The Magic of Native Tongues in Game Localization

A couple of weeks ago, we started a series featuring our highly talented localization team members to talk about the localization process. Our first guest was our Localization Project Manager. Today, one of our translators is going to talk about the necessary elements, and primarily, the importance of being a native speaker of the target language, to become a game localization specialist. Let’s dive in!

In this article, I am going to discuss the importance of being a native speaker of the target language when working in game localization.

Game translation, one might argue, is the youngest child of the translation services as a whole. Being a relatively new area of expertise, video game localization brought forth its own specialists. Apart from the translators that achieved professional levels with more than one language, most of us are at least bilingual and make one-way video game translations to our native languages.

When recruiting us, many game localization companies conduct a localization test to see if our command of languages (both source and target) is up-to-par, and if we possess the necessary creativity. I would like to go in-depth about these two.

native translator

Speaking a Language vs. “Knowing” a Language

One of the most common misconceptions about the translation industry, in general, is that anyone can become a translator as long as they are fluent in at least two languages. Being able to speak a language, and “knowing” a language are two different things.

One can claim that they are fluent in a language when they barely “get by” using their lexicon of 200 words, seeing they can fluently communicate their needs and respond accordingly, in their limited use of a language. However, our profession requires us to know no limits to the language. From old words to new ones, industry-specific terms to etymological mysteries, translators are required to know, or learn, everything there is to know about their source language.

Creativity and the Mastery Behind Game Localization

Like a chain that is only as strong as its weakest link, a company providing game localization services is only as strong as its least creative localization specialist. This “creativity”, more often than not, translates to having a strong command of their native language.

Turkish, in this sense, is very complicated. As a language with many loan words from many languages (Arabic, Farsi, Armenian, Greek, Kurdish, Zazaki, Syriac, Italian, French, English, Georgian, and Laz are only some of these languages), Turkish has a very rich vocabulary.

If you are working on a game that has a fictional, medieval court that is similar to the Turco-Persian cultures of the old days, the localization will need to show this by underlining the words that Turkish borrowed from Farsi. If you are working on a game that takes place in the future, the usage of English and French loan words is almost inevitable. A creative localization specialist should know what words to use, and when to use them.

Overcoming Cultural Differences

Another challenge that a localization specialist faces is the cultural difference between the source culture and our native one.

It is very widely known, but not so much vocalized, that localization in games gives agency to localization experts, similar to that of authors. Thanks to this agency, we are able to overcome cultural differences. With approaches like localization, culturalization, and transcreation at our disposal, we can take initiative while working on a project to present the ideas to the audience in a way we choose. At this point, two important factors arise.

native game localization specialist

Familiarity with Both Cultures

A game localization expert should be familiar with both source and target cultures. When it comes to games, the presented experience should reflect the source’s culture while not being unfamiliar to the audience. The player should be able to draw parallels between these cultures. And this is the localization specialist’s responsibility.

A Passion for Research

Unfamiliarity is the bane of translators. If a translator does not know what is hidden within the words of the source text, the translation will definitely be meaningless. At this point, a trait that all translators should have takes the scene: a passion for research. A translator’s best friends are dictionaries and search engines. By utilizing these tools, we can familiarize ourselves with the context and provide a better experience for gamers.

Game Localization Done Right

If you are looking for game translation services, you should make sure that the localization specialists that will work on your projects have a strong command of both source and target languages. They should also be very familiar with both cultures and be creative souls.

I, for one, know of one company that has linguists checking all these boxes.

Written by
Berk Göbekcioğlu
Translator & Editor

Looking for getting tailored solutions for your game localization projects? Let’s open up a whole new world together!