There are many reasons why literal or straight translation is insufficient or even downright confusing when used to convert text from one language into another. There are many instances where localization as a specialized branch of translation is essential. This is especially true in marketing and literary translation, but less true in legal, scientific or medical translation, where literal accuracy is far more important.

Culture in Localization

Localization is all about ensuring that translation takes into account regional cultural and linguistic nuances. Culture in localization recognises that there are significant differences in the way that people behave and think. Translated content that doesn’t take into account the degree to which people vary in their cultures can irritate, offend and confuse the people for which the content is meant for.

Let’s look at a few examples of what is meant by taking culture in localization seriously.

What Exactly is “Culture?”

The word “culture” is often misinterpreted as the arts or music, but in fact, it is more than that. The culture of a group of people encompasses many aspects of their behaviour and the way they do things that makes them different from other people. It includes their language, morals, knowledge, beliefs, customs, and law. Vultures are never static but evolve with time, sometimes changing or disappearing fast and sometimes enduring for centuries. To a certain extent, globalisation is eroding the differences in the world’s many different cultures but that is generally still distinctive enough to make the translation with localization an important task.

Take a simple example that distinguishes different cultures: the association of colour with mood or intent. The colour yellow is one of warmth and hope in western societies, whereas in others it represents envy, and in others still, cowardice and in Thailand, it is the colour reserved for royalty and the Buddhist religion. Black and white seem like opposites, but both have been used as the colour of mourning in different cultures. Purple is a royal colour in some cultures, but the colour of mourning in Brazil.

While facial signals are similar everywhere from the jungles of Papua to Western Europe and Africa, hand signals are not. Thumbs up in the West or North America is a signal showing approval or encouragement; in North Africa, it would be interpreted as an insult.

In the U.S., Canada or Australia, it is quite natural to use the first name of a business colleague you may have only just met, but in Germany or Japan, this would be frowned upon.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to examples of different cultures in localization. When there is a need to translate your marketing content, whether it is website pages or leaflets and posters, make sure your chosen translators are proficient in localization as well as the expert in the languages they are translating.