I read a very interesting book on my flight yesterday - 'The Culturally Customized Website' (website | Amazon). I almost wanted to call the book an eye opener, however, I knew that I know very little about localization, which is why I wanted to read it, and this book reinforced that.
The purpose of ordering these three books is so that I could gain a better understanding of some of the basic stuff like the reading patterns (left to right vs. right to left vs. vertical), color usage, etc. What I got from Culturally Customized Web Site was a little more.
A truly culturally customized web site goes beyond just the text, the color scheme or spatial orientation. A truly cultural customized web site takes into account the values of the target culture. The 5 unique values that comprise the framework:
- Individualism-Collectivism – a belief in the importance of goals of the individual (individualism) versus the goals of the group (collectivism). This value indicates how closely or loosely a society a society is knit. In individualistic cultures, the needs, values, and goals of the individual take precedence over group goals; the opposite is true for collectivistic cultures.
- Power Distance – a belief in authority and hierarchy (high power distance) versus the belief that power should be distributed (low power distance). Cultures high on power distance accept power and hierarchy in the society and are low on egalitarianism. In such cultures, less powerful citizens are accepting of unequal power distribution in society.
- Uncertainty Avoidance – the importance of predictability, structure, and order (high uncertainty avoidance) versus a willingness for risk-taking and acceptance of ambiguity and limited structure (low uncertainty avoidance). People from cultures high on uncertainty avoidance tend to have low tolerance for uncertainty and avoid ambiguous situations, view conflict and competition as threatening, and value security over adventure and risk.
- Masculinity-Femininity – a belief in achievement and ambition (masculine) versus a belief in nurturing and caring for others (feminine). Masculine cultures value assertiveness, material possessions, and success, while feminine cultures place more value on helping others, preserving the environment, quality of life, and nurturance.
- Low-High Context – high context cultures have close connections among group members, and everybody knows what every other person knows. Thus in such cultures most of the information to function in a group in intrinsically known, and there is little information that is explicit. High context cultures use more symbols and nonverbal cues to communicate, with meanings embedded in situational context. Low context cultures are societies that are logical, linear, action-oriented, and the mass of the information is explicit and formalized. Most of the communication in such cultures takes place in a rational, verbal, and explicit way to convey concrete meanings through rationality and language.
This book seemed more strategy to me; describing which functionality should be featured prominently for different cultures. That was a nice surprise.
I still think that there is an overriding factor that we're all human beings first and regardless of your culture people are more alike than they are different - people want to feel loved, needed, attractive, special, etc. (I know I read that somewhere... )
Language was obviously a huge topic including the potential for loss of meaning during translation. I posted recently about Usability Lingusitics, and now I realize that choosing the right words is even more challenging than I had originally thought. Most marketers out there know about some of the more famous examples of corporate slogans that change meanings during translations ("finger licking good" vs. "eat your fingers off" - or something like that). Individual words, obviously, have different meanings depending upon the target language. Oddly enough we just designed a consistent "Getting Information - Please Wait" pop-up for long running transactions, and the authors spent several paragraphs on some of the localized differences of the word "wait". URGH! :-)
There was an example that the authors used to highlight the difficulty with translations... one example of vocabulary equivalence (or lack thereof) is the Japanese response to the Potsdam Declaration in July 1945, leading to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Allies, armed with the Atom Bomb, issued the Potsdam Declaration, offering an ultimatum to Japan: surrender unconditionally or face the consequences. Historians say that the Japanese clearly understood the implications of the atom bomb being used on them; their dilemma was to find a more face-saving option than unconditional surrender. The Japanese Premier Japanese Kantaro Suzuko announced that the cabinet had taken the stance of mokusatsu, which has no exact meaning in English and can be translated as “making no comment” or “ignoring”. The Japanese cabinet intended the former meaning, and not the latter, as they wanted more time to discuss and decide their response (including the possibility of getting Russia involved to broker a surrender). Instead, it was translated by the Allied world as the Japanese “ignoring” the ultimatum (some say it was translated as “rejecting” the ultimatum), leading to the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The thing that I kept thinking as I read through the book was my time in Switzerland a couple of years ago. Other than a few hotel employees, everyone spoke at least some english and nearly every sign at airport in Zurich was translated into english. I noticed the signs being in english, but it really hit me when I arrived in Dulles where not a single sign outside of customs was translated. This has always stuck with me.
I really enjoyed The Culturally Customized Web Site: Customizing Web Sites for the Global Marketplace - I'd give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
What do you think? Have you done any work localizing a website? What are the things that you did? What were the challenges?