Don’t Let Your Message Get Lost in Translation – Key Insights on Localization

Successful communication between people is a delicate and quite complex process. Not only does it require some charisma, but a balanced level of empathy as well. What do I mean exactly when saying “successful communication?” In terms of marketing, it really boils down to one key point: to encourage the recipient of your message to answer positively to it, the product you’re offering them. Getting a positive response from consumers from your own language and cultural background may be relatively easy, but what about going global?

How will you present your offer to potential clients from other countries in an appealing way? After you’ve created the foundation – e.g. the product plus the marketing content – and you want to expand your business’ market range, there are a number of points you want to check on your list. That’s where the localization team comes in.

No, I’m Not a Construction Worker

(though being a crane operator would be kind of cool.)


When asked about my job, I always follow the same pattern. First, I say that I work in a localization team, and then I wait for one of the two usual questions: 1. “What does that mean?”; and 2. “So you work onsite?” The answer to the latter is “No”, and the former leads to another question: “I’m dealing with translations and manage the translation process” – “So you’re a translator?” Another “No” (at least in this context).

In the beginning I found it difficult to explain to those not familiar with the term “localization” what it is I actually do. The simplest definition I can come up with is: “to convey given content in a given language/cultural background, bearing in mind what kind of medium the content will appear in.” Still kind of confusing… let’s take a website as an example. You own a business and come up with a website describing what you do. After a while you decide it’s time to reach out to a broader audience, which usually involves the translation of the website content into different languages. So, you have to look for a translation agency and send a link to your website or all of the texts you display on it to them – and that’s it?

how about no

If you wish for your business to be successful (who doesn’t?), there are a couple of rules you have to keep in mind before deciding to “go for it,” and leaving it to specialists in the field of localization is a good idea.

Rule 1: Know the Values and Goals of the Company

Rarely, if ever, does a person or a company come right up with a clear-cut definition of what they are all about. However, in order for a linguist to convey your message properly, they have to be provided with an overall description of what you do (your business field) and how your customers will profit from cooperation with you. Sure, perhaps you have those ideas in your mind and linguists may be able to pick them up while working on the text, but – for your own peace of mind – have it input plainly within a style guide.

What points should a style guide include?

1. Business description (as explained above) – both for your coworkers and linguists

2. General language usage guidelines for your coworkers (so the texts they create in the future is consistent with the existing copy), e.g.:

  • examples of the types of texts you’re producing (marketing copy for your website, email marketing copy, notifications, legal, etc.),
  • style and tone of voice to be used in a given type of text,
  • requirements for numerals, how to present currencies, what punctuation rules to make use of, etc. – those might seem petty, but they do influence the overall image of your business;

3. General language usage guidelines for linguists – as above, though the linguists will have to adopt the style, tone, and restrictions to their own language and cultural background.

A simple PDF document will suffice, one could easily be created using free software, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader DC. Having done that, you can expect that anyone involved in your business will be able to conform to the requirements you presented them with, no matter if they are your long-term business partners or newbies. And you can do even more: while coming up with a style guide, the terms that are of significant value for your business can be fished out, which leads us to the next rule.

Rule 2: Give Straightforward Directions


We may not like the general idea of labelling, but it does pay off when it comes to localization. That’s why there are two main “labelling lists” on the translation menu:

  • do-not-translate lists – terms, e.g. proper names, which are to be left in the source language (i.e. in the original language you used when coming up with them),
  • glossaries – terms that cannot be left in the source language, though they have to be translated consistently,

both of which can be created in Libre Office Calc Spreadsheet.

“But it’s so time-consuming!”, you might say. Sure it is, but guess what: if you neglect this step from the beginning, you’ll have to spend much more time deciding which of the translations is more to the point (which involves acquiring the opinion of an expert in a given language) and changing it EVERYWHERE. Taking into consideration all of the contexts a given word/phrase is present on your website, and all of the ways it’s been implemented on the website (from the IT point of view). Conclusion: the sooner the better, end of story. And after you’ve done that, it’s time for part 3.

Rule 3: Make Everyone’s Life Easier

This rule concerns everyone around you. After the linguists have been provided with a style guide and a glossary, plus a do-not-translate list, you want the translation to be easy to upload to the website and easy to check after it appears on the page. That is why you have to squeeze the most out of your coworkers (content managers, IT, etc.) Why? The more information your linguists have, the fewer corrections will be necessary for your project to be successful. There’s one more thing: encourage those in your vicinity towork on the same software, if possible. Nowadays, there is plenty of software that supports the same file extensions, however it often happens that different programs have difficulties (ergo: you have difficulties) when working with or even opening those files. That is why I advise you to specify what kind of software your coworkers and subcontractors are to work with, be that software for website contents, newsletters, or digital product brochures. Speaking of extensions…

Rule 4: Cats Are Localization’s Best Friends

CATs collage

Not to be confused with the domestic cat or construction machinery! CATs (computer-assisted translation programs) are the most amazing softwarethat have ever appeared on the localization/translation market. In the past, one had to wait for nearly two months in order to have given content translated, reviewed, and tested. The texts for localization had to be either compiled and sent as packages (and I mean packages, literally) to linguists, or one had to employ translators and reviewers full-time in order to be sure everything is going smoothly. Nowadays, with the usage of CAT tools, the localization team can:

  • prepare almost all file extensions for translation,
  • be sure that the translation is consistent (thanks to technology used in CAT tools),
  • receive files that are ready-to-use by you and/or your team,
  • conduct tests or have the files proofread after the translation has been implemented.

Thanks to this advanced software one saves time, money, and effort, no matter if you’ve created an internal localization team or if you are outsourcing services.

Rule 5: Double- and Triple-Check

The better the quality of your work, the better the chances you’ll sell your product. That is why it is crucial to ensure the quality of the texts you are publishing. Having a given text reviewed by another linguist is one thing (so-called QA, quality assurance) – there is plenty of free software that makes a localization worker’s life easier, such as terminology management programswhich allow one to check the coherence of translated texts without knowing the language in question. Also, after implementing a given text to, say, a website, you want it to be checked in terms of layout, since each language abides by its own rules.

To Sum Up…

As you may see now, presenting your product to a broader audience in a successful way requires a considerable amount of effort, especially in the beginning of the process. It may seem daunting as first, but it does pay off tenfold in the long run. As a company owner or a specialist in a given field, you may not have enough time to manage the process of going global in terms of language. There are, thankfully, people who are passionate specialists in the field of localization – an area of expertise that incorporates both the beauty of humanities and the thoroughness of exact sciences – and who would be happy to take some weight off your shoulders. Now with the basic know-how about what to do and what to expect, your business may be presented on the foreign markets in the best way possible.

Original article published here: GetResponse