Viena Wroblewska: going behind the scenes of language localization

Writing for SBC Leaders, Viena Wroblewska, Owner of APlus Translations, gives her tips for finding a truly localized translation service, explaining how a good translation can translate into more players.

Call me weird, but I hate long weekends. I dislike those three-day breaks because it means none, or fewer emails from folks around the world that we collaborate with. Working with over 100 linguists and dozens of clients from literally every little corner of this planet is exhilarating. It makes me feel connected. 

And so, when it comes to language localization, I know my stuff. This year, my company, APlus Translations, celebrated its 20th anniversary. I will always know how old my company is, as I launched it the same year my son was born. The company, too, is like my baby. 

I started out in my mid-20s, as a polyglot and translator myself. I had studied three foreign languages, which along with my native Polish, and then English of my adopted country Canada, took my language count to five. 

Languages and foreign cultures have been an absolute passion throughout my life and so, I got my ducks in a row and by the time I was 27, APlus Translations was born. It felt like a natural progression. And it’s been an exciting ride. My team of project managers and I have seen companies grow from concepts to gazillion-dollar sales. 

We have accompanied sports betting, poker and slots companies on their journeys into one new territory after the next, as they conquer new markets. It’s been gratifying to see them succeed, and obviously, succeed with them. 

But this article is not just about my company. 

Indeed, I want to share some of my expertise and give you guidance in case you are or will be, one day, contemplating localization for your product. Or, perhaps, you already work with a localization partner and want to know what the heck goes on behind the scenes with your content. Maybe you never understood why it carries the price tag that it does. Or you could be confused by CAT tools, Translation Memories, and Machine Translation. Well, let me take you by the hand and give you a little tour, explain a few things about localization (which is a more sophisticated cousin of language translation). 

First, you’ve got to treat localization as an elemental part of your development. 

Too often, localization is an afterthought. But you need to program your game in such a way, using folks with localization engineering experience, as to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of foreign languages. English, in my opinion, is quite simple in its grammatical structure. But this is not true for dozens of other languages, including several European ones. So, do your due diligence. Get the coding right from the get-go. It will really save time and sweat down the line. 

When selecting a localization partner, be concerned about cost, but please, please, don’t ride the cheapest car! 

Trust me. I’ve been in this business for over 20 years now. I’ve seen what the low-end of the language service spectrum means. I know that good translators, the folks whom you really want for your precious content, who know the right terminology and know how to craft YOUR message in their language, they value themselves enough to demand a fair rate. 

Let me tell you, if a localization agency comes to you with a rate significantly lower than others, I guarantee, you are getting a mix of Machine Translation/Substandard translator + proof-reader. Or no proof-reader at all.  Period. There is no other way around this. I know what good translators demand for their work. 

Speaking of Machine Translation, at times use with caution, other times, avoid! 

What I mean by that is that Machine Translation technology can be useful at times. For some type of content, it is quite adequate, but definitely NOT for in-game texts. When you craft – because it is crafting and not just writing – your game text, you want to be engaging, right? You want players to choose your platform and to keep using your platform. You want that for your English-speaking audience, and you should want it for your non-Anglophone audience. Automated, or Machine Translation gives results that are stilted. They won’t engage and entertain. Make sure you hire a service that uses human translators. It will be pricier but really pay off. 

And do not rush it! 

Ok, sometimes you run into trouble and need a last-minute job. That’s fine. But try to give your localization partner as much time as they request to run your content through a proper quality process.  We all know that quality takes time, so consult with your localization provider to find out how much time they need to do their top job. 

From my experience, at APlus, every single piece of content, big or small, is reviewed by three pairs of eyes. First, the translator needs to spend a solid amount of time to properly translate the text. That translation is then reviewed by a proof-reader, who may have some back and forth between the translator and him/herself. Once the two have agreed on their “final” version, it is then checked by your dedicated project manager at our company. Consider that all these people might be in different time zones around the world, which means more time added to the process. 

Just as a little example of how long a translation can take. Years back, when I was working as a translator myself, some slogans came across my desk. One of our clients was rebranding and needed to translate some catchy phrases. If I recall correctly, it was about 4 slogans that I needed to take care of, and it took me the better half of a day to do it! That is a bit extreme, but it really happens, so if your provider is asking for a minimum fee to translate a piece of creative text, it’s a good sign. It means they are really aiming to do a proper job. 

A word in one language doesn’t say the same thing in another language. Language localizers have to create. They need to take a leap from the text they are presented with to render the meaning in their native language, using the same catchy fashion. It isn’t easy. And again, it takes time. 

Try to stick with the same localization partner for the long-term. 

Unless your experience with a provider has been riddled with issues, errors, and oversights of all types, allow them to iron out minor wrinkles as they come up and stick with the same provider. There are a couple of good reasons for that.  

Mainly, the provider is accumulating a database of all translations done for you in what’s called a Translation Memory (aka TM). The more work you do with them, the more leverage you get cost-wise and consistency-wise. Having said this, a Translation Memory, this DB holding all that multilingual content, is typically considered the client’s intellectual property, unless you signed those rights away. That means you can move to a new localization provider and demand that the old provider you are moving away from give you the TM for each language you paid them for. It should be a seamless process. And one hopes that the new provider will be willing to work with the TM.  I hope this makes sense. 

Secondly, if you are going to stay with a provider, another good reason for that is that you get the consistency of linguists. What I mean is that an agency may be using the same translator for your content over and over again, which is a good thing. You want that uniformity of style and voice.

Before I sign off, I want to stress again that quality really is everything when it comes to localization. It’s your image. Good translation translates to more players. So, it’s worth a good investment. 

To engage with us on any question related to translation, localization or even language-learning (my count is now 7!), I invite you to connect with me at [email protected]

APlus Translations, is based in Vancouver, Canada, but has offices in Europe and Peru. We localize in over 40 languages and have worked in the igaming space for over 13 years. We excel at game texts, marketing, and regulatory documentation within this industry.