10 Shortcuts on the Road to Localization

Make your content easy to localize in the first place

Last Updated: July 4, 2019 8:13AM

Content creators need to produce engaging material that communicates a company’s message clearly. Translation and localization companies take that content and ensure it’s just as engaging and clear in a new language as it was in the original. The longer this process takes, the harder it is for the client company to activate global projects efficiently and cost-effectively.

Companies can shorten the localization process and speed project completion by creating source content that is easy to localize in the first place.

What makes content easy to localize? Here are 10 tips for creating the kind of content that will make the localization process go smoothly.

Use simple sentences

Content is easiest to translate when it’s simple and straightforward. Use the standard English subject-verb-object construction and avoid complex sentences with multiple clauses. If you must make multiple points at once, use bulleted lists or tables to separate your thoughts.

The challenge when simplifying your sentences? Keeping your content both readable and professional. You don’t want your words to be overly technical, but you also don’t want to seem patronizing or read like a children’s book. Be direct, not didactic.

Avoid wordiness

It’s important to be direct with your vocabulary. Writing for a global audience demands vocabulary that is basic, but professional.

Never use two words where one would do, and do your best to use shorter, more commonly-used words. Restrict yourself to no more than one modifier per noun or verb and don’t choose words that have multiple meanings.

When in doubt, make sure you’re only conveying one idea in each phrase or sentence.

Be clear

Brevity is important, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of clarity. Sometimes omitting a word can muddy the meaning of a sentence.

Consider the command, “You can change the language of the system using this software.”

Does the sentence mean that the software itself will help you change the system’s language? Or that you can change the language of the system that happens to be using the software?

The meaning is much clearer if you add just two words: “You can change the language of the system that is using this software.”

Don’t fall into the trap of cutting out relative pronouns like “that” or “who” just to save space. They usually make translation easier. For instance, “the woman who is waving at us” is easier to translate than “the woman waving at us,” as insignificant as the difference may seem to writers of source material.

Use the active voice whenever possible

The active voice focuses on the source of an action—for example, “The officer arrested the suspect,” in contrast to “The suspect was arrested by the officer.” The active voice is almost always clearer than the passive voice.

Sentences in the active voice are easier to translate and understand than sentences in the passive voice. You should always use them as the default approach to writing for a global audience. The exception: any situation in which you need to emphasize the action, not the actor.

Consider the sentence, “He was robbed.” The passive voice works best here if you don’t know (or if you don’t want the reader to know) the culprit’s identity. Situations like that, however, are relatively uncommon.

Avoid idioms

Idioms are figurative expressions that only make sense in their language of origin. For example, the English idiom “feeling under the weather” makes perfect sense to English speakers but would be nonsensical if translated directly into another language. A German or Spanish speaker reading a direct translation might wonder what the significance of someone’s physical position relative to the weather might be.

Translating idioms literally can be problematic for global brands. Mistranslations can be clunky at best and offensive at worst. For that reason, global content creators should try to avoid them in the first place.

Avoid references to local customs or culture

Social traditions or popular culture references can help you connect to your readers if you share the same cultural background. If you’re writing for a global audience, however, these kinds of references can confuse or even alienate your readers.

A piece about autumn might fail if you depend on references to “trick-or-treating,” an American custom that isn’t present in every culture. Similarly, your excellent product may “hit it out of the park,” but don’t use that phrase to describe it. Many people around the world have never seen a baseball game.

Use humor sparingly, if at all

Jokes are fun, but only if your audience understands them. Humor is culturally specific more often than you might think, so use it carefully or avoid it entirely when you know you’ll need translation services.

If you absolutely must make a joke, don’t make it a pun. Plays on words never translate well. And whatever you do, don’t make light of customs and values that your target culture takes very seriously.

Reuse translated content whenever possible

Professional language service providers use automated memory tools called Translation Memories (TMs) to avoid re-translating content that has already undergone translation. Using TMs saves both time and money for clients.

If you can find a document that has already been translated, keep any content that is still relevant. Only update what needs updating. The more sections of content you can reuse, the faster your LSP can complete your translation.

Keep your terminology consistent

Writers often use synonyms to avoid repetition when writing in their native language. However, this strategy complicates translation, making it both difficult and costly.

When you use multiple words for a single concept, you risk misinterpretation with each new term. If you’re writing about content, keep writing about content. Don’t suddenly start referring to “material,” “articles,” or “pieces”—not without a transitional phrase (like “pieces of content”), anyway.

Remember that a word or phrase might be longer or shorter in a new language

When you write text for translation and localization, remember that the same translated word will probably be a different length in the new language. German, for example, often has long compound words that mean the same thing as an entire English phrase. That will become problematic if your formatting does not accommodate long words.

Any time you have text that you need to localize, make sure it’s formatted in a way that will work in the target languages. That also applies when the target language is written right-to-left. Work with your design team to make sure your formatting is versatile.

A Final Word

Content creators are always part of a team, but especially so when localization is involved. When you consider the impact of your writing on design and localization services, you expedite the localization process and make it cost-effective.

Ready to start the localization process for your next piece of content or marketing campaign? Reach out to our team to get started.

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