Why Is Localization So Expensive?

Part 2 in a series: Optimizing the Localization Process

  1. Why Does Localization Take So Long?
  2. Why Is Localization So Expensive?
  3. Can’t Linda in Accounting Translate It?
  4. I Just Need “Hey, Baby” in Twelve Languages. What’s the Holdup?

You’re the localization manager in the big scoping meeting for the new product. No one bats an eye when the software development estimate comes in at $4 million, but your $20,000 line item for localization sets the room abuzz. “Wow! What’s the vendor’s per-word rate? Can’t we shop this around? Do we really need two tech writers involved?”

Sigh. There they go again. They swallow million-dollar camels but choke on thousand-dollar gnats. Why do they view localization as a nuisance? Don’t they understand that it opens up whole markets? Can’t they see that it’s important enough to do well? It’s not free, but it amounts to a rounding error in the total project cost. Why do they always single it out for scrutiny?

But you don’t answer in frustration. You suppress your sarcasm. Instead, you say, “Actually, I’ve already saved us about 30% by pre-training the translation team and setting up glossaries and translation memory in each language. We’ll be using three different vendors, each carefully vetted for economy and quality in localizing our products in their particular markets. I’ll be glad to show you some comparisons, but I think we’re pretty close to optimal here.”

That felt good. You calmly demonstrated expertise. The thankless work you’ve been doing behind the scenes is paying off. You’ve got good working relationships with your language service providers, and you have preferred translators lined up who know your products. And best of all, you’ve now begun to establish localization in the minds of these stakeholders as something more than an annoying afterthought.

You can use that conversation as a foundation for building understanding about localization. Little by little, you can educate your company.

Go ahead and show stakeholders the rates your vendors charge. Point out potential savings you could realize by localizing small batches on regular schedules instead of dumping huge projects in a rush. Explain that the best way to save money in localization is to optimize the internationalization of the software itself. Show how you work with trusted translators on the user interface design to improve quality while saving time and money. User flow, layout, the interplay of dynamic and static text, and the format of dates and times can all be optimized for your target markets. That will save rounds of translation and review.

Your company will learn why localization isn’t cheap and why it can’t be an afterthought. They’ll understand better why they shouldn’t go into other language markets unless they think it will have a big payoff. They’ll see that you’re paying not only translators but engineers who convert the files before and after translation, and project managers who guide the process. And maybe they’ll finally understand why you’re always lobbying to give your translators training and in-context access to the software.

Of course, this is just one scenario, and maybe your company’s situation is different. But every company can benefit from better understanding where the unnecessary costs of localization hide, and what savings lie in conducting localization properly.

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