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Localization at A Glimpse

Have you ever wondered what localization is? This handy illustrative example will show you what kinds of things are taken into consideration when trying to adapt a product to a target market.

Let‘s start with a short explanation from

Localization refers to the adaptation of a product, application or document content to meet the language, cultural and other requirements of a specific target market (a “locale”).

The word “adaptation” is crucial because we are trying to adapt a product made in one place for a different target market. The most obvious need when taking a product from one market to another is translation. However, once a product has been translated into a target market language, the process has only just begun. You also need to take into consideration how this piece of translation will fit the “local” market. For example, who is your audience? What designs do you need to change? What are the language requirements of the translated target language? And what are the local regulations involved? Only once these issues have been addressed can something be localized effectively.

Let’s imagine that we wanted to localize one of my favorite children’s books, Apollo the Powerful Owl – a story about Apollo, a powerful carnivore owl, trying to become a vegetarian – from English into Traditional Chinese. What would the localization process look like? We will take the cover and a page from the book as an example.



1) Think about your audience.

The first consideration when localizing is considering who your audience will be. In our example, children are your audience. A translation for a children’s book will certainly need to have a different flavor than one for an insutruction manual.

Let’s take a look at the English title “Apollo the Powerful Owl.” The corresponding Traditional Chinese translation of “powerful owl” is extremely academic. If we use the corresponding translation, it will almost sound like we are writing for an encyclopedia…boring!

This is a children’s book, so the language needs to be easy to understand. If we use that Traditional Chinese translation, children will have a hard time digesting this piece of information. Therefore, in the Traditional Chinese version, it’s more appropriate for the translation of “powerful owl” to simply read “owl”.


But often one piece of media will have multiple audiences, adding to the complexity of localization. In our example, parents are the audience, too! Why? Because parents are probably the ones actually picking out the book and reading it to the little ones. They want to know what the book is about before they bring it home to their babies.

In the Traditional Chinese version, the title tells a bit more about what the story is in order to grab the parents’ attention: “a powerful owl who wants to become a vegetarian.” That’s a new concept that will capture the parent’s attention by violating their expectations, since owls are carnivorous. Why would Apollo want to be a vegetarian?


Unlike the English version, the Traditional Chinese version also provides a tagline on the book cover to indicate a takeaway point from the story: “be yourself!” So Apollo is trying to be someone he is not and apparently is confused. How did he figure everything out and decide to be himself? All these extras that an English speaking audience may not need are important to a buyer in China deciding to get this book for their child.



2) Think about what design changes are necessary for the localized version.

We have already talked about the book title in Traditional Chinese – “A Powerful Owl Who Wants to Become A Vegetarian.”

Once the title of the book has been localized, you have to find a way to put it on the cover. Take, for example, the font. The cover of the book features the title written in a font created with hand-drawn feathers instead of a regular font typeface. The Traditional Chinese title does not have the word “Apollo” anywhere in it. Therefore, the feather design for “Apollo” in English cannot be used in the same way in the Traditional Chinese version. And taking a similar approach fo creating characters using feathers may result in a font that is difficult to read in Chinese. Instead, in a creative twist feathers appear in and around the Traditional Chinese characters.


The alignment is also different from the English version. Rather than centering the text, the Traditional Chinese version aligns all text to the left in order to follow convention.

Apollo_ZH_Align Left


3) Make sure the localized version follows all logistical requirements.

The Traditional Chinese version follows the linguistic rules in order to translate the names of the author and the illustrator – with a dot between first and last names. The Traditional version also provides the translator’s name on the third line.

Apollo_Cover_ZH_authors names

Also, for children’s books in Traditional Chinese, phonetics are usually provided next to the right of each character. Phonetics, or Zhuyin, is the official phonetic notation system for Traditional Chinese. Children are required to learn phonetics at elementary schools prior to learning characters. Phonetics are an important inclusion in Chinese children’s books since children might not be able to recognize all the characters at the book’s targeting age group.

Apollo_ZH_Phonetics copy

Instead of using the English quotation marks, the Chinese version “「」” of quotation marks is used.

Apollo_ZH 2_Quotation marks


4) Local regulations need to be followed and addressed as well.

The local publisher needs to obtain the copyright from the original English publisher in order to translate the book. Here, the name of the local publisher is printed on the upper left-hand corner.


Voila! Here is what the localized Traditional Chinese version looks like:



Now, we have a book that is fully translated into Traditional Chinese. The cover is translated in a simpler way to accommodate children’s taste and parents’ consumer preferences. The design is modified based on the title translation. Phonetics are provided to help children read. The translation follows Traditional Chinese language rules in terms of punctuation, alignment, and formats. Legal requirements are also taken into consideration.

As you might have already noticed, when you take all these additional aspects besides translation into account, the localized book might not look exactly like the original book. This is because each target market has its own preferences and requirements. Remember, the aim of localization is to suit “local” tastes and meet “local” requirements!

Interested in learning more about the localization industry? Find out more on Lawless Guides:

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