• localization

Why Localization is the Key to Successful Business Abroad

Andrea Nicholls explains the importance of localization

Our economy may be global but that doesn’t mean we are an homogenised world. There are still – and thankfully will always be – many differences especially in terms of languages and cultural norms.

 English may be a global language, but when it comes to making a real connection it’s all about communicating naturally in your target clients’ native tongues. Which is why localization is just as, if not more important, than translation. Localization is the process by which your message is not just translated , but is adapted to your target culture. Relying on a word for word translation is a dangerous plan.

For example, we have a client, from the food industry, who asked us to proofread some translations for his international customers. He’d done these with Google Translate. You might think that this was a good idea. After all, this is free and quick — you put your text in, choose your language, press enter and out pops your text. What could be better? Especially, if, like our client, you’re a small enterprise looking to save cost?

Well – quite a lot in practice as many organisations, small and large, have found to their cost.

The problem is that there is no quality control on your Google or Microsoft translations, so you have no real idea of the accuracy or otherwise of the end result. Perhaps you want to translate your company’s website? Or some instructions about how to operate say, machinery. Or send a letter of agreement to a supplier abroad? Get it wrong and you could easily end up trashing your company’s reputation, losing customers and being subject to law suits.

Back to our food industry customer using Google Translate. In the end, it was more expensive to do it this way, as well as a waste of his time. We had to start the whole thing again because Google translates words but doesn’t interpret the context. In other words, no localization.

Most of us have heard of how KFC translated ‘finger-lickin’ good’ to ‘eat your fingers off’ in their Chinese campaign. But how about Pampers nappies? They completely confused Japanese mothers by using a stork image to deliver their nappies. Peaches, not storks, bring the babies in Japan, but nobody had bothered to check. Our favourite ‘ooops’ moment comes from the Coors strapline ‘Turn it loose’ – which became ‘Suffer from diarrhoea’ in Spanish.

Localization is injected when there is a need to find a substitute for a local idiom. For example, the British metaphor ‘Carrying coals to Newcastle’ would be totally confusing for most of the rest of the world. But most of the world does have a similar saying for describing a situation in which someone does something that is pointless.

Training materials, correspondence, websites, contracts – whatever it is, you don’t want a ‘Coors moment’. Don’t take the risk. Having your material, your words, destined for abroad professionally translated avoids the localization trap. And saves your blushes.


Andrea Nicholls


 I’m one of the Directors of la Academia Language Services and Accutranslate Ltd and I’ve worked in the language sector since 1987.

Passionate about languages and communication, I make sure we provide International Business with the best language and localization solutions.

After moving here from Argentina and many years of living in the UK, I am very much aware of the need for excellent business translation services. My job is to provide our clients with a team of top-quality linguists who have excellent skills in translating and interpreting, so that we can offer a variety of languages and sector specialisms. I love what I do and am proud of what I have achieved.