Localise! Don't translate.

- June 17, 2014

The Internet has made the world a smaller place. In many ways the 'online experience' is becoming more homogenous as well. These facts mean that many businesses don't perceive geographical or language barriers as being as high as in the past. This is a false sense of security that can lead to catastrophic mistakes. Coming back from a team hike in the mountains near Madrid, we saw this shocker:

 

If you don't get why this is funny, then it's a perfect example of how challenging language and social differences can be. A non-native English speaker - even one with a high level of proficiency - will not necessarily get the sexual double-meaning. A native speaker would have trouble reading it any other way.

Language is only one part of the equation. Adapting messaging to different markets is just as necessary. There are significant differences between the approaches needed to effectively market to different nationalities. This is evident even between countries which speak the same language and share a lot of cultural history.

Running ads in different languages is hard (well, actually it's hard to do well in one language). The most common approach is to translate the words, something which often ends up with very weak copy. A cerebral tag-line may work well for a French-speaker, but die a death with an American used to a more direct approach.

The most important thing you can do when thinking about other markets is to never think about it as a translation job. If you don't take a top-down approach to ensuring your whole message is right, you run the risk of failing; you know how important it is to get your text right on your website and ads in your own language. Don't forget, it is just an important in every other language.

Localise! Don't translate.

About the author

Interested in all things Internet, especially in the effects on marketing and how brands are changing the way they relate to their customers and prospects.