What is localisation?

Localisation is the process of preparing a translation that is part of a product (often software) or service so that it is linguistically and especially culturally appropriate for use in the chosen market. If you want your business to be internationally competitive, you need to adapt your product or service to the local language, legislation, culture and other characteristics of the target market. Through the modification and adaptation of language, marketing materials, user experience, published documents and product manuals, localisation helps companies enter a foreign market in a way that is understandable to people speaking the target language.

What does it mean to localise?

Localisation includes not only the adaptation of product features such as colours, images and regulations, but the linguistic adaptation – the translation and adaptation of fonts, spell-checking, language tools, etc.

In the localisation process, translators do not just translate linguistic elements. Their role is much broader. For example, if the localised product is a film, video or sound recording, the translator will need to subtitle or dub the spoken text.

The graphic elements of the text (images, icons, logos) may also need to be adapted by the translator. Depending on the length of the text and the type of script (Latin, Chinese, Arabic, etc.), the translator will also be responsible for adapting the graphic design of the text, web pages, etc. Anthroponyms (proper names), measurement systems and units, dates, etc. are also being localised.

A single mistake can cost a company a lot of money

The aim of localisation is to adapt the translation of the description, name or other features of a product or service to the target market. Car manufacturer Honda found this out when it launched a new car called ‘fitta’ in the Scandinavian countries. The word turned out to be an older term for female genitalia in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. Poor sales eventually forced the company to rename the car ‘Honda Jazz’.

Orange, the telecommunications company, also knows that localisation is not to be underestimated. Take its slogan from the 1990s: ‘The future is bright, the future is Orange’. In Northern Ireland, a country divided between Catholics and Protestants, mislocalisation led to a negative shift: the word ‘orange’ became associated with the Orange Order (a Protestant fraternal organisation).

Airbnb’s location strategy

Airbnb’s launch in 2007 revolutionised the travel industry. Since then, the company has become one of the world’s most significant multinational companies, valued at more than $62 billion.
From day one, localisation has been a key part of the company’s strategy. Airbnb strives to “localise and internationalise everything it creates at scale, with high quality, on time and on budget, aligning [the localisation] team with the company’s values and business goals”. This approach has enabled the company to enter new markets quickly and efficiently. Every aspect of the platform, from the user interface to customer support, is available in multiple languages – even the company’s logo changes to reflect local preferences (for example, the use of the heart symbol instead of the letter A in some countries).
In addition to translating its platform, Airbnb also focuses on localising content to reach the widest possible range of users in different markets. This includes blogging about popular destinations as well as user-generated content such as reviews and ratings.

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