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To Translate or Not to Translate? Determining Specifications

By: Yulia Sadovnik (Localization Project Manager) - Allcorrect

28 June 2016

Before beginning a new project, the translator or agency should work with their client to agree on the translation requirement specifications. This is no surprise to all of us who are working in the language industry daily. But communicating the need to go through this mapping exercise with clients and internal teams can sometimes be a challenge. However, doing so is critical to the success of localization projects.

At All Correct, many of our projects involve the translation of games for Russian audiences. Just like with other content types, video game texts must undergo this translation specification procedure to guarantee high-quality localization.

While writing the translation requirement specifications we learn basic things about the project such as the translation language (ex: Mexican or European Spanish), what punctuation and symbols are used in the game, curved or straight quotes, dashes (en dashes or em dashes), hyphens, how to address other players (formally or informally), and more.

The issues outlined above are easily understandable and simply must be followed, but there are other issues that can raise doubts and questions: should locations be translated, what should be done with text on graphical elements, should various elements of a game be transliterated or translated, what to do with plays on words, etc.

With foreign language translations, we must completely trust a proven team of native speakers who know the audience of their country. However, with Russian translations we are the native speakers and therefore must work on elements that could confuse the player and resolve these issues based on our knowledge of the Russian language and personal gaming experience.

How can we best communicate to the client that our suggested Russian translation for a name, as opposed to leaving it in English, is not just our subjective preference but a significant step in making the game completely localized and understandable for the player? It can be especially difficult when the clients are foreign companies with whom it may be hard to reach a common understanding.

After this battle for full localization had been lost in several projects, our team decided to create a document that would outline all the points of contention that arise in the translation process between the developer and localizer where we gave proofs and illustrations to help us seriously talk about all changes to a text. That’s how our first General Localization Guideline was born. Our team worked hard for approximately a year on this document and we now plan to use it for all of our company’s gaming projects.

We wanted to share this information with others in the localization community and hope that it will be useful to other language agencies and localization teams. Feel free to peruse the information we describe below to consider if your team could take a similar approach in communicating the value of establishing translation requirement specifications from the outset of a project.

What is this Document?

Our General Localization Guideline document was created for a specific client and, namely, for their projects. This decision was made deliberately. First of all, it was specifically this client’s projects that caused us to realize that it would be good to pull back the curtain a bit and familiarize foreign developers with the nuances of Russian localization. Secondly, it’s always easier to resolve questions and issues that arise when viewed in the light of concrete projects that have their own distinct aspects and requirements.

So, we selected certain issues that we considered to be crucial and included them in the document:

  • Full localization (translation of proper names, the names of interface elements, gaming terms, plays on words, and the role of voice-overs in full localization)
  • How translated and transliterated words affect understanding
  • People’s level of English proficiency in Russia
  • Localization specifications for a project and translation consistency of a text
  • Culturally relevant translation
  • Translation of text on graphical elements in a game

We tried to consider full localization from every possible angle, to analyze the issues that arise in other phases of localization, and even to point out the unique aspects of the Russian gaming community.

If the goal was to create a brief outline of rules and guidelines for specialists in their field to follow, we probably went a bit further and created a comprehensive bible for localizers. Let’s consider some of the points we included in this document.

Full Localization

We strove to reinforce every point with rules and standards from authoritative translation handbooks. For example, we used the following sources:

  • IGDA. Best Practices for Game Localization
  • Milchin A. E., Cheltsova I. K. The Publisher and Author’s Handbook. Editorial and Publishing Design Edition. M.: 2014
  • GOST 7.36-2006. Unpublished translation. General Design Requirements and Rules
  • Heather Maxwell Chandler. The Game Localization Handbook. Hingham, 2005

These sources confirmed our view that names and last names must be transcribed, “taking into account the language and the traditions of historical literature,” or to approximate the sounds in the foreign language.



Incorrect translation

Michael Horse

Майкл Хорс

Мичаел Хорсе (transliteration)

Майкл Хос (transcription)

Michael Horse (without changes)


We feel geographical names should also be in the target language, if such places exist on the map.



Incorrect translation



Ландон (transcription)

London (without changes)



Истанбул (transcription)

Istanbul (without changes)


The same approach should be used for descriptive names and nicknames: we feel they must be translated, or at least transliterated:

Original descriptive name

Russian version

Translation method





Exact translation







Situational translation


It’s no surprise that the game interface and gaming terms are also important. Therefore, the buttons, signs, names of windows, names of racetracks—all should be in the target language, or the gaming experience could be ruined. 

Plays on words and various references to works of art are significant creative challenges for the localizer. It’s a true achievement when these nuances are successfully reflected in the target language. So, when we are told to leave something in English (this doesn’t happen often), frankly, we are disappointed. From our experience and players’ feedback, such nuances should be translated and properly reflected in the target language.

Here are some answers from players about what constitutes good localization:

  • “An adapted play on words in the Russian language, and various recognized expressions.”
  • “Well-chosen voices for the heroes, emotions, and appropriate plays on words.”
  • “When the translators are in the know, translation, plays on words, cultural references (when present in the game) are adequately communicated and adapted for the Russian player. Intonation is the most important part in voice-overs.”
  • “Successfully communicating plays on words and idioms while maintaining their meaning.”

English Language Proficiency

Another reason we insist on full localization of games is the English language proficiency level in Russia.  In our guideline document we share that a large section of our audience assesses their proficiency in the English language as below average.

EF EPI, one of the largest ranking systems that gathers and publishes research on English language proficiency in various countries of the world, presented the same data. Russia, specifically, is 36th out of the 63 countries in the study and has a score of 50.43, which is low according to the standards of this test. This level of proficiency allows a player to understand simple phrases and names in a game, but can keep a player from catching a play on words and understanding complex constructions and references.

Players themselves write the following about how a translated text affects the gaming experience when asked, "What are the signs of bad localization?"

  • “Spelling and punctuation errors, loss (or replacement) of meaning in translation, text fragments, untranslated text and DLC.”
  • “Monotone reading of the text, strong distortion of phrases, untranslated portions of text, poor quality dialogues.”
  • “Monotone and emotionless actors’ voices. Untranslated texts. Poor literary style.”

The Role of Voice-Over

Voice-over is one more obvious reason to translate everything. When hearing Russian text mixed with untranslated names of locations and achievements, players will, at best, change the voice-over language. There is a connection between the translation and the voice-over, and such a voice-over can confuse a player, not to mention the fact that he/she will be unlikely to understand anything from the mix of English-Russian phrases. And as we found out earlier, voice-over plays a very important role, and for most players is the deciding factor when choosing a game.

Culturally Relevant Translation

The next interesting point that we cover in our document is culturally relevant translation. How should car brands, airplane models, names of institutions, and many other such names be handled in games? Granted, this point is an exception, because there are several instances with foreign brands (car manufacturers, pieces of music) where the names should not be translated.

For example, names of motorcycles in games can be left in the source language:






















However, when it comes to Russian things, their native spellings should be used, which is logical, since they are of Russian origin:


English variant

Russian variant













VSS Vintorez

ВСС Винторез















Translation of Graphical Elements

As a recommendation for this point, we suggest compiling a complete glossary before beginning localization (or during the translation of the first texts) to outline and discuss these issues with the developers and include experts in the discussion if necessary.

Translation of graphical elements is difficult. The problem is that often in the development stage, different images containing text (maps, for example) are created in a format that cannot be edited. Therefore, it is impossible to localize the text. It is possible to draw over the image, but if this stage is not planned in advance, it can be difficult to fit it in later in the process.

So, the recommendation we make to the developer for this point is to plan such tasks in the early stages of development, and recommend specifically creating graphical elements that can be edited or planning an overlay and including it in the budget.


Some think that the creation of such guidline documents to communicate the peculiarities of localization is a waste of time. However, we see great potential in this effort and an opportunity to build meaningful relationships between the localizer and the developer during the creation of a new game. We think this approach can be adapted to localization of different content types as well.

We ended up creating an open document in which we cover a wide variety of issues related to game localization. We have given the client many examples from specific projects that we have worked on, which has kept this document from becoming another theoretical textbook.

Fortunately, the developers from the company for whom we wrote this document listened to us and gave us positive feedback on our work:

  • "Thank you very much for this document; it was really interesting and instructive. I learned a lot about the Russian language."
  • "It’s a very interesting and inclusive document, and it’s indeed helpful to better comprehend the Russian language and its localization."

If you have any questions about our guideline document, or determining translation requirement specifications, please don't hesitate to reach out. We would be happy to hear from and collaborate with you! [email protected]

Yulia Sadovnik has been Localization Project Manager at All Correct Group since 2014. She works on the projects of Ubisoft and other leading companies, as well as regularly participating in international conferences.