Have you ever wondered whether your website is read by a non-native English-speaking audience, or whether you should expand your site’s reach by localizing it?
Content localization means translating a website, or adapting the original English to a global market. Translations, however, are not exact, word for word. Instead, the text is adjusted to a foreign audience’s likes, dislikes and norms to avoid potential triggers and miscommunications.
To be successful in your content localization attempts, you can take some pointers from UX writing, which is always focused on the user.
UX writing treats copy as a concise messaging tool, by adjusting it culturally and linguistically. And sometimes you need to change the tone and voice, shorten or lengthen it, or even rewrite the text altogether.
Equally important: UX writers are careful with emojis. One example of why this is important is the thumbs-up symbol, which is a sign of approval in Western culture. In Greece and the Middle East, however, it can be interpreted as vulgar and offensive.
To expand your website’s reach without translating it, at the very least your writing should follow basic UX writing guidelines:
- Use clear, concise, accurate copy geared toward your target users, wherever they may be.
- Create emojis, visuals and color choices that resonate in most cultures.
- Confront your own stereotypes and assumptions when dealing with global markets and locations
- Address your readers in a familiar yet respectful tone and voice.
- Build and retain your audience’s trust.
- Remove all English- and US-specific idioms and references.
Targeting a global audience lets you enter a broader market. You adapt your writing, translations and visuals by considering cultural, religious, linguistic and societal differences. It’s about showing respect. Click To Tweet
Depending on the market you want to enter, localizing your content sometimes requires translating it. According to a 2020 poll conducted by the content and language services firm CSA Research, 73% of global respondents prefer products with information in their language, and 40% will not engage at all with websites in English.
If you decide to fully localize your site, be careful. Here are a few reasons why translating a website for German consumers, for example, can be challenging:
Formatting: German copy tends to be much longer than in English; dates are formatted differently (day-month-year).
Linguistics: The use of gender-inclusive language is regulated; different perceptions of time and distance: What is old in the US is regarded as newish in Germany. What is considered far in distance in Germany is viewed as near in the US.
Legal: European privacy-, data collection and regulation laws are binding; most Germans won’t share personal details online.
Advertising: The tone is more informative and less emotional or exaggerated; users want claims to be put into perspective; they are interested in sustainability and are not as easily impressed or excited.
Tone: Germans prefer a formal, direct communication style; they dislike religious connotations and have no tolerance for offensive speech.
AI technologies that attempt to adapt translations to different cultures are popping up. All they do is offer AI-powered machine translations and collaboration tools, claiming to “make content localization easy”.
It is not. Localization is time-consuming and complex but worth the time spent on it.
Web designers and developers, too, should adopt a localization mindset since the web has no borders. And yet, most of us have a site audience persona in mind that fits our cultural background when designing websites. We assume that our site visitors come mainly from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, or developed countries. We want to reach a global audience but design with our peers, and sometimes only our own gender, in mind. We treat the web as an extension of our own experiences and leave many potential clients, or donors, scratching their heads. A cross-cultural design approach can help you prevent this.
To learn more about localization in website development, read my blog post Cross-Cultural Design: The Web Without Borders.
Bottom line: You need to have diligence, be respectful and let go of your own assumptions and stereotypes that might seep into your writing and content design. Only writers, translators, designers and editors with cultural sensitivities and a healthy dose of empathy can build linguistic and cultural bridges for the foreseeable future and perform adequate content localization.
Applying content strategies found in UX writing and design approaches targeting a global audience lets you introduce your product or services to a broader market. You adapt your writing, translations and visuals by considering cultural, religious, linguistic and societal differences.
It’s not all about business. It’s about showing respect.
More on the topic:
The deeper meaning behind Japan’s unique UX design culture (UX Collective)
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