What is Content Localization?

Mar 22, 2018


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Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your well-crafted content for a North American audience can be sent out in its current form to an audience anywhere in the world. Have you ever had the experience of reading a foreign website that was simply translated? More often than not it misses the mark, and you begin to make assumptions about the company.

Erik Martin tells the story of the Coca-Cola brand name translated into Chinese as, “bite the wax tadpole.” This is problematic for many reasons, and we haven’t even gotten past the brand name. Think of the sheer number of words (not to mention the images and videos) in your content, anyone of them could be equally as problematic in one of your hoped-for foreign markets.

Content Localization addresses this problem. It is the process of adapting your content to a specific destination, ensuring that it has been translated and adapted in a culturally-sensitive way so that an audience on the other side of the world can feel right at home.

If you’ve read our “What is Content Globalization?” article, you might notice that we mention content localization as well. These two processes are two sides of a single coin: while the content globalization side is the process of simplifying content to make it more generalizable to other languages and cultures; the content localization side is the process of taking that content and putting the local touch on it.

To build an effective global strategy, we must pay attention to both sides of that coin.

Content Localization: A Word-for-Word Translation is Simply Not Enough

Here is a great article by Mindy Charski, which illustrates some of the challenges of localization, along with some ways that these challenges can be met.

Bruno Hermann encourages the use of linguists to translate your content, as opposed to someone who is simply fluent in the target language. Linguists have more culturally-appropriate knowledge to translate beyond a simple word-for-word translation. As Hermann says, “it takes more than some level of language proficiency to localize content and to determine whether localized content is correct and relevant.”

The people at Content Strategy 101 encourage us to remember the visual components of our content. They caution that, “Visual representations of hands or feet are not appropriate in some cultures”, and remind us of the problem with symbols, “the idea of an owl is a symbol of wisdom in the United States and parts of Europe. But in other cultures, owls are associated with death and witchcraft.”

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Content Localization: Vendors

It’s best to get a professional service to do the localization part for you. If you look back to our What is Content Globalization article, you’ll see the names of a few companies that handle both globalization and localization. For ease of use, we’ll reproduce them here:

Content Localization: More Resources


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