Localization of Language: What It Means and Why It Matters

Holiday greetings in multiple languages

We invite you today to explore the intricacies of the localization of language in communications and transcreation. But what do we mean by that and why does it matter?

Let’s start with a timely example. Did you know that language nuances influence the way we greet each other during the holiday season? Understandably, speakers of different languages have different ways of sharing greetings and well wishes. However, even two variants of the same language can have notable differences based on linguistic variations.

In the U.S., for example, “Happy Holidays” has gradually become a prevalent choice. Whereas in the U.K., “Merry Christmas” maintains its traditional charm. While the choice between “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” seems like a simple matter, this is a linguistic phenomenon in which historical, political, and societal factors influence word choices.

Now, extrapolate this out to exchanges in Latin American Spanish, spoken by millions of people in at least 30 countries dispersed across thousands of miles. Indeed, the more we consider the difference between these festive greetings and the cultural weight they carry, the more we realize the need for a deep understanding of the audiences we communicate with and the consequences and benefits of that understanding.

Ensuring that messages of all kinds resonate with our audiences across languages is a top priority for our team at Montage. It’s a lot to think about as outreach, engagement, and marketing communications professionals, but it’s critical to get it right.

In this article, we share some of the fields most impacted by the effective or ineffective use of localization of language and transcreation and how collaboration with skilled professionals like those on our team can be a crucial support for both growing and established businesses.

Localization of Language in Healthcare

Localization and transcreation in healthcare involve adapting medical content, such as patient education materials, public campaigns to promote well-being, medical reports, or pharmaceutical information, to suit the linguistic and cultural nuances of a specific region. Since people are not naturally attracted to content about medications, treatments, and therapies, communications must be carefully crafted to maximize engagement. This requires considering cultural sensitivities and linguistic differences and ensuring that healthcare information is accurately conveyed to diverse target audiences.

Let’s look at the example of how Spanish translators effectively overcame this challenge when determining the Spanish-language name for the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program. Per the program’s newsletter, “In English, most people see a ‘research program’ as involving experts who are using science or other methods to study something.” But in the focus groups coordinated by Montage’s Rima Matsumoto and our partners at Pyxis Partners, the team determined that “the Spanish word for ‘research’ can mean ‘investigation,’ suggesting law enforcement instead of science. The focus groups helped the Spanish Committee come up with “programa científico,” which conveys what the program is really about” – scientific research.

Localization of Language in Business and Public Affairs

We’ve established languages are more than words, making literal translations a source of potential pitfalls. The embrace of AI across business sectors has brought this to the forefront. Google Translate, ChatGPT, and other technologies, while helpful, lack context and linguistic nuance. Sometimes messages translated literally may sound overly formal, robotic, or worse, offensive to valued audiences. There have been plenty of translation faux pas made throughout history—but some with graver consequences than others. Whether you’re negotiating business dealings globally or supporting language access programs here in the U.S., it is wise to carefully review and adjust messages to truly express the spirit of the stakeholders. Your company’s reputation depends on it.

Localization of Language in Marketing

Your brand, your image. Whether you’re adapting promotional content, advertisements, and branding materials into multiple languages or creating wholly original campaigns for different markets and cultures, localization and transcreation play a pivotal role in marketing. When creating marketing assets in multiple languages, multicultural teams prioritize transcreation, which emphasizes meaning rather than word-for-word translation. Effective transcreation in marketing ensures that the brand message remains impactful, authentic, and culturally relevant, contributing to successful global marketing campaigns.

In Conclusion

While learning a foreign language may lead to amusing situations, the stakes are notably higher in healthcare, business, and marketing settings. ‘Happy Holidays’ and ‘Merry Christmas’ serve as a brief illustration of the complex situations that language localization professionals deal with every day. However, localization and transcreation reach their maximum importance when communicating vital information to diverse audiences in different languages. We’re talking about capturing the essence of a message in a source language and conveying it effectively within a specific cultural and linguistic context. To do so, we must keep in mind that languages are more than just words; they usually are a compilation of centuries of history, culture, and non-verbal communication codes.

Wishing you happy holidays, メリークリスマス, Merry Christmas, Felices fiestas, Maligayang Pasko, መልካም በዓል, and a very happy new year!

Montage employees stand to form an M shape