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Written by Steven Bussey
on March 25, 2021

Brands want to adapt their content to another language for marketing campaigns overseas or to adapt their documentation for user training.  Two options emerge: translation and localization. While similar, they are different, and which one you choose makes a big difference in your overall strategy.translate1


The translation is taking the literal text of the document and rendering it in the target language. The meaning is equivalent. For example: "How are you?" might be translated "Cómo estás?" in Spanish or "Comment allez-vous?" in French.  Translation is a starting point for localization.



Localization uses various techniques to make the content meaningful and relevant to the target language and culture. Translation is one part of localization, but localization goes further in several ways.





Translation & Localization

One way is through making a distinction between the locale as well as language. For example, the vehicle we call a "truck" in the United States and Canada is a "lorry" in England. In the United States, an apartment that combines a kitchenette, bedroom, and living space into one room would be called a "studio" while in Canada, it would be called a "bachelor." Localization takes the translation a step further by making it specific to each country or locale. Localization also takes into account different spellings of the word between countries, as well as different idioms.





Images also are adapted to the local culture. For example, consider an ad that is based around an image of an American football game. That ad is likely to be irrelevant and misunderstood in the United Kingdom where soccer, rather than U.S. football is popular, even though customers in both countries speak English. Localization would change the image to be compatible with the culture in the target country.

Translation & Localization

Colors also have different meanings in different cultures. For example, white in many countries means purity or innocence. In other countries, it means death. Red, blue, green, and yellow also have different meanings based on locale. Localization might also involve changing the colors used in marketing materials and documents so that they represent the intended message in each culture. 


Other Examples

Other examples of localization might be:

  • Measurements. The United States uses feet and inches, but many other countries use metric measurements such as meters and centimeters.
  • Date formats. Europeans typically put the day first, then the month. Some countries will use all-numeric dates with hyphens or dots between day, month, and year. Others will use slash marks.
  • Currency. Examples are US or Canadian dollars, British pound sterling, Euros, and riyals. 
  • Paper size and formatting. For example, Europe uses paper equivalent to 8.27 in × 11.7 inches, rather than 8.5 x 11, which means documents will need reformatting. Many languages, including Spanish and French, will use more words to express an idea than English does. Some languages, such as Finnish, will require fewer words. Documents localized for these markets will also require reformatting.
  • Layout adjustment. English reads from left to right. But some languages read from right to left. In addition to translation, these countries' documents would need to be reworked so that the type and all the images and graphics flow from right to left. 
  • Payment methods. While U.S. businesses accept a wide variety of credit cards, other countries do not. U.S. businesses also accept other electronic payment methods such as GooglePay, ApplePay, and Paypal, which may not be universally accepted. Localization would take into account these different payment methods.



Why Localization?

Localization is critical when trying to market a product in a different culture so that the images and language are relevant. Sometimes, even if the language is translated correctly, unfortunate miscommunications can occur if images or visuals aren't changed as well.


Effective marketing also connects emotionally with customers. Emotional connections require more than just translation. They require the entire process.

Customers also will appreciate the time taken to make materials relevant to them. Manuals and websites will be more user-friendly when they take into account local nuances and customs. Even if consumers in other countries are fluent in English, they strongly prefer materials in their native language. More than 70 percent of people surveyed said they would stay on websites longer if those sites were in their native language. For example, in the European Union, almost half of all customers say they tend to distrust websites that aren't in their native language. They fear they'll miss something critical. People even share this sentiment in Sweden, which has an extremely high number of fluent non-native English speakers.

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In short, localization makes the content feel familiar to potential and current customers. They trust it. While they might understand a translation, it won't provide the same sense of comfort. Good localization can be the difference between whether or not a brand succeeds in its new locale.

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