are being anticipated or desired from outside one’s home audience, an investment in a localization edit should be considered.
For example, because I write nonfiction books on business and self-publishing that are geared for American audiences, I really don’t worry about localizing my books for the stray international Kindle sales I get. There’s not enough income from these foreign markets to justify the expense or effort.
That being said, increasing your awareness of cultural differences can be valuable. It will help you avoid relying on your own local language quirks when writing, and create a more culturally neutral work.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2018 Heidi Thorne