Innovation tends to dominates the headlines, yet from our experience it’s the ugly stuff that has a huge impact on a localization system. In this article, we make a case for a consistent and disciplined approach to content production, a case for maintenance.
If you’ve been to Singapore, you’ll probably agree it feels clean, organized and ‘new.’ With a population of 5.61 million people (source: SingStat), squeezed into 277 square miles, this is no mean feat. And it’s largely owing to the government’s heavy investment in maintenance.
Here at Wordbank, we are also advocates for maintenance. In our experience, people often rely on innovation to help them solve problems. But these issues could easily be avoided by looking at what you have in the first place. Maintenance therefore informs and shapes our recommendations for content creation and localization. In fact, we feel so strongly about it we’ve put together a case in its defence.
In order to build and maintain an efficient, cost-effective localization strategy, you need good tools.
Translation Memory – A translation memory, or TM, is a translation database that automatically stores text as translation units in source and target language pairs. These segments can be formed of sentences, paragraphs, headings, titles or elements in a list, and will be re-used during the next piece of relevant translation work. This means the same sentence is never translated (or paid for fully) more than once.
TMs are widely used to boost terminological consistency, reduce costs and speed up the translation process. However, their usefulness is dependent on how well they are maintained. Here are some tips for good TM hygiene.
TM structure – We separate approved and unapproved segments in our TM library. This distinction informs linguists to apply approved segments and gives them the freedom to adapt unapproved segments based on the context or their intuition. It also allows us to quickly amend and apply any changes to unapproved segments based on client feedback at any point in the future.
Regular updates – Update the TM at the end of every project to ensure it is as up-to-date and effective as possible.
Feedback – Updates should be guided by the feedback of a local reviewer, so that you know if any content needs to be changed or should be left unapproved. It can take time, but it’s worth it to avoid the huge problems that can be caused by outdated and/or incorrect terminology.
Appointed contact – Receiving feedback can become challenging when there are multiple stakeholders with differing opinions about terminology. The simple solution is to assign a single contact to approve all terminology.
Approval checklist – At Wordbank, we are fervent believers in checklists and following guides based on the scope of a project. This may seem frivolous considering the hectic nature of your day-to-day, and it may seem more logical to organize a monthly session to run through all unapproved segments. But by that point you’ll have forgotten the context for these isolated segments of text, rendering them all but useless.
Write for localization – Firstly, minimize changes to the source copy. Write in plain language and use the active voice so that there is clarity about the doer of the action. Focus on minimizing content volume and use precise terminology.
Build a glossary…
Glossary – A glossary is a database that contains selected terms specific to your company, brand or industry. A multilingual glossary contains the master language along with an approved translation or localization of the terms, enabling your translators to consistently use the approved target language terminology when creating or localizing global content.
A winning combination – Because a TM captures segments, not specific words/terms, a glossary is essential for you to spot, correct and enforce brand-specific terminology. Therefore, having a translation memory AND a glossary is one of the wisest investments an international company can make for its marketing and communication efforts.
Building a glossary – The ideal method is to build a glossary based on approved copy, as opposed to taking a list of key terms and translating them out of context. If you’re building glossaries in multiple languages, then using the same source text is preferred.
Glossary maintenance – This must be seen as a work in progress and a long-term project that will require a substantial time investment, especially during the initial stages. However, the peace of mind is well worth it because an increasing amount of core brand terms are consistently captured across all languages and communication forms.
The value of software lies in the elimination of inefficiency – not the elimination of strategy or skill. If you look at what engineers do, the vast majority of their time is spent just keeping things going. We all want a system we can rely on to provide consistent and on-message global content, but while tools provide the means, the key to real success lies in cultivating a mindset for maintaining efficiency, which takes time and effort.
Although our amazing content team shoulders most of the responsibility for maintenance, we need our clients to buy into this too. Organizing the review process at your end (and providing regular, collated feedback) may take time, but is an essential first step on the path to healthy maintenance.
To put it simply, underinvestment in maintenance leads to the fragmentation of your content localization process. As a result, cost savings you’d achieve from a well-maintained TM are not leveraged, and you achieve disproportionately lower returns on your investment. By contrast, investing in maintenance will ultimately lead to lower costs, greater brand consistency and better quality translations.
To sum up, here are the key things to bear in mind for your next localization project:
- Set up a TM
- Update the TM at the end of every project based on feedback from the local reviewer
- Assign a single point of contact to organize the copy review process and collate feedback
- Create a review checklist
- Build a glossary for brand-critical terms
- Keep source content consistent and create copy with localization in mind
Before we all descend into Accelerationism, speeding things up and automating where we can, let’s take a moment to think about what we currently have and how we can better maintain it. Because a little maintenance goes a long way.