Avoiding Cultural Mistakes in Localization

cultural mistakes

When entering the global market it’s easy to make cultural mistakes if you go with a purely literal translation of your content. Often times a literal translation doesn’t make any sense in the foreign language. Sometimes the result is humorous. Other times the translation can be highly inappropriate for or disrespectful to the local culture. Below is one quick example. You can read about more of them by clicking here.

Parker PensOriginal content: It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you. Literal translation for the Mexican market: It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.

A Purely Literal Translation is Not Sufficient

While a translation of your content is, ofcourse, a major part of getting your website or app ready for a foreign market, a literal translation is NEVER good enough. Of equal importance is the localization of your content, and this step should never be ignored.
Localization involves understanding the culture of your targeted audience. Here are four insights and recommendations to help you avoid cultural mistakes in the localization process.

Beware of Language Differences

Even your brand name can have an entirely different meaning in another language. One example is Paviane, a fruit drink made by Bacardi Limited. Produced in France, the brand name Paviane suggests French chic. However, Paviane was not very popular in Germany because in German the same word means baboon, and who is going to rush to drink one of those! Then there’s the baby food brand Gerber which literally translates into French as vomit! Click here for more brand names with unfortunate meanings in other languages.

Understand the Culture of the Country you are Targeting

Imagine that your business is an e-commerce shop that sells toys that consumers in the US think are “cool.” For instance, your catalog might include a stuffed pig toy that goes oink oink when you press it. It would not be a good idea to offer this for sale in a Middle Eastern country where pigs are considered unclean. Likewise, a wind-up attack bull that roars and snorts would not be a big hit in India where cows are regarded as sacred. These are pretty obvious examples of cultural mistakes and insensitivity, but you get the point. In both of these cases, you would need to omit the offending toy from your online sales brochure.

Use Symbols and Colors Wisely

Any image that includes hand gestures or gestures involving other parts of the body is best avoided, as the same gesture can mean something entirely different in different parts of the world. For instance, in the US the thumbs up sign is a sign of approval, but in a bunch of other countries it means the exact opposite.

What you also need to remember is that colors can have very different meanings in different countries. Let’s take the color yellow for example – in Germany, yellow is the color of jealousy, but in Japan yellow stands for something brave and courageous. Also, colors of apps that are popular in China are much brighter than ones in Europe and the US, so if you are interested in the Chinese market, it’s a good idea to turn your color saturation levels up.

Transcreation Helps You Avoid Cultural Mistakes

Transcreation involves a step beyond localization. You may have to recreate your original content to ensure that it is still appropriate in the intended context. Transcreation is a mix of translation and creative writing that needs a specialist who is thoroughly conversant in both the local language and the local culture to avoid cultural mistakes. For instance, Kentucky Fried Chicken had to be creative about its famous Finger lickin’ good slogan because literally translated into Mandarin it becomes Eat your fingers off. For some more transcreation examples, click here.

It Always Pays To Be “Cultured”

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

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