Since communication tools have become more sophisticated, the methods used to localize their output have had to change as well. Not so long ago, localization was most often performed in a written form, e.g. product manuals, user guides and training materials, etc. The internet has provided online help, websites and GUI which created a new ubiquitous domain called multimedia. The most common multimedia materials are flash movies, video clips, sound files, and complex graphics which can all be found in e.g. video games, interactive software, Web applications, DVDs or CD-ROMs.

Traditional localization used to require professional linguists who translated the materials, as well as desktop publishers who formatted the output. However, multimedia localization calls for more sophisticated resources now. It requires experts with additional skills for audio or video adaptation, script translation and professional voice talent recording. Software engineering is also essential. Altogether it requires a combination of linguistic work and in-studio production services which allow training, marketing, educational or commercial audio and video applications, as well as entertainment products.

There are some basic rules of multimedia localization that should be implemented in every project:

I. Pick your format

Before you present any multimedia message, choose the most relevant format from a wide variety of applications, including:

  • 3D Studio Max,
  • Alias,
  • Animated GIFs
  • Direct X,
  • Macromedia Flash,
  • Macromedia Shockwave,
  • Softimage

Once you have decided on your format, you then have to decide whether you want to target your multimedia message at a global audience. If yes, make every attempt to plan the localization process very carefully from the outset i.e. from the very moment when the source files are first being developed.

II. Begin with localization in mind

Presenting a multimedia project to multilingual consumers triggers both technical and cultural challenges. If you start with localization in mind, you can avoid both unexpected increases in costs and frustrating delays.

On the technical side, you may run into issues such as text expansion. This applies to on-screen as well as spoken text. Therefore, it is very important to understand the character sets for different languages and how the synchronization of voice files differs between languages. Consider whether your on-screen buttons accommodate translated text and see how the issues of concatenation and bidirectional scripts are managed.

As far as written text is concerned, visual messages may both inspire or upset. Their meanings differ across cultures. For example, a particular image may be acceptable in Europe but it may be totally inappropriate in Asia. You have to be very careful in this respect, as any mistake may result in a big embarrassment or cause significant discredit to your message.

III. How localization gets done

Once you have created your multimedia message in its source language, this is the time when the localization engineer comes to dismantle your source document, keeping an eye on such issues as colour specifications, system fonts, text attributes, navigation and interactive text. Onscreen text is then sent, along with any script, for localization.

To get a valuable stake in your localization project and to avoid downstream delays to the timeline as well as costly studio and engineering re-work, you can forward the translated onscreen and narrative text for in-country approval. Next, the localization engineer places the on-screen text into the localized visual files. Then the team comprising of audio engineers, voice talent and perhaps a linguistic producer, work with the specifics of the source files and produce the localized voice files. The final step for engineers is to spot script errors and broken links plus one last linguistic review to ensure synchronisation and your project is ready for a global launch.

If you follow these steps from the outset in your production cycle, you can be sure that your multimedia message entertains and illuminates every member of its audience.