Lost In Translation – The Most Common Localization Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

If MoGi Group had a dollar, euro, pound, ruble, peso, rand, rupee, krona, yen or bitcoin for every time somebody asked us ‘What’s the key to awesome localization?’ we’d have, well, a huge pile of coins that we wouldn’t really know what to do with.

The truth is that there is no one single element that guarantees successful translation and localization. Rather, especially for something like game localization services, there are several facets that need close attention.

Localization – a lesson from history

The past is littered with examples of insufficient care and attention being paid to translation by companies who, frankly, should know better. Fortunately (for everyone else) the results are often pretty funny. Some of our favorites include:

– Parker Pens’ ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’ appearing throughout Mexico as ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.’
– KFC’s ‘Finger-Lickin’ Good’ changing to the altogether more frightening ‘We’ll Eat Your Fingers Off’ in China
– Coors’ ‘Turn it Loose’ turning Spanish speakers away in their droves after being translated as ‘Suffer from Diarrhea’
– The ‘Jolly Green Giant’, of tinned vegetable fame, becoming the ‘Intimidating Green Ogre’ when translated into Arabic
– Pepsi, with their slogan ‘Come Alive With Pepsi’ promising Chinese speakers that the fizzy drink will ‘Bring Your Ancestors Back to Life’

What these examples show is the importance of knowing your new market and having native speakers of the new languages on board. After all, if these kinds of mistakes can appear in the frontline slogans of major corporations, imagine how easy it is for smaller mistakes amidst pages of in-game texts and dialogue to slip through the net.

Localization – making it not work

The most common translation and localization mistakes typically include:

– Mixing up masculine and feminine definitions
– Confusing plurals and tenses
– Adjectives appearing before or after the noun and vice versa
– Slang terms, idioms and well-known phrases not having equivalents in different languages

It can be surprising just how much an apparently small mistake can throw an entire sentence off course. It is immensely frustrating for the reader and, if they are forced to spend too much time or effort working out the structure and point of the sentence, never mind following the content, you can be sure they won’t stick at it for long.

From a company point of view, especially video-games which rely on clear in-game messages, instructions and dialogue to enhance the user experience, it makes no sense to put all that time and effort (not to mention money) towards expanding into new markets, only to drop the ball when it comes to localization.

Localization – making it work

This is why the localization and gaming services teams at MoGi Group are exclusively made up of native speakers in the various languages in which we work. It is also the reason we don’t use machine translation. You will never find us offering to bring people back from the dead or eat your fingers off!

Instead, our teams use technical software to simply assist and streamline their work. For example, memoQ by Kilgray saves translated segments into the translation memory. This is especially useful for recurring segments, of which there are many – particularly with big games – and ensuring that the same key terms and phrases are translated exactly the same each time.

Another video-game localization bugbear is inconsistent terminologies. From a playing perspective, they are simply inexcusable. By using software such as MemoQ, the MoGi Group team can ensure consistency throughout the project and across all languages.

The importance of using native speakers is also something that cannot be overstated. You could have the greatest translator in the world, but to a native speaker it will almost always be obvious that the work has been translated, as it will not match the vocabulary and grammar standards of a native speaker.

The intricacies and minutiae of language is something that, in 99.9% of cases, will only be fully understood by native speakers. This is why, at MoGi Group, each stage of our translation and localization processes for video-games uses native speakers of the languages involved.