The role of pivot languages in localization

pivot languages

Have you ever found yourself struggling with a direct translation? Sometimes, you need a linguistic intermediary to save the day. Pivot languages are real lifesavers, connecting languages that might seem worlds apart. Through a method called pivot translation, you can use a pivot language to to bridge the gap between the source and target languages. Here’s how these languages work and the benefits they offer.

What is a pivot language?

A pivot language refers to a language that is used as an intermediary or bridge between the source language and multiple target languages. Instead of translating directly from the source language to each target language, localization teams may first translate content into the pivot language and then translate from the pivot language into each target language.

When is a pivot language used?

Let’s say you have a software application or content that is originally created in a source language that is less commonly spoken or lacks extensive language support for translation tools. In such cases, it might be challenging to find translators proficient in both the source language and the target languages.

To overcome this challenge, a pivot language can be introduced. The content is first translated from the source language to the pivot language by a translator proficient in both languages. Then, separate translators, who may not be proficient in the source language, can translate the content from the pivot language to each target language.

Why are pivot languages beneficial?

The use of a pivot language can streamline the localization process and make it more efficient, especially when dealing with a large number of target languages. Pivot languages can:

  • Increase efficiency. Instead of translating directly from the source language to each target language, you can concentrate translation efforts on translating into a single pivot language, saving time and resources.
  • Ensure consistency. Translating content into a pivot language allows for better control over linguistic consistency. When you focus on one language, you can ensure that terminology, style, and tone are consistent throughout the localization process.
  • Improve cost-effectiveness. You may find that it may be more economical to translate into one language and then use that translation as a basis for translating into multiple target languages.
  • Maintain quality control. Translators can refine and optimize the translation in the pivot language before it is translated into multiple target languages, ensuring that the final translations meet the desired quality standards.
  • Helps adapt content culturally. If the pivot language shares cultural similarities with the target languages, the translated content is more likely to resonate with the local audience.

How to choose your pivot language

Choosing the right pivot language in the context of localization requires careful consideration of various factors. Firstly, make sure to select a pivot language that is linguistically close to the source language and the majority of target languages. This is because similar linguistic structures, vocabulary, and grammatical features can facilitate smoother translations.

You should also consider cultural similarities between the source language, the pivot language, and the target languages. Through shared cultural nuances and references, you can enhance the accuracy and cultural appropriateness of the translations.

Another important factor is expertise. You may want to choose a pivot language for which you can easily find experienced and qualified translators. The more skilled localization professionals in the chosen pivot language, the higher the translation quality.

Other factors that can help you make an informed decision when selecting a pivot language that best suits your needs include industry, target audience, budget, and compatibility with your localization tools and systems.

Challenges of using pivot languages

Despite the numerous benefits pivot languages offer, using one also comes with a set of challenges you need to be aware of. Firstly, translating content through a pivot language may lead to a loss of nuance and context. Consequently, the pivot language may not perfectly capture the subtle meanings and cultural nuances present in the original source language.

Managing consistency across multiple languages can also be challenging when using a pivot language. Differences in translation style, terminology, and cultural adaptation may arise between translations done directly from the source language and those done through the pivot language.

An important factor contributing to the success of the pivot language approach depends on the proficiency of the translators involved, especially the translators working with the pivot language. If the pivot language translation is not accurate or contextually appropriate, it can negatively impact the final localized content.

Alas, the pivot language approach may not be suitable for all types of content. Highly technical or industry-specific content may require expertise in both the source and target languages to ensure accurate and precise translations.

Using pivot languages with POEditor

POEditor allows businesses to manage translations efficiently using numerous localization features designed to simplify your workflow. Our software localization platform allows contributors (translators) assigned to your project to choose another language from the project to override the Default Reference Language (DRL), in case they are not familiar with the DRL chosen for the project. In order for them to do so, the owner has the option to enable “Read Access to All Languages.” in a project’s settings.

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