Friday, June 19, 2009

Lost in Translation

In my job as a Senior Project Manager on Microsoft projects, one of my responsibilities is to manage the localization (global translations) process for a variety of media.


One of my current projects is managing the production of a marketing video for a major Microsoft business unit.  (You’ve learned by now that I’m vague when it comes to discussing details of my career on my blog, right?)  In addition to the English version, I am responsible for localizing the video into eleven different languages (including three separate Chinese spoken languages and two separate Chinese written languages), with both on-screen and voice-over translations.

The process of localization is very detailed and a bit complicated.  One localization is complicated enough, but eleven is nuts.  (And when that project is one of many that I’m managing these days… well, let’s just say that I’m feeling just a tad overwhelmed!)

The first step is, of course, to create the English version.  Sometimes it already exists and we only need to localize it into other languages, and sometimes (as is the case with this project) it’s a new production and is completed just prior to the localization efforts. 

For the English version, we develop a script and have it approved by the client (in this case, Microsoft).  We then determine what needs to be localized (on-screen or print only? voiceover too?).  Then we contact the localization service, submit to them a special script specifically for localization (I divide it into “sound bites,” each of which will eventually be an individual file) and then they start the localization gears rolling.


The localization service sends the English sound-bite script (by now it’s a complicated-looking Excel spreadsheet, one tab for each language, one cell for each sound-bite) off to their translators around the globe. At the same time, they send us talent options for each localization’s voice-over, and I send those on to the client for approval.  For both the voice-over and the written translations, Microsoft sends the samples on to their subsidiaries in each country for review and approval.

Once the voice sample and the written translation has been approved by each country, which sometimes takes quite a few review cycles, that “sub” sends final approval to Microsoft, who passes it on to me, and I pass it on to the localization service… who then schedules studio time with the talent.

Once I receive voice over files for each language, I send those to our production people, who have been busy working on the video’s visuals (which I also manage) all along.  They then fit each localized voiceover onto the video – which has hopefully been produced at a pace so as to allow for “text expansion” for especially “wordy” languages like Russian.


At the same time, our production team incorporates on-screen translations and, if we’re lucky, we then have a localized video!

Times eleven… making up a portion – not even half – of my current workload! 

Until I was involved in localization efforts myself, I had no idea how many steps and how many different teams were involved! From the individual Microsoft subsidiaries around the globe, to Microsoft management, to two external agencies (the external Microsoft PM and me), to the localization service, to the studios, to the localization talent (translators and voice talent), it’s a group effort every step along the way, all around the globe!

I thought this might be interesting especially for my expat friends, some of whom I’m sure are involved in localizations for various forms of media.  If I were bilingual, I’d move right to my foreign country of choice and start my own business in the localization arena!  Now there’s a profession!

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Anonymous said...

Very interesting how that localization process works. Thanks!

Goofball said...

time consuming indeed.

what I like is that lately we have a "Flemish" and a "Dutch" version for all cartoon movies!

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