Localisation in Australia
James M. Hogan explains how the emergence of a culturally rich Australia, together with input from the open source community, has led to a vibrant localisation industry there
Originally published in September 2005 issue of Localisation Focus. To learn more about Localisation Focus, click here.
WELCOME TO BRISBANE, THE
NATURAL CENTRE FOR
Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi and Tamil?
How about Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and
a range of European languages and their
South American variants? Such an opening
to a Country Focus article would have been
unimaginable even a decade ago; yet it
reflects a burgeoning movement in
Australian localisation, and one which is
attracting growing attention from local and
provincial governments seeking to enhance
the growth of knowledge- and technologybased
Traditional translation services have a
long and successful history in Australia,
driven largely by government, the post-war
boom in exports to Japan, and the emergence
of a vibrant tourism sector. Modern
Australia began as a British colony, and
while (through good fortune) many aboriginal
languages have survived, English, and
all-things-English, dominated Australian life
from the early 1800s.
This inward, Anglo-centric focus survived
several waves of European and Asian migration,
losing its grip only gradually in the last
decades of the twentieth century. Yet each
influx brought with it an enhancement of
the linguistic and cultural diversity of the
country, laying the foundations for an
explicit multiculturalism and internationalised
economy which have characterised
Australian life since the 1980s.
A growing cultural richness, coupled with
excellence in language education, has seen
the development over the past 20 years of
several successful localisation and content
management providers. These firms have
attracted an impressive list of clients from
the region, and indeed from as far afield as
Scandinavia — like their counterparts in New Zealand, Australian localisation houses
have profited enormously from modern connectivity.
Most companies maintain formal
or informal relationships with international
partners — for example the Commercial
Translation Centre (CTC) is a member of
the PRTi group, and the International
Language Company was acquired some
years ago by the New Zealand firm Pacific
In some respects, therefore, localisation in
Australia mirrors developments in other
mid-size economies, with the more successful
enterprises offering specialist domain
services, well-established, high quality coverage
in niche language areas and a recent
broadening to full content management
solutions. Yet it is in the less traditional area
of software localisation — and particularly
in the dynamic environment of the open
source movement — that the most exciting
developments are emerging.
For Brisbane, the Queensland capital and
our point of departure, is the home of the
Asia Pacific headquarters of Red Hat, and
the key centre for localisation of the Linux
desktop environment. The open source translation
model is a remarkably successful mix
of strategic vendor investment and community
involvement, with localisation proceeding
rapidly from the economically viable core
(for which localisation provides immediate
commercial returns to the vendor) to languages
and locales outside the commercial
mainstream — for which the community
model provides the only chance of timely
localisation. Quality assurance in these projects
is surprisingly good, reflecting the best of
the open source bazaar, with volunteer and
professional translators alike contributing to
the pool, and establishing credibility through
ongoing exposure to community review and
the sustained quality of their contributions.
Over time, this combination has resulted
in the successful migration of the KDE desktop
to more than 80 language-locale pairs.
One of the more intriguing issues in localisation
lies in whether this model may be
adopted by proprietary vendors to extend
their coverage into developing economies.
Similarly intriguing — at least to the uninitiated
— is the question of why anyone would
run a cutting edge localisation facility in
Australia in the first place.
The answer lies in the mix that is modern
Australia: a highly educated community
which includes many technically literate native
speakers of European and Asian languages, a
cost structure which provides advantages over
Europe and the United States without sacrificing
political stability, and an established and
robust university system which delivers the
range of skills required. While localisation is
inevitably becoming a globally-distributed
activity, vendors have been able to build a
team of experienced technical translators and
software localisation specialists from ‘local’
talent, and to supplement this core by virtual
participation — both professionals and volunteers
— from throughout the world.
A revolution in the making? Not yet, perhaps.
But a proven template for cost-effective
localisation and broadening of coverage.
And from the most surprising of sources.
James M. Hogan is a Senior Lecturer in
the Faculty of Information Technology at
the Queensland University of Technology,
where he leads research and teaching in
Software Internationalisation. His interests
include the role of XML standards in open
source localisation. He may be contacted at j.hoganNOSPAM@qut.edu.au (remove NOSPAM to email).