Tips and Tricks for Improving Your Localization Editing Skills

To all you publishing students out there who want to use the editing skills you’ve acquired: consider a career in localization editing. In addition to performing the duties of a copyeditor, a localization editor ensures that a translated work, or a work written by a person whose native language is different from the language they have chosen to write in, can easily be understood by the audience. Communication across the world is at an all-time high, and it’s as important as ever that we have clear, concise writing to convey ideas. Good editors who localize text quickly and accurately are in demand, and if you want to add another set of skills to your resume, just follow the guidelines below.

  • Be Patient: This is just good advice for any type of editing you do, but it’s especially important in localization. In some situations you won’t have any contact with the author, and your boss will just send you a file with the following instruction: “fix.” But in some cases there will be a back-and-forth, and that’s when you’ll realize just how incredibly difficult it is to write in another language. As someone who once got 0 percent on a Spanish quiz (it was sixth grade, and no, I don’t want to talk about it), I can appreciate that not everyone is a polyglot. The writer whose work you’re editing is probably in the same position as you, just on the other side of the world: their boss told them to do something, and they’re doing the best they can.

  • Respect the Writing: It doesn’t matter if it’s an email, a poem, a user’s manual, or anything else—writing, in itself, is a deeply personal act, and editors must therefore demonstrate consideration and poise. Just because it’s not a novel doesn’t mean somebody didn’t work hard on it. Respect the writing.

  • Have a Clear Order of Operations: When you first receive a document, it may be tempting to do everything at once, especially if you’re asked to simply “edit” something. But you wouldn’t try to brush your teeth and floss at the same time, would you? I would recommend making three passes: the first to read, the second to rewrite sentences as needed, and the third to check for standard copyediting issues. This will allow you to give your undivided attention to each segment and will help prevent you from introducing errors.

  • Familiarize Yourself with Cultural Norms: If you’re editing text that comes from a certain region of the world, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with local colloquialisms, idioms, clichés, and syntax. While your spidey sense (which is, by the way, a horrible phrase to use when writing to a global audience) may be tingling as you encounter an oddly worded phrase, you should tread carefully. It’s more important to properly understand the meaning of the words, rather than the actual words themselves, and this can only happen through educating yourself. For example, a common Chinese insult is “shǎ dàn,” which translates to “stupid egg.” When said to a friend, this phrase can be taken in good humor; but when said to a stranger, it can provoke a fight. Now, a good translator would be familiar with China’s many egg-based insults and would change it to something like “foolish,” but in case this doesn’t happen, it’s your responsibility as the localization editor to catch it and make the change. Otherwise your audience might not understand the expression, in which case you would come across as a very stupid egg indeed.

If you follow these tips, you should set yourself up for success and ensure comprehension for your audience.

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