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Example of cultural translation: localisation of online campaigns

Watch this video, as Dr Serena Bassi discusses localisation as a form of cultural translation.
Interlingual translation, translation between languages, is an umbrella term that helps us describe a wide range of activities that help us mediate between places, between languages, and between cultures. An example of interlingual translation is localization. Localization is a very particular example. We don’t simply translate between two texts, but we take content in a particular language and devised for an audience, and we make it not just understandable but also relatable to another audience situated in a different place, in a different locale. We look at localized text on the internet all the time, even when we don’t think they are localized texts. Video games are often localized. Software is very frequently localized.
And we can spot dates and times structured and looking in a different way, depending on the audience. There’s a set of texts that we look at and we think of them as originals, but they’re in fact localizations.
Let’s think for example about social justice campaigns on the internet. In my research work I looked at lengths at online campaigns against homophobia. In particular, I’ve studied one campaign on YouTube. The original is in English, and it’s devised for an American audience. To counteract a spate of homophobic hate crime that happened in the United States. That campaign was very successful in the United States, and it was therefore localized in a set of languages and devised to speak to the particular circumstances of gay communities and transgender communities in Germany, in France, in different countries in Latin America, and particularly, my example in Italy. The campaign consists of a set of videos which users upload themselves on YouTube.
And they tell their own story. In order to counteract the stereotypes about gay people or about trans people, they tell their own story. And they tell the story of how they moved away from a situation where they were targeted with homophobic bullying, often as young people onto an adult happy life. The users who tell their own stories, based on a specific American format, and make that American format understandable and relatable in the French context or in the Colombian context, those users are localizers. They make an international idea of what fighting homophobia might look like into a specific localized story and situation.
In order for that to be useful for that fight in that place, as they change it, the content of them becomes completely different. And in the Italian stories that I’ve looked at, the very idea of gay or the very idea of trans, as well as the very idea of what it might look like to fight a battle against discrimination changes radically. The title of the campaign itself provides us with a very strong example of how different a localized text is to its original. So the American campaign is called It Gets Better. The Italian campaign becomes Things Change, Le cose cambiano, you know.
So again, this quite boundless optimism of the American original gets translated into slightly more cautious and slightly different sounding slogan for the Italian campaign. That significant shift of the title is then reflected in quite a lot of the stories. Whilst the American stories are your typical American dream story of from rags to riches, and how the young people fought against discrimination to then become quite successful and often high earning professionals. In the Italian translation, the very idea of progress becomes a lot more subtle. And often ambiguities and doubts are inserted in that very narrative. Localization then speaks to the locale.
When there are questions about that very format, when that very format doesn’t quite adapt, localization can change it and reflect upon it. What makes a good localization then? How do we assess quality? As we said at the beginning, localization is all about the audience. It’s not about the original in itself. It’s about that text making sense and being usable for a particular place and for a particular set of people.

Video games, computer software and websites are often localised for a particular audience: a process that can reveal some of the complexities of cultural translation.

Through a study of social justice campaigns on the internet, Dr Serena Bassi describes how content can be substantially altered to ensure that it is understandable and relatable to audiences in different communities. In this way, localisation becomes an instrument of cultural translation.

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Working with Translation: Theory and Practice

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