Translation or Localisation?

An agency once sent a translation with some complaints from the client to me by accident. The problematic translation was a Belgian French version of a text that I had translated for them into French French. The agency had commissioned two translators to work on the same text into two different variants of French. While adapting the text to each country is sensible, translating the text twice into very similar variants of the same language is not the most cost-effective way to do it.

Just as there are differences between Australian, Irish, Canadian, American and British English, there are variants of French (and Spanish,  Portuguese, Dutch…) around the world. However, the differences between French from Switzerland, Luxemburg, Belgium and France are minimal for geographic reasons, unlike Quebecois, Caribbean or African variants. When a text needs to reflect regional variants, it can be translated once and then be localised, that is, the translation is simply revised and some aspects of the spelling, the punctuation, a few words or expressions, cultural references and so on are adjusted. The bulk of the text remains fairly similar and, the localisation process being quicker than translation, it is cheaper for the client. Within the European group, localisation will rarely be necessary outside of marketing, with its puns and catch phrases often referring to the local culture, unless the project focuses on specific individual regions and wishes to convey a local feel.

Was it ignorance or dishonesty on the agency’s part not to tell the client about localisation? Either way, the administrative cost of the issues with the Belgian version must have made the whole exercise futile. Besides, given the nature of the text, it is likely that the same translation would have suited both countries and a simple check by either a Belgian or a French linguist of the initial translation would have been sufficient.



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