The Clear and Present Dangers in Localization

We all know the cliché “the world is shrinking”, which really does ring true, doesn’t it? Not because the Earth is literally shrinking, obviously, but because technology has made all points of the globe feel so much closer and more accessible. And many businesses (and their competitors) are now seeing in that accessibility the potential for growth outside of their primary markets. However, although technology has made global markets more accessible, how do businesses enter those markets successfully? There are many pitfalls to avoid, especially those posed by the complications of language and culture.

The better informed businesses seeking to enter foreign markets will engage a reliable Language Service Provider or “LSP”. LSPs obviously help businesses translate company assets, such as catalogs, websites, product packaging, as well as other marketing, and also adapt products themselves, as in software, digital games and entertainment media. But the key value and competencies of an LSP are project management and linguistic sourcing. That is, your LSP will manage projects–simple to complex–efficiently and economically and will select, train and appropriately assign the best linguists for the type of content. An LSP uses linguists who are both translators and localization experts: they are writers and copy editors with deep linguistic, cultural and professional understanding of the target markets for which they adapt material. And a good LSP will usually ensure that they’re locals in those target markets, so that their translations are informed by direct knowledge and experience.

A less savvy business may consider translation to be something it can do well enough on its own, but let’s consider just a few of the pitfalls such a business may encounter:

Machine Translation

It’s true that machines, i.e., computers, can now perform basic translation functions. This is called “machine translation” and it has its place. For example, if you’re looking to translate “hello” or the days of the week, a free online tool like Google Translate may do the trick. On the other hand, if your content looks more like complete sentences, you might do well to take into consideration the following hazards of machine translation:

First, by using a “free” online translation tool you may lose ownership of your content. That’s because by merely using such a tool you may be agreeing to terms of service which allow the tool provider to:

  • host, reproduce, distribute, communicate, and use your content — for example, to save your content on their systems and make it accessible from anywhere you go
  • publish, publicly perform, or publicly display your content, if you’ve made it visible to others
  • modify and create derivative works based on your content, such as reformatting or translating it

Do you really want to give up ownership of your content? A translation commissioned from an LSP is generally (unless otherwise agreed) “a work for hire” covered by the Copyright Act (title 17 of the U.S. Code), which means it’s the sole property of the party who commissioned it. 

Moreover, the limitations of machine translations themselves are myriad; however, here’s one that arises frequently: machine translation tools generally cannot accurately handle variables of language due to gender. For example, in English we can say, “the kids are eating ice cream,” without reference to the gender of the kids. However, to render this sentence into Russian we need to know the kids’ genders (and ages!). So, while a machine translation of the English sentence into Russian might be instantaneous and free, it would likely resemble gibberish, painful to the ear of a Russian speaker. A human linguist, on the other hand, can make inferences needed to translate such a sentence accurately and naturally. 

However, as I mentioned above, machine translation does have its place. For example, when content is simple and technical, machine translation, when combined with a human editor to check accuracy and quality, can speed up and reduce the costs of translation. A good LSP can help you assess when and whether machine translation is appropriate for particular content.

Translators vs. Friends

You’re looking to expand business into Europe. Aren’t there at least a few employees in your workplace who speak one foreign language or another? Why not round them up and harness their skills? After all, who knows your products and company culture better than your own employees? You approach Sally, who is in Marketing and took Spanish in University, Carlos, who is the IT Manager from Brazil and speaks Portuguese, and Camille, who is in HR, grew up in Canada and speaks French. 

Okay, Sally speaks Spanish, she studied in Madrid for a year ten years ago, but since then she has visited Spain only a few times. Carlos is fluent in Portuguese, but his mother tongue is Brazilian Portuguese, which is at least as different from European Portuguese as British English is from American English; the difference is not merely a matter of accent, it’s spelling and phrasing and even punctuation. Similarly, Camille’s French is a very distinct Canadian flavor of French. You sense where I’m going? The location of your target market is vital to selecting an appropriate linguist. To render the best and most culturally appropriate translations, your linguist must know the local language and contemporary culture. Some of the dialectical differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese, for example, can leave speakers of one and the other struggling to understand each other. 

Specializations are important too. I worked with a linguist, who had formerly been a nurse with a deep knowledge of medical terminology. She wrote beautifully and her expertise in medical terminology and clear translations worked great for technical, human resources and, of course, medical content; however, when Glyph tested her to work on digital games projects, she tested poorly. Her translations, while crisp and accurate, lacked the creativity and drama required for games. On the other hand, the right linguist for digital games likely may not be the best choice for technical content, just as Carlos, the IT specialist from Brazil, may not be the best match for your content.

Geopolitical Sensitivity

Finally, your business is about to go public in a market about which you may know very little. Are you prepared for the potential consequences?

When entering a new market, a business often faces a host of potential cultural pitfalls. For example, content that might be considered culturally edgy but perfectly appropriate in the United States, might be considered obscene or offensive in other markets. In fact, a digital game with a character who happens to be gay might be celebrated in many markets; however, in other markets, like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, that same content might actually violate local laws and face serious fines and might not be publishable at all. Furthermore, businesses entering new markets can face other legal issues. When it comes to product labeling, for example, local laws can be quite exacting with respect to typeface, size, placement and language requirements. Canadian law, for example, requires all product packaging to be rendered equally in both French and English. A good LSP works with local experts to ensure compliance with local requirements like these.

How Partnering with an Expert LSP Can Help

When businesses enter new and unfamiliar markets, they inevitably face significant risk. Some risk can be reduced by partnering with a good LSP. 

From start to finish of every project, your LSP provides expert project management by a localization manager who carefully selects a team of linguists appropriate for your content, with locale and market specialization in mind. The LSP provides the market insight necessary for your project’s success, monitors linguistic quality, and ensures timely delivery. 

Moreover, when you work with an LSP like Glyph, not only do you own your translations, you own your translation memory. A translation memory is a database that your LSP creates consisting of all of your translated content, which the LSP can apply to new content. This process not only achieves greater quality and consistency in translation but also significantly reduces the cost, because it costs less to translate content that has already been translated. Your translation memory is your exclusive property. 

You don’t have to go into a partnership with an LSP blindly. Use an RFP (Request for Proposal) to evaluate and test LSPs on their specialities and to ensure they meet your exacting standards. Our article, How to Know if Your Localization Vendor is Getting it Right provides a few items to consider. An LSP is a partner that will provide you with up-to-date market solutions. Your LSP should strive to be an extension of your team that represents your best interests in your international markets.” To learn more, please reach out to

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin


Don’t need a quote, just want to talk?
Let’s connect!

To our valued community,

With the inevitable measures that all businesses need to undertake to support staff and clients, I would like to provide you with an update on our operations. For over 5 years 100% of our staff have been trained and able to work remotely while still maintaining weekly office days for collaboration and team building. We have cultivated business platforms and operations that run digitally without sacrificing security, service quality or capabilities during the better part of the last decade. As of March 9th, all company operations were transferred to work-from-home with no expected change in services, capacity or staff availability.

We understand that many of our partners have experienced challenges due to having a large international presence and multilingual employees. As a result, we are extending our help by monitoring requests after business hours and on weekends for projects associated with the coronavirus. This is to ensure we provide you with the best possible support and the fastest turnaround possible.

If you do have time-sensitive requests associated with the coronavirus, please send them to and include a clear subject line or title so we can act accordingly “COVID-19 Translation”.

We encourage you to reach out if there’s anything we can do to help you and your team during this difficult time. We sincerely hope you, your family, and colleagues remain safe and healthy.

Best wishes,


This website uses cookies to improve our users’ experience. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To learn more, see our Privacy Policy.