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Don’t let good CX get lost in translation – 3 tips on localization

| March 17, 2016
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If you’ve ever watched your favorite movie dubbed in another language, you know how tricky (and sometimes hilarious) translations can be. And while it can be merely a source of entertainment (or a mild annoyance) when you’re watching a movie, it can spell disaster if you’re interacting with a digital product.

A recent translation gaffe had some Russians misinterpreting a Ukrainian document to refer to the “Russian Federation” as “Mordor” and the country’s top diplomat as, “sad little horse.” This was probably not the sentiment the Ukrainians were hoping to convey. And this comes from two languages that have some similarities.

The challenge is compounded for companies expanding into global markets who need to translate their native language into many others, some of which may have vastly different cultures, values, idioms, and sense of humor. What’s funny in English may be offensive in other cultures.

So what do you do?

Using an automated translator or outsourcing low-cost translation services may be a quick solution. But direct translations aren’t always enough to ensure your message hits the mark with global audiences. (That’s what caused the Ukraine-Russia translation mishap.). This is why localization should be a key piece of your CX strategy if you have customers whose native language is not the same as your own. (And chances are you do, even if globalization isn’t your top priority at the moment.)

While the top language used on the internet remains English (for now), the number of users living in non-English-speaking countries far surpass those where English is the native tongue.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to get serious about improving your CX through localization. In this article, we’ll cover what localization is, and three tips on how to get started applying it to your own content.

What is localization?

But before we jump into the tips, let’s quickly go over what localization is, and how it’s different from translation. The two terms get confused, but they’re definitely different.

Translation is simply taking one word and converting it to a similar word in another language. Localization goes one step further to take the intent of that word and the rest of the message and then translate to appropriately capture the essence of the original content. Localization takes the context of the original message and transforms it into something comparable in the new language. Everything from cultural norms, regional sayings, and even religious traditions are taken into consideration when localizing content.

1. Great localization begins with great copy

Bad copy is bad copy, no matter how well it’s translated. If your site or app (or even brick-and-mortar signage) isn’t written clearly and with your customer in mind to begin with, it’ll only get worse when you try translating your copy to different languages.

Before you even think about how to translate your copy for other languages, make sure you’ve got it right for your native tongue. Run user studies on your copy to assure users not only understand what you’re writing but get the underlying message and tone, too.

Once you’ve got that nailed down you can start thinking about localization.

2. Context is important

One of the biggest benefits of localization has over a simple translation is context. Localization digs deeper into a message to uncover its intent, then creates a translation with that context in mind.

For example, you might use the word ‘field’ in your form microcopy to denote a section that needs to be completed. But a translator may interpret that to refer to your area of expertise, or even a literal field out in nature.

If you use the word ‘field’ to describe a section of a form that needs to be filled out, how would that translate in other languages without proper context? Make sure you’re providing the appropriate context so that whoever is helping with localization knows exactly how you mean to use that word or phrase.

3. Localize accessibility, too

Just like written and verbal language differs between regions and cultures, the language we use to communicate with those with disabilities varies too. As you’re localizing your site, be sure to apply the same considerations to the accessibility of your site. Everything from font styles and sizes to alt text and image choice can impact the experience your disabled customers have with you.

How to know if your message will be understood

The biggest challenge with localization is making sure you’ve got it right. You don’t just need someone to understand what’s been translated, you need to make sure that the translated message mirrors the original.

Fortunately, remote usability studies can answer this for you quickly and easily. Conduct a study with bi-lingual users in each of the areas you’re localizing. Start by having them review a page on the newly-localized site and speak their thoughts out loud in your native language.

Then have them review the original content. Ask them what worked and what didn’t. Also, be sure to ask about any cultural references or cues you may have missed. Use that feedback to revise your content until customers all over the world are getting the same message.

Craft a universal experience

While there’s no universal language, the desire for a great experience is universal. No matter where your customers live, no matter what language they speak, they all want (and deserve) to be treated with the same level of care and respect you give to the folks in your home country.

Keep these tips in mind as you localize your digital product, and your customers will always feel right at home.