What is Localization? [28 Practical Localization Tips, Examples, & FAQs]

Not sure what localization is or if you need a localization company? Learn about localizing for your target language and practical localization tips for your company’s materials. (+ Do you actually need a localization agency?)

What is localization and why is it important?

Localization—also called global localization—is the process of adapting content to meet a country or region’s language, culture, and other specific requirements. This process can be applied to nearly any content format, from websites and videos to business documents and publications. Localization differs from translation because it goes beyond translating words. It captures cultural, linguistic, and contextual elements to resonate with a new target audience.

Localization is widely used by companies targeting international markets, yet it can also be helpful for cross-cultural communications within the United States. American residents speak more than 300 different languages in homes and communities nationwide.

The goal of localization is for the translated adaptation to be so smooth the target audience does not realize it is based on an English source. Localizing content enables brands to build trust and increase audience engagement authentically. It’s a way to show that the business values the audience’s unique needs and experiences.

What Does a Localization Company Do?

Many people often wonder “what will a localization company do for me? What’s the benefit?”

A localization company will help your business communicate with audiences in different cultures authentically and genuinely. Throughout the localization process, the localization agency ensures your message is translated accurately, and your brand is represented as intended in the new language. Top localization agencies pair translators and subject matter experts to transform your content efficiently and effectively.

A localization agency reviews every aspect of your source content. From the actual language to the tone and message, localization experts consider what needs to be conveyed instead of strictly translating words. Cultural appropriateness is evaluated, including using images, colors, and colloquialisms.

Are you hosting a multilingual event? If it is taking place internationally, event dates, time formats, and promotional information should be localized. Learn more about interpreting or multilingual event solutions here.

At Interpro, our localization project teams include project managers, linguists/translators, subject matter experts, and quality assurance reviewers. Each team works together on our clients’ projects and collaborates with the client on appropriate solutions.

Whether you’re ready to work with a localization company now, or are just beginning the research process, these are our best localization tips from our experts to get you started!

Best Localization Tips Used by Top Companies

The 28 localization tips are bolded below and come from our expert language professionals to help you craft unique messages for your audience’s languages and cultures.

Interpro is proud to have a highly qualified network of linguistic professionals worldwide. Because we have been in the translation and localization industry since 1995, we feel safe to say these are some of the best tips used by top localization companies worldwide.

The solutions to these challenges would differ depending on the audience (international, local multilingual, etc.), subject matter, and language. For hands-on solutions to developing your specific content, consider hiring a localization consultant.

Localization Best Practices for Writing Content

The most effective way to prepare your source text for localization is by using clear and concise language. By choosing simple and common words, your localization service provider will be better able to craft a similar example in another language or culture. For example, use “many” instead of “a large number of.”

Unsurprisingly, numbers are easily translated into a new language. Taking the above example, you could use exact numbers instead of ambiguous expressions. Where appropriate, using numbers can provide clear reference points for multicultural audiences. However, there are exceptions such as currency, imperial vs. metric systems, and date formats that may need changed.

Avoiding idioms, slang, jargon, colloquialisms, and contractions is also essential for language inclusion. While interesting within text, these illustrative expressions rarely translate well into other cultures. A real-world client example involves the saying “easy as pie.” Interpro’s French subject matter experts reported that this would not translate clearly. Our team worked with the client to find an appropriate phrase to convey the same message. The result? “Easy as saying hello” conveys the same message for many cultures, including French.

Localization Tips for Design and Layout

Creating visually appealing content that can be localized easily is not as challenging as it may sound! Some tips, like eliminating text embedded in images, are self-explanatory. But other best practices will be easier to illustrate through examples.

When planning your layout, make sure you leave space for text expansion. The layout of the designed document will need to shift and accommodate the new character count as text tends to expand during translation.

It’s also best not to include manual cross-references in your layout, as the content may shift to different pages in various languages.

Other best practices are not using hard or soft returns to break lines of text. Similarly, do not use spaces or tabs to line up paragraphs with a hanging indent. Setting up tabs within your software program will allow for automatic indentations even as the language changes.

What is cultural localization?

Cultural localization is ensuring your content is localized to avoid offending based on the cultural standards common for people who speak the language.

For example:

When including images in your designs, some research may be necessary to avoid offending a multicultural audience. For instance, research your audience’s cultural customs and holidays. If you and your team are not familiar with the holidays, make sure to put in the research to avoid offense.

We have eight more localization tips on avoiding offending your multilingual audience.

Another example of adapting content to a culture is the multiple uses of the color red in China, where red usually symbolizes good luck. You might think that writing someone’s name in red ink would imply prosperous results, but instead, it is offensive. Writing someone’s name in red is usually used for a deceased person.

Even though 20% of the world’s daily communications are in English, body language varies significantly in meaning by language. Ensure you evaluate any images you want to include in your source document to ensure they don’t have unintended meanings.

Take, for example, the “OK” symbol: holding your thumb and pointer finger together with the remaining fingers sticking up. In the United States, this gesture is a sign of approval, agreement, and understanding. Yet, it can be highly offensive in Brazil, especially during an argument. In France, it means “zero” or “worthless.” Even in China, Japan, and Korea—where it can mean money— saying “money” instead of “ok” doesn’t make sense.

Localization Tips and Best Practices for Video

Creating video content with localization in mind is a well-thought-out strategy. Many simple yet important considerations can make a massive difference to your localization company. These include:

  • Using subtitles and professional voice-over;
  • Ensuring that the script matches the voice-over;
  • Maintaining a rate of speech slow enough to accommodate a viewer reading subtitles;
  • Limiting text and important visuals appearing in the bottom third of the frame;
  • Using off-screen voice-over and/or limiting the use of on-screen speakers; and
  • Keeping the number of assets to a minimum

Frequently Asked Questions About Localization

How do you know when localization is working?

The best way to evaluate the effectiveness of a localization project is to ask the target audience.

Direct feedback from your employees or clients that speak the language will illustrate how successfully the intended message was translated. Some businesses will receive feedback from their customer service departments. Others can measure marketing response rates on various channels where campaigns were published or use surveys to get more qualitative information.

Another solution many businesses opt for is to have Company A perform the translation and Company B perform localization proofreading and revision. Interpro offers both and can help assist you and create a localization game plan either way.

What resources are available to consider cultural customs?

When you partner with a translation and localization company, we are your best resource!

Because localization is so granular to the language, dialect, culture, and location of the audience, there is no “one resource”.

Interpro has opted to create a network of individuals who are experts in a single language, and are emmersed in the country speaking the target language. So our resources are real human beings that live the culture and speak the language fluently.

However, our translators and subject matter experts research specific information during each project. Our team always asks clients for reference documents so that they can flag and advise on potential issues. We work with each client to find appropriate solutions for each target audience. An offensive image, for example, might be better changed to a sketch or a diagram.

We’ve found this is the best way to have the most accurate, culturally appropriate translation possible.

Do abbreviations pose any localization concerns?

Abbreviations and English acronyms should remain in English.

During the localization process, we sometimes employ what is called the bilingual format. This technique explains the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses in the target language. In some languages, there are acronym equivalents that can be used. But in general,using a bilingual format is the best approach for most situations.

Are there any best practices for creating survey scales to be localized?

When developing a survey that will be localized, it’s best to incorporate numbered scales. A range of descriptors—like “agree” and “somewhat agree”—can go with the numbers, but they will be extra information rather than the primary content. Remember, numbers are easily translated!

Are there any localization recommendations on translating specific policies, such as employer benefits, manufacturing manuals, or other official documentation?

There are no standard terms or phrases to avoid. Referencing the “ok” example again – one rule doesn’t work for all languages, dialects, and cultures.

But again, in general, we recommend a bilingual format. If you plan for the content to be for audiences that speak multiple languages, some terms will not get translated because they are English terms that have become standards in their industries.

Should you develop a new source presentation for each anticipated localized version?

There is no need to create separate content for each language or culture you would like to reach. Despite the possibility of text expansion or different images, we work from your singular source document—in this case, the presentation. Our linguists and localization experts will review the presentation and make recommendation and improvements. One improvement, for example, can be the consideration of swapping out imagery to be more inclusive to the target audience. Our team will work with you for possible solutions to ensure the localized presentation is as meaningful as possible. For example, splitting a slide into two parts might be an improvement to the slide readability, if the client is open to it. In most cases, there is not a need to edit a source presentation before localization.

What tools do you recommend using to assess for simple or plain language when developing materials for localization?

There are online resources available to check your writing for simplicity. Free resources include the National Archives list of Top 10 Principles for Plain Language and the CDC’s Plain Language Materials and Resources. The many versions of the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Calculator evaluate the readability of your content—some for free. Other readability calculators and formulas exist, including the Hemingway Editor, based on the simplicity of the author’s works. Some resources available for purchase, such as Readable, can help simplify your writing on the fly.

What are the best practices for the localization of ads?

Translating advertising content is one of the most challenging tasks faced by linguists. Cleverness is great, but creating the same effect in the target language is tricky. This requires balancing maintaining the original content’s core message and creative elements while adapting the cultural and linguistic elements.

When deciding whether to focus on cleverness or clarity in marketing content, consider the target audience first. Certain tones of voice or ways of speaking (i.e., sarcasm) may not translate well. Next, consider your brand’s personality, voice, and values. Finally, define your campaign objectives. Your messaging will be far different whether your goal is to generate brand awareness or convey specific information.

We hope these localization tips helped you on your journey to localizing your content!

Schedule a Free Localization Strategy Session

Investing in a localization agency can help ensure that your carefully crafted message is correctly understood, no matter the language or subject matter. For the most professional, consistent translations, we recommend using a professional translation agency with ISO Certifications, quality analysis processes, and historical proof of delivering consistent, accurate translations.

Interpro has an expert team that delivers accurate translations according to schedule. Our proven expertise in multilingual content for businesses quickly provides accurate translations to reach your goal.

Find solutions to your localization questions. Schedule a Complimentary Localization Strategy Session and get started with an Interpro localization specialist.