Localizing in Asia: The need to break down cultural barriers

Localizing in Asia: The need to break down cultural barriers

Companies need to embrace an Eastern approach if they want to be successful with localization in Asia. 

This is according to language technology consultant Bob Donaldson, who pointed out that more often than not Western businesses view any issues that crop up in Asia through their own interpretation grid. 

Writing in MultiLingual magazine, he stated Westerners have to be prepared to "cross the divide" and overcome the cultural barriers that have built up. "[We need] a non-Western approach to constructive and respectful cooperation."

Part of this hinges on the fact Westerners are typically viewed as more direct and confrontational around the issue of communication, whereas in Asia organizations are predisposed to saving face and so often do not ask the difficult questions of their bosses. 

Business opportunities

As our own group CEO Ross Klinger recently pointed out, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) represents a significant opportunity for the localization industry in Asia. However, companies will need to have the right structures and business practices in place if they are going to take advantage of this. 

A series of international economic forecasts point to the fact that Asia is the high growth region of the world. "There are some great localization providers located in Asia and perhaps that's indicative of what's going on in the localization industry," Mr Klinger stated. 

With the amount of material needing to be translated growing exponentially, it will be the companies that can align their business requirements with the practices of Asian leaders that stand the best chance of long-term success. 

Setting and managing expectations

The starting point of any localization project should be setting out clear goals and expectations. However, this can be tricky with East/West collaborative projects, as both sides have different views on what should be expected. 

According to Mr Donaldson, the problem comes from the fact that "natural cultural assumptions on both sides do not hold". For example, Western managers will expect their Eastern counterparts to read between the lines over some issues, but this may not actually happen.  

Another issue is that clarification will rarely be asked for by Asian vendors, as questioning the instructions given is often seen as challenging the authority of the boss. This is why these types of issues need to be dealt with from an early stage, or else it could result in a serious disconnect further down the line.

Problem resolution 

As everyone working in the localization industry knows, problems will always crop up, and so it is important companies are well placed to deal with such issues. Mr Donaldson highlighted how there are different approaches to resolving problems on the two sides, with Western project managers preferring a more "confrontational" style in order to get to the root cause of the issue. 

This can be counter-productive, with Mr Donaldson stating it could see "well-meaning efforts to identify root causes and solve problems … result instead in an escalation of tension and a loss of relational capital". 

With the AEC set to be introduced in 2015, Western companies looking to build up a healthy business relationship with their Asian counterparts need to find common ground. As there are a whole host of issues to consider with localization, the last thing they want to do is get bogged down dealing with management or financial concerns.

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