What is localization?

People often ask me: what is localization? Isn’t that just a fancy word for translation? No, not exactly. In this blog I will explain what localization is and why businesses should use localization if they want to enter a new market.

Translation is more than just changing the words to another language
If you have or work for an international business, your company likely has a website in more than one language. Probably English, and maybe some other languages as well. But just translating the words to another language is not enough. You also have to consider the language of your target country. How do you do business in that country, what marketing strategies work and don’t work?

Translating with the culture of your target country in mind
This specific way of translating, with the culture of your target country in mind, is called localization. It can be as simple as changing euros to pounds, or putting the € behind the numbers – like in France – instead of in front of them, as we do in the Netherlands. Or things like weights, sizes, comma’s and periods (10.000 vs 10,000), spelling – for instance the difference between British and American spelling – or date and time formats.

Tone of voice
Also important is the tone of voice. We all know those positive, enthusiastic messages that we like to call ‘American’. Here in the Netherlands, and I’m sure in many other countries, we think that’s ‘too much’, overwhelming even. Therefore, it’s not appropriate to use the exact same American ad for the Dutch market, we have to tone it down a little.

Juan and Sven
It’s not just texts that can be localized, you can also localize images, audio and video. An actual example from a company I used to work with: a large multinational sells business cards, invitations and marketing materials worldwide. You can customize them with your own photos and text. Of course, the company uses examples on their website to show what’s possible. On the Spanish site, you see an invitation for Juan’s birthday, with a lovely picture of a slightly tanned little boy with dark hair. In Sweden, the little boy is called Sven, and he has blue eyes and blond hair.

Language variants
Localization can also be used for languages that are spoken in several countries. Spanish in Spain is very different from Spanish in, say, Argentina. Both countries use words and expressions that the other country doesn’t use, or they can have a completely different meaning. Just a warning: be careful with that! A word can be very common in one country and extremely offensive in another one!

Why would you localize your content?
Now that you know what localization is, the question arises: why would I localize my content? Well, your target customers will see that you’ve tried to understand their culture, or even better: they don’t even realize the company they’re buying from is foreign! Doing business means building a relationship with the client, and what’s a better way of doing that than familiarizing yourself with your target culture? Swedish people might be surprised to find an invitation from Juan in their mailbox, but they all know Sven.

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