Mitigating the Risks of Cultural Differences in Communication

Details that make or break your translation

Language and culture are inseparable. Designing content for a multicultural customer base requires careful consideration of how each culture will interpret the different visual and textual aspects of localized material.  With these cultural differences in communication, something as seemingly simple as the color of an icon can convey goodwill in one culture and misfortune in another. These small details are easy to miss and put your brand at risk in an unknown market.

The best way to mitigate these risks is to find a partner with experience localizing for a wide range of language communities. From long-tail to lingua franca, Lionbridge offers cultural translation services in 380+ languages for 100+ markets worldwide. Your content is valuable. It’s our job to know the risks, and how to avoid them.


Cultural Differences in Communication to Watch out for :


Color is one of your most valuable tools as a marketer. Used correctly, it promotes a powerful, positive association with your brand. But a color that connects positively with one culture can have the opposite effect with another. For an American or European audience, the color white often communicates a sense of light and purity. But in China, Korea, and some other Asian countries, white is associated with death.

Text layout

The layout of the text—how the language is formatted on a page—can change with translation. For instance, not all languages are written in the same direction. Languages such as English, French or Spanish are written from left to right across a page. But Arabic and Hebrew scripts start from the opposite side, writing from right to left; and traditionally Chinese was written from top to bottom. Text written in English that moves left-to-right on an image might fit perfectly in the original design, but when translated into Arabic, the words can cover people’s faces or be obscured by clashing images or colors. Seemingly small factors like mindful localization of different scripts can have a huge impact on your business.


Ensuring the images in your content are properly localized is of the utmost importance. The presence of a tattoo, style of clothing, or hand gesture can encourage one audience, and offend another. For example, in the U.S. or U.K., a thumbs up is a friendly way of giving positive affirmation or signaling a job well done. However, for an Australian, Greek, or Arab audience this seemingly harmless gesture has an offensive and highly inappropriate meaning.


Cultural translation demands heightened cultural awareness and extreme attention to detail.

Person looking at tv screen in busy train station - representing a setting to avoid risks of cultural differences in communication


How to Find the Right Language Service Provider

When your business creates marketing content, you expend copious time and effort into ensuring that all elements of the design contribute to your brand voice: the color, the text, the images, and much more. A great LSP is aware of the challenges of localization and implements the same detail-oriented approach you introduced. Before you choose an LSP, make sure you’re asking the right questions:

  • Does agency have experience working in that market? Do they have a portfolio of similar projects showcasing their success with that audience?

  • Do they use translators from the market that are aware of local cultural cues?

  • Are they capable of building and maintaining a translation glossary, style guides, and terminology databases designed to capture your company’s unique brand voice?


Why to Choose Lionbridge as Your LSP

Lionbridge has the expertise and methodology in place to mitigate the risks associated with cultural translation, no matter how specialized:

  • 20+ years of experience localizing into hundreds of languages, locales and cultures—building and leveraging this experience with every new project.

  • Cultural adaptation services carried out by expert teams of linguists to help make the content appropriate for all locales.

  • Translation memories and glossaries built by managing partnerships with local subsidiaries, optimizing review of content for linguistic accuracy and cultural appropriateness.


The Bottom Line

When adapting content across different cultures, small details matter.  The colors, text layout and images you choose all contribute to building your reputation as a multicultural company. The importance of avoiding the risks of cultural differences in communication cannot be overstated. Lionbridge is committed to making certain the message your customers receive is the same message you hoped to send.


Get in touch

Contact a Lionbridge language expert.

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Sophia Eakins and Kajetan Malinowski
Sophia Eakins and Kajetan Malinowski