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Picture the scene – a beachside restaurant in the south of France. A dazzling white terrace looks over the sparkling azure sea. French families sit quietly and all is calm. Suddenly the peace is shattered as a British family come stomping up the steps.

The Father, portly and puce in the face is struggling with beach paraphernalia and three young children. Apologising to several diners as they’re forced to pull their chairs in to allow the family to pass he approaches a waiter and blusters loudly through a few flawed GCSE French sentences (attracting a few sidelong glances from fellow diners as he does so). Hastily, the waiter switches to flawless English and seats the family at the far end of the terrace.

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This British Father is a metaphor for a lot of companies when it comes to changing their finely crafted English content into a foreign language. Making the effort – but not getting it quite right. Getting Steve in Marketing to translate your website because he got a B in French A-level and likes to watch the Tour de France probably isn’t going to cut it. Nor is using a traditional translation company. You might get your meaning across (think Carrie in the last episodes of Sex and the City – albeit with withering looks) or you might not (think Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses). Paying lip service to your translation is likely to result in foreign clients losing faith in your brand and going to a competitor who has earned their respect with an effective localisation.      

A localisation is different from a translation. A translation is a much more clumsy process that takes your well-crafted English content and, almost word for word, converts it into the target language.  Those nuances, those colloquialisms, those cultural subtleties? All gone. The meaning too sometimes. A translation is usually based on word count and does little to re-inforce your tone of voice or brand image – it can often be detrimental to your business and do more harm than good in foreign markets.

A translator charging €0.05 per word needs to translate a huge amount of content, quickly, to make a living. Your goals probably won’t be given much thought as the translator furiously ploughs through your text. In 2009, HSBC bank had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its catchphrase "Assume Nothing" was mistranslated as "Do Nothing" in various countries. KFC and Pepsi have also fallen foul of a poor translation with the examples below:


The classic ‘Finger lickin’ good’ didn’t quite make it into Chinese.


And the Pepsi slogan ended up as ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave’. 

These are, of course, extreme examples but re-iterate the importance of a localisation over a translation.

A good writer (yes, a writer, not a translator – they’ll almost certainly be re-writing a great deal of the original to make it work in the target language) should take into account the context, tone of voice and style of the content. They’ll have an in depth understanding of the culture, history, social norms, religion and politics of the country for which they’re localising and will actively adjust the text, moving sentences around and choosing equivalent expressions so that it merges seamlessly into the target language.

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Language evolves. The Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year was ‘bovvered’ in 2006, ‘Credit Crunch’ in 2008 and ‘youthquake’ (a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people) in 2017.

Expressions like ‘cheerio’, ‘Bob’s your Uncle’ and ‘wet your whistle’ are out-of-date and rarely used. A quality writer will always be a native speaker of the target language but, more importantly, they’ll still live in that country. They’ll be aware of current trends. This will shine through in their localisations and help reflect your finely honed brand image and do justice to your company – in any language.

With the image of the British Father at the forefront of our minds we’ve done battle against translation by localising content for over 15 years. If you’re still stuck in that beachside restaurant struggling to communicate then give us a call to see how we can help.

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About the Author
James Rein
Author: James Rein
Senior Account Manager

James joined Adexchange in 2016 and is responsible for delivering projects across all channels to a range of our high profile clients. He regularly runs our communication workshops, training sessions and mystery shopper exercises.

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Adexchange Media Limited
Company number: 04344957

The Old Garage, Great Milton, Oxfordshire, OX44 7NP