A blessing in disguise: how the pandemic is shaping the localisation industry
About six years ago, I started my professional journey in the field of language services with a focus on localisation for marketing content. I was a fresh-faced translation student, putting the finishing touches on my postgrad dissertation, when I landed a job with one of the most prominent (at the time) London agencies in the field of post-production and localisation. I might have been a humble project manager, but I was working with some of the most exciting online, food and FMCG brands. Being a native speaker of a so-called “small language” and often coming across hastily or carelessly adapted content online, being part of the brands’ effort to localise their advertising output in a way that made local audiences feel that it was created specifically for them felt like a personal mission.
Fast forward to late 2019, months before our lives were (unknowingly) about to change forever, I was less idealistic about the language services industry. Educating clients, creative agencies and internal stakeholders about the importance of linguistic adaptation felt like a Sisyphean task, or more accurately like the cheesy rom-com 50 First Dates, where Adam Sandler has to romance Drew Barrymore’s character afresh each day since she suffers from short-term memory loss: I had to make a convincing case for sticking to the standardised, best practice workflows, and explain why we don’t use machine translation tools, so there’s only so much time efficiency we can achieve working with human beings who have a specific daily output. Moreover, I had to negotiate why, after having paid English copywriters sufficiently to craft the source copy, we should do the same for their international counterparts.
And then the pandemic hit. At the beginning, the situation looked a bit bleak: project managers being put on reduced work schedules, freelance vendors seeing their workload diminish and brands being extremely careful with their marketing budgets.
But then interesting things started to happen:
- With everyone stuck at home binge-watching TV series, video-on-demand platforms such as Netflix and Disney led the demand for dubbing and subtitling services, scaling up their localisation operations. On top of that, we saw a revival in the creation of original content from non-English-speaking markets, such as Mexico, Turkey, Korea, Argentina and the Nordics.
- On top of this, the subtitling industry made the news: Squid Game sparked a conversation around the quality of subtitles that shed light on the problematic work conditions for highly skilled subtitling vendors – the realities of low pay and extremely tight turnaround timelines.
- Google upped their localisation efforts, a great example of this being their Covid-19 response content as well as their 2021 #YearInSearch video, a heartwarming tearjerker, which was adapted into 50+ languages.
- Household names such as Deliveroo, Sky and Snow Peak recognised localisation as a key driver of growth and thus the need to tailor their respective approach based on business goals and audience expectations.
- Spotify took localisation a step further by translating their playlist names in a way that aligns with the different listening experiences across their target markets and tailoring their image selection accordingly, taking into account that emotions are not communicated in the same manner worldwide, and respecting local social norms.
- The pandemic caused a surge in the use of fintech apps, which quickly realised that in order to increase their transparency and trustworthiness, they had to speak to local audiences in their native languages and thus ramped up their localisation efforts.
Of course, the uphill battle of the project manager – and the freelance vendor – is far from over. However, with the increased visibility of the language services during the last couple of years, this localisation specialist remains optimistic that more and more brands and businesses will see the value that localisation brings to their products and services, leading to both improved conditions for the freelancers and exciting technological developments for the industry.
Photos sourced through Unsplash. Featured image by Nicola Simoncini on scop.io.
About the author:
Katerina Nikita (aka the greek wordsmith) is a Senior Content Manager and freelance translator, editor & copywriter, working from English and German into Greek. She holds a BA in Language Culture & Translation Studies from FTSK Germersheim (Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz, Germany) and a MA in Translation & Interpreting Studies from the University of Manchester (UK). Born and raised in Athens, she now calls London home. If she’s not training for a half marathon, she can be found reading or discussing books.
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