6 Cultural Mistakes to Avoid in Market-Specific Translation

cultural mistakes

When translating your sites or apps for the global market, it’s crucial to focus on the local customs and culture of your target audience. If you don’t, you’re bound to make cultural mistakes.

Let’s explore the 6 most common cultural mistakes, and how to avoid them in your localization process.

How to Avoid Cultural Mistakes in Localization

1: Low-Quality Translations

Although machine translation is an easy way to translate, it has some downsides. AI can’t understand context, slang, idioms, or subtle regional differences in language. Formatting and grammar errors are also common in machine translation. Instead of relying on free translation tools for literal, word-for-word translation, we recommend hiring qualified translators or language service providers.

For example, let’s say you’re translating a user guide for Apple products from English to Spanish. Machine translation tools may not understand that Apple refers to a brand name, not the manzana (apple) fruit. For best results, you should hire a human translator or reviewer in the localization process.

To learn how to hire a qualified LSP or boost the quality of your machine translations, read our guides:

2: Ignoring local language differences

It’s essential to use region-specific marketing. What works in one region may not work in another. While it’s true that people speak Chinese in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, one translation won’t fit both cultures. Each region has its own unique dialect and cultural references. In Hong Kong, residents speak Cantonese, and in Taiwan, residents commonly speak Mandarin.

Another example: local variants of the Spanish language are quite different. A “torta” in Mexico (a sandwich) doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in Colombia (a sweet cake) or in Spain (a flatbread). Understanding the cultural context of language is crucial.

To learn more about cultural context in translation, view our guides:

3: Not paying attention to cultural differences

Cultural localization means using local customs, societal values, acceptable colors, and sensibilities to tailor content to your target audience. By not taking cultural differences into account, you risk alienating your potential customers.

For example, flag icons may seem harmless to most people, but your customers might not agree. In 2001, the U.S. Postal Service had to get rid of thousands of brochures because they featured the communist Vietnamese flag. This was offensive to Vietnamese-American refugees who had suffered under the oppressive communist regime.

To learn how to make sure your brand messaging suits almost any culture, read our guides:

4: Using the same designs everywhere

Different cultures have different design preferences for colors, symbols, and images. Colors, symbols, and images (like emojis) can have wildly different meanings in different places.

For example, did you know that the open hand emoji (🖐) is considered an insult in Pakistan? When you localize your sites and apps, consult experts in the local culture to make sure your designs are appropriate for the target market.

To learn how to prevent mistakes in your visuals, read our guides:

5: Not using transcreation

Slogans that sound great in English don’t always translate well. Without transcreation (a combination of translation and creative writing), marketing campaigns can strike the wrong notes in a foreign market. Transcreation is the best way to translate brand messaging into equivalent meanings in different cultures.

For example, the luxury carmaker Mercedes Benz giant entered the Chinese market under the brand name Bensi. Unfortunately, Bensi means Rush to Your Death in Chinese. Mercedes eventually corrected the error and used transcreation to find a better brand name for the market: Ben Chi, which roughly translates to Dashing Speed.

To learn more about transcreation, read our guides:

6: Using the wrong translation tools

Another localization mistake is not using the right tools for your translation workflow. If you’re managing content manually and using spreadsheets to track your translations, you’re probably losing time, money, and valuable resources on repetitive work.

For big localization projects, we recommend trying a TMS. A TMS—or translation management system—is a tool that streamlines the localization process. A good TMS eliminates repetitive tasks, makes translations sound better, and enhances team communication across the globe.

To learn more about choosing the right TMS, read these guides:

Make the Right Cultural Impact with Localize

An effective marketing campaign in a different country needs a first-class translation and localization service. The Localize translation management system can help you add context and other tools for your translators to ensure that your marketing materials are localized for your targeted culture. Contact us for more information.

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