My neighbour Caterina’s kids shout all the time. In summer afternoons, she places an inflatable pool just outside the entrance, under my windows, letting Marica (her eldest) tease the young Mario for hours, stealing his toys or splashing water in his face. The acoustic effect is that of a beast that’s being flayed alive, given that Mario is still 5 and has a shrill, high-impact voice and nobody to stop him. Ever. Those are hard afternoons that make me wish to scratch my face or pluck my eyes out. Until I decided to go to Caterina and try to explain with all the kindness I have in my body that I work at home and FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY I can’t stand this any longer.
“Sorry, I didn’t know you work (sic.)! I saw you were always home, what is it you do exactly?”
If localisation is also your domain and your neighbours think you’re part of the ever-growing crowd of the unemployed or that you are too choosy, feel free to use this guide to prove unequivocally that you have license to complain with them for all the daily emotional disruption you undergo thanks to people who insist on procreating or getting pets they subsequently refuse to educate.
In theory: localisation
Localisation is that set of tasks by which a product created for a certain market is adapted to another. The biggest part of the process, and this will hardly come as a surprise, is translation, but there are a few more thingies – often invisible but quite useful – like the conversion of the utter senselessness of imperial measurements to the metric system in all its enlightened splendour, the conversion of currencies, the adaptation of wordplay, time, imprecations and so on.
The said product can be a clothing iron, a social network, the thousandth Adobe Creative Suite, the censorship filters for a forum (a hilarious job which consisted in the translation of all the obscenities of the English language) or a super secret video game that will be out in four months, and for that reason we know nothing about it and have to translate a list of senseless strings in alphabetical order completely in the dark, like “So, how are you holding up? BECAUSE I’M A POTATO!” or “Stay frosty“.
(If you’re a Web or software developer, however, and for reasons unknown you wish to see a poor translator get a stroke, write “More” or “End” on its own in an uncommented string and without providing context, then sit and check the obituaries.)
Besides the beauty treatment for, say, Japanese or American creations before their launch on European markets, people in charge with localisation have to get rid of all expressions that might sound ridiculous, inconvenient or insulting to most target country citizens. Among the most blatant fails of the kind, the Volkswagen Bora, which for an Italian sounds more or less like Volkswagen Rube. In catholic countries, the classic “Oh my fucking God!” found so often in film and games would be unacceptable and usually is replaced by less sensitive terms, like “fucking slut!”.
So, answering Caterina, here’s what I do: around 10 in the morning, after I’ve taken the dog out, I get back home and drink a sugar- and milk-free cup of Earl Gray. I sit on my desk, silently invoke Saint Jerome, patron of translators,[2. He’s saint because he translated the Vulgate and was able to satisfy an impossibly difficult customer.] I open my eyes like a pair of cart wheels and don’t close them until D. comes back home at 7 pm and tears me off my desk as if I was crystallized in the rigor mortis.
If you’re into details, here’s a typical workflow: customer sends finalized files produced by their copy to my counterparts, with the invariable level of urgency and impossible timetables (and naturally, the client’s copy has never heard of internationalization and keeps sending files without context, or full of proverbs and wordplay, which force us to spend half day in asking moronic questions like “what does ‘this’ refer to?” “does g mean ‘grams’?” “is a an article?”). Project managers forward all files to engineers who convert them to translation-ready formats. At this point, files get into my Gmail inbox. All this is followed by the inevitable comic sketch where we argue about delivery. I list absurd reasons – a sick granny, a tsunami in the Mediterranean, the feast for the all-important patron saint of Poggio Sannita – which prevent us from delivering the files earlier than 3 months from now, while they stubbornly insist to have them back by 12.30 at the latest, if possible even earlier. This faux-kind emails pantomime goes on for a while until at the end we agree on the following morning.
As I often work with the UK, I printed this old table as a reference – an authentic Bible for those who exchange emails on a regular basis with people from across the Channel.
I hereby call for the creation of a similar equivalence table for people working with the Far East: there’s a dire need for it.
Where were we? Right. Based on wordcounts, I can distribute jobs among my colleagues or translate them directly with the help of a CAT tool: a RAM-hungry gizmo that swallows all sorts of files, filters text in them, counts words, characters and sentences, splits them into segments and applies my translation memories to them to spare my delicate hands the effort of retyping pearls I had already given birth to (a great remedy, given the fact that usually I don’t get paid for those.)
The red pen
Upon completing the job, and before the final delivery, it’s the turn of the endless quality checks (terminology, consistency, numbers, spelling, and a call to my lawyer which always helps). It is a truth universally acknowledged that technical translators, in fact, spend their lives waiting for the school test results, but on an international scale. My files are read by a reviewer, then gone over with a tooth-comb by the client (who hopes to find mistakes which in turn would allow them to get discounts) and spot-checked by third-party reviewers. One day we’ll talk about what happens when there’s a mistake in your delivery.
At this point, it’s time to put to use all the strategies needed to convince my stupid brain that my home is not a workplace and that at some point I can stop working without an oppressive feeling of guilt.
This post is also available in it_IT.