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What is Localization? Is it necessary?

It is easy to think that language is this big, stable thing we learn as children and just stays like that, right?  

Well, truth is reality tends resist simplicity and languages are a lot more complicated than that. 

They are influenced and shaped by the culture and people they are embedded in, while at the same time they shape and influence the culture and people that speak them. 

Now, we know that sounds like a tongue twister, but take your time to think about it. How much of how we speak and how we think about the things we speak about is impacted by your social, economic, or political background and history.  

Localisation can be described as the practice of adapting your text by being mindful of the cultural context of the target audience. It is necessary for proper understanding and it is of critical importance when two cultures are highly dissimilar, and any mishap can be construed as an insult.  

The best example when talking about cultural differences is that of colours and how they can have a variety of meanings and events. In western cultures, we associate mourning and death with the colour black. It is easy to think that is a universal association, but it isn’t, in many parts of Asia they use white as their mourning colour, while in South Africa they use red. In other countries purple is linked to the idea of sorrow and loss while some ancient cultures like the Egyptian are said to believe that gold represents the afterlife and their main god Ra and that is why their funerary masks are golden. 

This clearly illustrates the idea that human experience is anything but universal, but are there any examples related to localisation as applied to international marketing and sales?  There are probably hundreds of cases of poor translations and localisations, let’s focus on just two: 

In 1987, KFC launched their brand in China but chose to translate their “Fingerlickin’ good” slogan literally and it ended up as something like to “eat your fingers off” 

When Honda was going to launch their new model, the Honda Fitta, in the European market, they learned that “fitta” is a vulgar term for female genitalia in Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish. In the end, that model was changed to Honda Jazz in Europe and was modified to Honda Fit for the American and Latin American markets. 

So, what can we learn from these examples?  

Have clear goals 

You need to know that at the very least your content will not be offensive but, what you really want is for your content to be attractive and to captivate your audience, right? 

You need a clear objective for your text, product, slogan, etc. What exactly is it that you want your audience to do when they see you? The clearer the original message, the clearer any translation or localisations will be. 

International audiences will certainly prefer clear cut rather than vague slogans and titles. 

Adapt like your success depends on it because it does 

If you want other countries to embrace your product and even prefer it to other local alternatives, you will have to adapt to your new target culture. 

Whether that means changing your products name or slogan, maybe changing its colour or even its pricing to better position yourself in the local market. Being open to suggestions from your marketing, sales, translation, or localisation team can make a world of difference. 

Reach out to professionals 

As useful as it may be in some cases, Google Translate is not the tool to help you in this scenario. You don’t have to devote hours and hours to learn and understand your target culture either. 

A professional team of translators and localisers will handle the entire process and reach out to you if there are any major changes that they believe might be useful, like the slogan and colour topics we mentioned above. 

Is localisation still a bit confusing? Don’t worry, we have been doing this for years and it does take a while to get used to it. 

Don’t forget! If you have any doubt or question about your next translation and localisation projects, please contact us and we will do our best to assist you!