Localization: Just “translating the words” doesn’t cut it

This month I've been getting ready to make the trip to IJET-20 in Sydney, Australia.

I booked my flight to Australia online via Jetstar. Using amazing high-tech IP-geolocation techniques, Jetstar figured out that I was in Japan and decided to treat me to its Japanese-language site. Fair enough; but if you're going to foist off your localized site, you ought to make sure you get it right.

And Jetstar didn't quite. The most egregious example was their confirmation email, which started like this:

お客さまはジェットメールに登録されました。

     Ryanさま

ジェットメール/ジェットテキストのご登録ありがとうございます。 –ジェットスターは「オールデイ・エブリデイ・ローフェア」でエアラインの新常識を提供していく航空会社です。

Imagining for a moment that I am Japanese (Jetstar did, so why can't you?), the use of my first name followed by the Hiragana "sama" is really out of place. As a customer, I'd expect my last name (Ginstrom) to be properly written in Japanese characters (ジンストロム), followed by the Kanji character for "sama" (様).

Although the use of the first name is fairly widespread in the English-speaking world, it's a big no-no with customer communication in Japanese.

A word about templates

The problem stems from the use of templates for emails and dynamic Web pages. I imagine that the original email template went something like this:

    Dear $name:

Blah blah blah JETSTAR blah blah blah…

Where "$name" will be replaced dynamically from the database with the first name.

The site developers must have just passed off this template to be translated. The translator has no control over what gets written for the "$name" value, which the computer is going to fill in with "Ryan," or more normally, "Hanako" or "Taro." The translator, faced with a no-win situation, probably opted for the hiragana "sama" (さま) because it looks less strange with a first name in Roman characters than the Kanji "sama" (様) would.

    $nameさま

ジェットメール/ジェットテキストのご登録ありがとうございます。…

Localization isn't (just) translation

What they needed to do was modify the template so that the last name of the customer would be entered in Kanji. This would have made it possible to create a proper Japanese-language email template. Whether Jetstar failed to do this out of ignorance or cheapness (not wanting to incur the development costs), it's still a localization fail.

2 comments to Localization: Just “translating the words” doesn’t cut it

  • I love how their motto is translated: オールデイ・エブリデイ・ローフェア. That must be one of the best things about being a English to Japanese translator: when in doubt, use katakana transliterations. You can’t be wrong.

  • Yes, I liked their motto as well. All in all, the site isn’t exactly a tour de force in localization. But then again, Jetstar is a budget airline. If they won’t shell out for free headphones, I doubt they’re paying top dollar for their site’s localization.

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