By Ofer Tirosh
Not-for-profit organizations — like their for-profit cousins — benefit by reaching specific audiences rather than just markets. An important dimension of that is adapting key content to the language and norms of each audience — especially as organizations look toward a global strategy.
The goal is to have integrated, multilingual, and globalized media campaigns to support your public relations, communications, and fundraising efforts.
But that is easier said than done.
Translation vs. Localization
When most people think about adapting content from one language to another, they generally think first about translation. That’s fair enough, because translating content represents roughly 50 percent of the time and work preparing content for a new target audience.
But what about the remaining time? Localization involves more than just translation. It concerns not just making the language understandable but also considering local and cultural factors that affect the clarity and effectiveness of communication.
For example, take translating from Spanish to English. It seems simple, but which English do you want to end up with? There’s American English, “The Queen’s English” in the UK, Aussie English, Kiwi English, South African English, and even Indian or Nigerian English. There’s high English and conversation simplified English.
No two locations are the same and, of course, there are ethnic, religious, and socio-economic differences within each region that need to be taken into account. The same holds true for translating to the Portuguese spoken in Lisbon and that of Rio de Janeiro, to Spanish in Cordoba versus Caracas, or to the French in Marseilles versus Montreal.
The same sensitivities apply to emotional and cultural nuances. Certain colors work better in certain countries, and other colors may be offensive or off-putting. Certain expressions can alienate supporters and potential donors. As an outsider, you simply don’t know.
Go to the Source
The easiest and fastest way to get up to speed is to hire local talent in the form of a professional localization services provider, often labeled as a translation company.
Localization is a fairly new term, and it hasn’t caught on in all corners of the world. So even if translation is a subset of localization, it may be used interchangeably in some cases.
These translation agencies are likely to provide a high level of globalization strategy, where globalization is really the sum total of all your localization strategy efforts. As a nonprofit organization, you probably know that certain geographic areas and demographic sectors may be more receptive to your messaging, but you really need expertise in this area to test and confirm or disprove your initial assumptions.
Website globalization is perhaps the easiest to grasp. Most of us are familiar with sites that allow us to switch between language versions or national variants of the various languages on offer.
Many of us have also experienced being switched automatically (usually by cookies or IP address detection) to a language or presumed locale that is not really our own or comfortable. A strategic approach to localization services will avoid these kinds of mishaps.
The key things when hiring an agency is to research their qualifications and consider their offer and timetable for delivering your specific job. Agencies tend to cost more — perhaps as much as 30 to 100 percent more — than freelancers because there are more people applied to your work, and there is operating overhead. The advantage is expertise, time, and security.
Freelance Translators and Localizers
Freelance translators and localizers are the other side of the coin. They are often a one-person or very small staff operation. Because of this, they are almost always going to be cheaper than agencies. The trade-off may be a narrower expertise range and less backup.
Some relief is provided when you work via one of the bigger and more reputable freelance platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr. They allow you to see reviews and ratings, profiles and portfolios, and collect competitive bids. They hold your money in escrow until the job is delivered to your satisfaction.
It’s worth considering actually hiring not one but two translators; the second can edit and proof the work of the first and serve as a backup.
Software, Tools, and Machine Translation
Budget constrains are often an issue for nonprofits. A tempting avenue for organizations in that position is to skip humans altogether and do machine translation. However, there isn’t yet a surefire technology solution.
AI-driven neural networks have increased the quality of such translations in recent years, but the truth is that they still have a way to go before they can equal the quality of a skilled human linguist.
Only when the content is highly standardized and structured might a machine prove adequate. Otherwise, you should use machine translation only for in-house research and informal correspondence, never for documents and publications where your reputation is on the line.
As they say, you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. This is all the more true when doing fundraising and content marketing in a second language, or a third or fourth.
Ofer Tirosh is founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language services provider that supports more than 100 languages and 1,000 language pairs.