What happens when translation is not enough to connect with your target audience?

Published on November 16th, 2018

Sometimes translation is not enough to adapt content or products for foreign-speaking markets. The translation process itself has a knock-on effect, which affects external factors beyond the languages – for example, product design.

Language is not the only interest your foreign-speaking audiences have either. They have their own unique cultural backgrounds, expectations and needs from a brand like yours – which means you might need to adapt your message beyond the realms of simple translation.

This is where localisation comes in.


What is localisation and how is it different from translation?

While translation converts words and sentences from one language into another, localisation adapts the non-linguistic elements of your content for other languages. For example, times, dates and other numerical values such as currencies.

Localisation makes sure these details are always relevant to the target audience.

However, localisation goes much further than this, depending on the kind of content you are dealing with. For example, in website design or game development, the text that appears on screen is going to be longer or shorter once it is translated. This causes a number of design and layout problems. Localisation teams work with designers to create layouts that are suitable for your translation needs.

Likewise, when you are translating a website, you are essentially creating multiple versions of the same site. Ultimately, you want to be able to edit these versions from one place. This means you need to code your site dynamically so that key elements are accessible and editable with one piece of code in a single place, instead of 50 pieces in 50 different locations.

Similarly, when you are developing a multilingual game, you are essentially coding the shell and then calling in the correct language version. This means you do not want to hard-code text into your game files. Instead, you might want to create separate language files and call them in accordingly. This ultimately allows you to add more languages in the future without pulling apart any code.


The cultural considerations of localisation

The kind of localisation examples we have looked at so far focus more on the wider translation process and its technical efficiency. Aside from localising times, dates, currencies and numerical values we have not yet discussed the cultural implications of publishing content in multiple regions.

Going back to game localisation for a moment, one of the biggest talking points in the industry over the past decade has been how Japanese publishers localise their games for Western markets. With content that is often highly sexualised, publishers like Nintendo routinely tone down their titles for Western audiences due to different cultural tolerances.

This is a great example of why you need to consider the cultural makeup of each target audience. This is not the case only for sexualised content but for historical references, war recreations, religious references, social issues and a wide range of topics that naturally work their way into video games, films, advertisements and most forms of content as well.

One of the key goals of localisation is to avoid causing offence, especially across cultural lines that people are passionate about. However, the other side of localisation is making sure your content makes the most positive impact possible on each audience.

For example, if you are marketing to audiences in Central Asia, it does not make much sense to release adverts featuring British actors facing very British problems. You need to address the needs of your local audience, featuring actors and locations they can relate to.

Some language services call this more cultural side of localisation “adaptation” or “culturalisation”, but the key point is you need to think about local cultures when you are international markets.


Localisation moves beyond the confines of language with the aim of creating a more efficient translation process and improving the quality of your content. For more details on how this can enhance your relationship with foreign-speaking audiences, get in touch with our team of experts today.

Posted on: November 16th, 2018