I attribute my storied career in localization operations to two basic truths: First, humans are social animals who communicate to survive and thrive. Second, there are a plethora of ways for communication to go sideways — especially when translation is involved. In other words, I stay busy troubleshooting all the ways communication gets skewed, and that has led me to the wholly original invention I like to call “Tucker’s 4–Part Communication Model.”
While self-publishing my treatise would surely allow me to retire young, I choose instead to share my vast insights via corporate blog. Allow me to illustrate “Tucker’s 4–Part Communication Model” in the context of cross cultural localization, showcasing the varied ways a message gets warped in its journey from sender to receiver. I shall illustrate my model with an example of cross-cultural communications gone awry, breaking down a simulated conversation with none other than my wife (who is female and therefore culturally foreign to me).
1. What I think (my message)
Formulating the message we seek to convey to others is the first step in any communication, and yet, many localization efforts fail because the core message — the source content — is either unclear or ineffective.
The source may be is poorly written, uninformed, inconsistent, or just apathetic and void of passion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received feedback on poor-quality translations, only to discover the source content could have been better expressed by a fourth-grader.
Since your source message is the foundation of your international brand, you have to do the work up front to get it right. This may mean source content review, internationalization, or localizability testing.
The point is, in everyday conversation, most people wouldn’t blurt out an idea that you fully didn’t understand yourself or that you felt wasn’t fully informed. The same concept applies in localization. Before we translate, we need to make sure our message is clear. If the source message is not clear, then it won’t be understood in any language.
Real Life Example (What I think): “Gee, I think I would like to go fishing after work today.”
2. What I say (my words)
Here’s where we get to the translation! When speaking to our global audience, our translations are basically what comes out of your mouth. Along with perfecting our source message, defining what we say and how we say it may be the most important step for the purposes of this discussion.
These first two parts of communication are the steps that we have the most control over. How we choose to communicate our message and the words we use will have a great effect on how our message is heard and understood.
Therefore, it is absolutely critical to have the right people managing the translations for each market. Even if our source message is crystal clear, translation provides a new opportunity to muddy up the message all over again, if not done properly.
Translators need to be qualified and able to understand the source message (i.e. have experience in the related field) and then convert it to words that will not only accurately carry the same message, but also present our message using a voice and tone that will resonate with your target market.
Real Life Example (What I say): “Honey, I will be home late from work today.”
3. What you hear
So we have made sure our source message is clear, taken great care to make sure that the right people have worked on the translation to effectively convey this message, and we have now sent this message out into the world.
Nowadays we have progressed a little past tidal-current-message-bottle-propulsion-technology, and have developed sophisticated marketing algorithms and SEO optimization methods to make sure our message is at least heard by our target audience. But when our target audience hears our message, will they fully understand the intent? Even if the message is clear and the translation is on point, there are still factors that will affect how well the message is able to be perceived.
To make sure that our message is heard, we must ensure the format is appropriate. If the presentation is not polished, then people will most likely not even bother to read it. Localization desktop publishing, web design and marketing consultation can help make sure that not only is your message clear and translated well for each market, but is also presented in a manner that will encourage your target audience to take time out of their busy schedules to hear what you have to say.
Real Life Example (What she hears): “Tucker is not going be to be home for dinner, which has taken me all day to prepare.”
4. What you understand
Assuming that your message is clear, has been translated well, and has reached and been heard by the right audience, we now must hope that the message is understood correctly and not distorted by people’s understandings or even by outside influences. We all have unique preconceptions and biases, and so our message will be interpreted in subtly different ways by different people, all based on their unique life experiences that have made them who they are today.
As impossible as our mission seems, we can take certain steps to improve the odds that our message has the desired effect in our target markets. Employing methods such as cultural consulting and in-market focus groups can go a long way here. We have already invested so much in crafting and carrying our message, now we must ensure that work has the desired effect.
Real Life Example (What she understands): “Tucker doesn’t appreciate what I do, and he’s so incredibly charming, intelligent, and good-looking that he must be stepping out on me with one of many possible girlfriends. I need a divorce lawyer.”
At the risk of oversimplifying my profession, I would say that at the end of the day, localization is just about communication. Working with Moravia, I get to help new clients every day, guiding them through each stage of “Tucker’s 4–Part Communication Model”. Remember, none of us (and especially not me) is as good at communicating as we think we are, so I am continuously getting to learn and grow along with the clients I help to support.