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Localisation vs. Translation: How to Adapt Content to Markets

You might have heard “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” before. Electrolux’ ad about the brand’s quality in vacuum cleaning makes perfect sense in Swedish. In English, with the ambiguous meaning of “to suck” though, we’re unsure if that claim really benefits the brand. 😉 Content has to be adapted to different markets and languages in order to make it work. That’s where, in content strategy, translation and localisation get in the game.

Learn here about the importance of localising your content and how that even differs from mere translation of it. Let’s dive in.

What’s the difference between localisation and translation?

Translation is the process of translating text copy or single words from one language into another one. The goal is to get the meaning of the source-language text transferred into a target-language text. Translation is oftentimes also referred to T9N, as the word starts with T, ends with N and consists of 9 more letters in between.

Localisation (or L10N), on the other hand goes beyond translation in terms of making content understandable in different markets. Localisation e. g. takes into account different date formats, measurement units or also special meanings of words in different markets. Austrian, Swiss-Germans and Germans from Germany use different words for the same thing. The same applies to different English-speaking countries over the world. When localising your content, you take these fine differences into consideration to properly adapt to the readers your content is targeting.

An example of mere translation:

British English: Your bank account has been opened on 12/07/2022. You will be charged £12 per month.

German: Ihr Bankkonto wurde am 12/07/2022 eröffnet. Ihnen werden £12 im Monat berechnet.

Since Germans write dates in a different order (DD.MM.YYYY instead of MM/DD/YYYY) and don’t pay in Pounds, a German reader will it find hard to understand this information. They might wonder, if their bank account has been opened in July or December. Thus, a proper localization rather sounded like this:

Ihr Bankkonto wurde am 07.12.2022 eröffnet. Ihnen werden 12,00 € im Monat berechnet.

What aspects to consider for localisation

As localising content goes beyond the translation of words and grammar, here are the most common aspects you should consider when adapting your content for different audiences:

  • Direction of text: Not every language reads from top-left to bottom-right. Prepare your content to be read from right to left, if you’re catering such languages, e. g. Hebrew or Arabic.
  • Meaning of images, symbols and colours: Make sure the symbolism and colour spectrum your content is using has the same meaning in the target-language as in the source-language. For example, read here about different meanings of colours depending on the culture.
  • Measurements: Adapt currencies, measurement units like pounds or kilogram, and dates to the ones used by the target market.
  • User data context: Consider changing input fields depending on your target-audience. You might want UK customers to specify a county, whereas German or US customers rather specify their state or Bundesland.
  • Text length: Especially your content design for international markets should take into account that other languages (e. g. German) might have way longer words than the English language uses. Adapt the design to still fit the text, even though the language changed.

Why is localisation important in content operations?

Localisation prevents misunderstanding, as we’ve seen from the example above and from many global brands. But there are many more benefits to it, such as:

  • It helps your target audience feel understood when consuming your content, buying your product or using your customer support.
  • Localisation is critical for supporting linguistic diversity.
  • You can provide a better digital experience to international markets à localisation therefore supports internationalisation.
  • Properly localising your content helps to avoid communication issues and increases usability.

Thus, localising content is crucial to being successful in entering new target markets or addressing audiences from various regions, linguistic or cultural backgrounds.

How to localise your content

Localisation mostly starts with translation of the content. Depending on how complex the content is and how accurately it has to be adapted for international use, there are different approaches to localisation:

The more complexity and accuracy required, e. g. for marketing content, regulatory affairs, websites, user guides or documentations, the higher is the quality of localisation needed. Higher quality is still a lot better achieved by humans, thus localising this kind of content is rather time-consuming. As there are growing types of content to be translated, machine translation can help with translating less important and accurate content, such as chat templates, blog posts, e-mail support or user generated content in forums and reviews.

So-called TMS (Translation Management Solutions) can automatically analyse and translate content in a CMS. Terminology and translation memory, as well as workflows can be managed within the TMS.

Most organisational content can benefit from a first automated machine translation, which can then be augmented by human localisation. Humans can take into account what machines cannot in order to achieve better accuracy of localised content. This edited content can then help to train engines for Neural Machine Translation (NMT). This way, automated localisation of content improves over time.


So, is your content already localised or still suffering from translation issues? Audit it and consider adapting on a broader scale to be comprehensible by your international audiences.