Lost In Translation – Examples Of Localisation Errors To Avoid At All Times

by | Mar 21, 2023 | Localisation

When it comes to adapting content for new markets, even the smallest localisation errors can have serious consequences. Companies that miss the mark with their localised content risk losing credibility, damaging their brand reputation, and even facing legal charges.

In this article, we explore some examples of localisation errors and tips to help you avoid them in your next project.


Common localisation errors to avoid


The first step in avoiding localisation errors is to understand how and why they happen, so here are some prime examples to learn from:


Not understanding idioms, colloquialisms, and cultural nuances


Before embarking on a localisation project, it is crucial to have a thorough understanding of the idiomatic expressions, colloquialisms, and cultural nuances found in the target language. A word-for-word translation is often insufficient to convey the intended meaning, as idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms are unique to each language and culture. Therefore, extra care should be taken when translating slogans, taglines, and marketing messages to ensure that they resonate with the target audience in the way they are intended to.

It is also important to be aware of cultural sensitivities and taboos when adapting content for new markets. Some phrases, symbols, or themes that are considered perfectly acceptable or harmless in one culture could be highly offensive or inappropriate in another.

One example of this is a 1994 campaign from UK telecom company Orange, who unveiled a new campaign featuring the slogan: ‘The future’s bright… the future’s Orange.’ However, this campaign was not well received in Northern Ireland, where the colour orange symbolises a Protestant organisation known as the Orange Order. Consequently, the slogan inadvertently suggested that the future was Protestant-dominated in a country with a history of conflict between its Catholic and Protestant populations.

This example highlights the importance of carefully considering the linguistic and cultural implications of brand names and slogans before introducing them to new markets.


Lost In Translation - Examples Of Localisation Errors To Avoid At All Times - International Achievers Group (3)


Relying solely on automated translation tools


While automated translation tools have come a long way, relying solely on them can result in awkward or nonsensical translations. For instance, when KFC tried to launch in China, their slogan ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ was translated into ‘We’ll Eat Your Fingers Off.’ Needless to say, this did not have the intended effect on the target market.


Translating content word-for-word


One classic example of literal translations gone wrong is Pepsi’s ‘Come Alive’ campaign in China. The original slogan, ‘Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation,’ aimed to convey a sense of energy, excitement, and youthful vitality.

However, when translated into Chinese, the slogan read as ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave‘. This not only confused Chinese consumers but also created a negative association with the brand. While there is some speculation about whether this campaign actually existed, it serves as a perfect example of how a literal translation can go wrong!


Tips to avoid localisation pitfalls


Most localisation errors can be avoided by investing in professional translators with native-level language skills and cultural expertise, implementing rigorous quality assurance processes, and collaborating closely with local partners or experts to ensure that the content is both linguistically accurate and culturally appropriate.

Here are four essential tips to keep in mind:


Hire professional translators with cultural expertise


Recruiting and engaging skilled translators with native-level language proficiency and deep cultural knowledge of the target market is paramount. These professionals can not only provide accurate translations but also offer valuable insights into cultural nuances and sensitivities.


Implement thorough quality assurance processes to minimise localisation errors


This may involve multiple rounds of reviewing, editing, and proofreading. By having different team members or external reviewers evaluate the translated content, you can identify and rectify errors, inconsistencies, and other issues long before they reach the target audience.


Lost In Translation - Examples Of Localisation Errors To Avoid At All Times - International Achievers Group (4)


Collaborate with local partners or experts


Working closely with local partners, such as in-country marketing teams or cultural consultants, can help ensure that your localisation efforts are culturally appropriate and effective. These individuals have first-hand knowledge of the local market and can provide valuable feedback on your content, helping to identify potential issues before they become costly mistakes.


Utilise localisation management systems and tools


Leveraging advanced Localisation Management Technology (LMT) can streamline the localisation process, reduce human errors, and maintain consistency across multiple projects. Features such as translation memory, glossaries, and style guides can help translators maintain uniformity in terminology and style, leading to a more coherent and professional end product.


Avoid localisation errors by recruiting the best talent available


When your company is expanding into new markets, you need to ensure that your translations are accurate, culturally appropriate, and legally compliant. International Achievers Group can match you with the finest talent the localisation industry has to offer, helping you to avoid errors that could derail your success.

To find out how we can help your business thrive in foreign markets, check out our localisation recruitment services or get in touch with our dedicated team today!

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