Common Errors in Localization

Posted on May 22, 2014 in Industry Insights

Globalization, Internalization, Multilingual, nations, International

Image courtesy of ddpavumba /

Localization is the process of adapting printed or electronic materials, hardware or software products or oral presentations to another language or specific culture. Known as L10N in the language service business for L followed by 10 letters and ending in N. The process takes into consideration differences not only in local languages used but also in cultural elements of color, shape, style, history and law. While typically preformed on existing things to be exported to a new country, it is most effective when considered during the initial development activity.

Failure to properly localize can have profound impact on acceptance by the new target audience. Moreover, it can create difficult-to-overcome barriers for future efforts. Many aspects must be considered when preparing for another market and this preparation is always better when a native speaker familiar with the target market sector is employed to lead the L10N effort. In the following paragraphs, some common errors will be presented as a guide of what to consider when preparing for the foreign market.

Culture appropriate translation is critical. In a previous blog article, we discussed the concept of transcreation. Often, direct translation of a phrase may not create the same mental image as it did in the source language. Making sure the audience understands your meaning is much more important that preserving a brand, logo, slogan or other images. Brand means nothing if it creates a negative image in the minds of the audience.

Mistakes in using existing Brands

• In German slang, the term ‘puff’ in a term for brothel in some locals. Likewise, in British slang it is very close to a word for homosexuals. Thus, Proctor and Gamble couldn’t use their famous Puffs Tissues name in these markets.
• Even big companies with lots of international experience and large local teams make mistakes. In the early 90s, Ford introduced their popular sports car model, named Probe in the US, to the German market. However, ‘probe’ forms the base for several German words that mean ‘test’, ‘sample’, ‘trial’ or ‘rehearsal’. Thus some consumers thought they were buying a test car and not the final version. *

Visual ‘Look, Sound and Feel’

• The translations of displayed text can have a significant impact on the page layout. To preserve the desired overall visual effect, the layout must be adjusted to accommodate the different size of translated text in the target language. Here are a few extreme examples.
• “Acceleration” is 促进 in Chinese. (12 letters to 2 characters),
• “Try It” is versuchen Sie es in German (6 spaces to 16 spaces),
• “Pork” is carne di maiale in Italian (4 spaces to 15 spaces) and there are many, many more such examples!
• Rotating text 90 degrees is common with Western languages but in Chinese the characters would be written one below the other.
• In the US, the color green conjures the image of money but in China it can mean disgrace while in Iran, joy and happiness. Thus, the color scheme of your interface or even your logo is important.
• Ideally, companies want a global brand – the same name, logo and color scheme. Sometimes this produces undesired results. The Coca Cola example was explained in a previous blog. Another example is the air freshener brand Glade. In Portuguese, this word is pronounced ‘glad’. The company decided it was more important to have the Brazilian customers pronounce the brand name the same as their English customer so they changed the name to Gleid (pronounced ‘glade’ in Portuguese)#.

Unless a company has resident expertise in every target language and culture, third-party insight is required to consider all the elements of localization. Even then, efforts must be coordinated to ensure that the images and messages have a global consistency across all the target cultures. Using a professional language service company who specializes in the localization process and has native-speaking, industry-experienced linguists is the best way to avoid embarrassment and potentially costly rework or re-launch.


Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE
Multilingual Technologies Inc.