We have written numerous times about the work of a translator and the difficulties that translators have to deal with every day. One of them is linguistic localization and this is what we will dedicate this article to. In order to understand what it is all about, you need to start with what translation is, what localization is and how to distinguish them.

What is translation?

Translation consists in reproducing the text from the source language into the target language with the highest possible fidelity to the original. In other words, the translation should be literal and very similar to the original. However, by doing so we may get a text that will not always be comprehensible to the reader. A good example is phraseological relationships that have a different cultural basis in each language and are related to different ways of seeing the world. A literal translation of phraseological relationships would, in simple words, make no sense.

What is localization?

Localization means localization, and in the context of translations, it is a process of adapting an existing translation to the cultural reality of a given country or region. This process, unlike translation, allows for changes in the text of the source document, such as adjusting the format of the date, time, currency, graphics, food names, etc. Localization services are very important, as you will see in a moment by analysing some mistakes.

Localization is needed especially when we want to interest or expand into a given market. In these situations, it is important to adapt to the needs of customers or potential customers who have different requirements in different countries. Therefore, localization is most often used when translating advertisements, websites, games, computer software and applications that are intended for foreign markets.

F*ck-ups (pardon my French) or “when something goes wrong”

  •  In the world of advertising, we can find real “tidbits” when it comes to translation faux-pas. The popular American company Starbucks can be proud of one of them. They created an advertising campaign under the slogan “Enjoy your morning latte”. And while in the United States the slogan attracts positive connotations, in Germany it has taken on a completely different meaning. In German slang, “latte” means “erection”, so the promoted morning latte did not fully support the promotion of the company. In contrast to the German language, localization in Polish would not be so problematic with this slogan.
  • American Express, perpetrators of another error in the advertising world, presented their American slogan on the Japanese market. The slogan was “Do you know me?”. The Japanese slogan was “dujunomi”, which in Japanese means “only on Sunday”. Japanese customers therefore understood that they could only use American Express cards on this one day of the week.
  • The language of our western neighbours is often translated and mistakes are not uncommon. One famous mistake in German translations has even made its own scandal, called the “potato scandal”. The translator translated the word “Kartoffel”, which describes a person as a potato. In German, on the other hand, it is understood to mean a person who is behaving in a primitive manner, i.e. someone about whom we would simply say “burak” (a beetroot) when localizing into Polish. Thus, the protagonist of the article for the daily newspaper “Die Tageszeitung” in Poland was called a potato.
  • Idioms are another conundrum for every translator. A literal translation is almost never adequate. For example:
  • da liegt der Hund begraben (German), (literally: here lies a buried dog) – “there’s the rub”
  • it’s raining cats and dogs (English) – it is raining very heavily
  • come hell or high water (English) – come what may
  • revenons à nos moutons (French), (literally: let us return to our rams) – let’s get back on track
  • стрелял (метил) в ворону, а попал в корову (Russian), (literally: shot at a crow and hit a cow) – ” to be way off the mark”

In conclusion, unfortunate translations and lack of proper localization can have serious consequences and cause a lot of trouble. Mistakes in translations have often resulted in the company, product or person not being treated seriously. If, for example, an advertisement, a website or a mobile application is to be translated, it is worthwhile to order a professional localization service that will generate a text with a natural sound and with content adjusted to a different culture.


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