Ten more mistakes to avoid in localization

Recently, we highlighted five mistakes to avoid when planning and envisioning a localization project. But what about the pitfalls that arise when you get into the work of localizing content? Helping customers avoid these mistakes is no small matter — it wins loyalty and trust. Since there are no shortage of errors that can trip up any work project, here are ten more mistakes to avoid in localization.

1: Using poorly designed and/or written source copy

It’s the old computer adage GIGO (Garbage in, garbage out): If the source text is poorly written, the task of localizing it becomes that much tougher. Avoid long composite sentences. Keep text clear and easy to digest.

2: Not adapting units properly

Make sure dimensions and dates are adapted to the target culture and displayed and formatted using the conventions of the local customer. Have currencies been adapted? Can customers purchase product with the preferred payment methods of the region?

3: Failing to consider cultural context with incorrect visuals

Images should be adapted to the target to avoid the copy being identified as foreign. For example, don’t have scenes of vehicles driving on the “wrong” side of the road or screenshots containing unlocalized text. The same goes for labels, magazines, or books. 

4: Translating Keywords verbatim

Ignoring the fact that search behaviors differ between cultures can prove costly. Discovering local search habits requires native insight. Localized SEO keywords should be identified keeping that in mind rather than being translated verbatim.

5: Using flags to represent languages

Flags represent nations, not languages. French is spoken in many countries outside of France. French-speaking Belgians don’t identify with the French Flag. In Switzerland, four languages are spoken: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Flags work to represent countries not languages.

6: Designing components with fixed width or height, forgetting about text expansion

When sentences get translated the text length often changes. English, for example is a very compact language. When translated it can grow up to 3 times in size. The following table shows the average text expansion factor according to IBM’s localization guidelines:

7: Ignoring the cultural significance of colors

In South Africa, red is associated with mourning. In Western cultures, it’s associated with warning and danger. In Chinese culture as well as in Japan, it represents celebration and is meant to bring luck, prosperity, happiness, and a long life to the people.

Blue in the West is commonly associated with having the blues or feeling melancholy. In many Middle Eastern countries, however, blue means safety and protection and is symbolic of heaven, spirituality, and immortality. 

Don’t ignore these differences. Color adaptation can be extremely important for international adaptation.

8: Not planning enough

Amazingly, localization can still be one of the last things considered. This rings especially true for those working in English-speaking regions who consider their language to be the lingua franca of the world. 

9: Missing an overall localization strategy

It’s not enough to make the decision to localize. How to do it and who will manage it are just as important. Will you rely on in-house translators or partner with one or more external vendors? Who will have ownership of the copy? 

10: Trying to localize with in-house bilingual staff

Being bilingual does not mean being a linguist, never mind that anyone on staff who speaks the language they are trying to translate into probably has other job responsibilities. It is almost never a good recipe for success.


Stefan Huyghe
Stefan Huyghe is Vice President of Localization at Communicaid Inc. where he focuses on running high-level operations, workflow optimization, database development, social selling and community building. He has over 20 years of experience working in the language industry is fluent in Dutch, French, German, and English.

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