Undeniably, Australia is being swamped with American English spellings: ‘labor’, ‘color’, words ending in ‘ized’ or ‘zation’ instead of ‘ised’ or ‘sation’. Students at Australian universities submit essays or theses for proofreading, and are surprised when editors point out they have used the ‘wrong’ version of English. While this may be a forgiveable oversight for students who are ESL, it’s something one would expect native Australian English speakers to be aware of.
Consider US English. Many people think localising content from US to Australian English is simply a matter of amending spellings: ‘or’ to ‘our’, ‘er’ to ‘re’, ‘ize/ization’ to ‘ise/isation’, ‘gray’ to ‘grey’ and so on. But translation is just one small part of localisation; it’s the easy part. Read any piece of American writing, and it quickly becomes clear how different US vocabulary, phrases and expressions are from ours. ‘Rain boots’, ‘candy’ and ‘vacation’ translate to ‘gumboots’, ‘lollies’ and ‘holiday’, while UK readers require ‘wellington boots’ (or ‘wellies’), ‘sweeties’ and ‘holiday’.

What is Localisation?

Localisation (or “l10n” as it is sometimes referred to) means to adapt the original language used for a product or service to the language of other countries, places or cultures. Localisation may be a simple matter of translating written or spoken word from one language to another, or into a number of languages or even dialects. We are all familiar with instruction booklets for appliances that appear in multiple languages (although the quality of the translation is often poor), different language features available on websites, or the dubbing of television commercials so that the actors appear to speak the local language and use local terminology.

Localisation entails much more than just translation. Americans use the imperial system of measurement, so feet and inches have to be converted to metric, as do pints, ounces, pounds and so on. Of course, their currency is different, they measure distance in miles instead of kilometres, they have zip codes; and we have postcodes. Their address and phone number formats are different, they also use different paper sizes, different voltages and of course, different phrases. “Howdy” becomes “G’day”, and Australians don’t say “y’all”!

Thus, localisation has a much broader scope than just language translation. It involves catering for other markets’ tastes and consumer habits, converting currencies and units of measurement, adapting forms to accepted format for dates (e.g. ddmmyy to mmddyy), addresses (zip code to postcode), and phone numbers (varying lengths of prefix codes and numbers etc.). In addition, it is essential to ensure content doesn’t fall foul of regulations or legislation in other countries or regions, as well as being aware of and sensitive to local, cultural and religious aspects.

Ultimately, localisation plays a crucial part in ensuring products or content appear to have been created in the ‘home’ (target) market rather than elsewhere, and appeals to that market. Bottom line—localisation matters.

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