LOCALIZATION: Why You Shouldn’t Ask José In Accounting To Do Your Translation

Website localization, particularly for your eCommerce store, is an important step in your business strategy. You’ve done your homework; you know which locales and language groups you want to target; now you’re faced with the question of how to embark upon the translation piece.

It’s tempting, especially for smaller businesses targeting more common languages, to consider whether they know someone who’s fluent in the language – Yves in the shipping warehouse for the French Canadian localization, and José in Accounting for the Spanish piece. It saves the company some money, or so it seems. José already works for you, so maybe you give him that task to do in lieu of his usual responsibilities, or maybe you pay him some overtime.

But neither José nor Yves are professional translators.  You hired both for their respective areas of expertise and experience so you need to exercise the same consideration for your localization project. You wouldn’t ask José to pinch-hit for Yves when he takes a day off, nor would you ask Yves to do the same for a sales team member. People do what they do best and translation isn’t necessarily part of their skill set just because they’re bilingual.

Related: Globalization vs Localization: The Difference

Human and machine translators do exactly that – translation. They work within a system of rules, guidelines and best practices. They’re more sensitive to cultural differences than José might be; after all, he grew up in Ecuador but that doesn’t mean he’ll be as aware of the nuanced differences of other nearby countries. Is the Spanish spoken in Ecuador and Spain the same?  Do the design colors have the same or different meanings in multiple countries and are any of them culturally or politically sensitive? Are there slang terms or colloquialisms that are fine in one country but considered to be offensive in another?  José may not necessarily know the subtle differences of Central American cultures and language nuances the way professional translators do.

Even within one single country there are cultural differences. Consider one as large and diverse as the United States where culture and the way English is spoken differ from one region to another. The cultures of New England, the South, the Midwest, California and the Pacific Northwest offer slightly different ways of speaking and vocabulary can vary too. Coke and Pepsi are ‘soda’ in the South but ‘pop’ in the North. A ‘package store’ in Connecticut is a ‘liquor store’ elsewhere. In the South, an ‘icebox’ isn’t where you store ice but a refrigerator.

You’re not likely to offend Americans from different parts of the country (although you might confuse them a little), but imagine the ill-understood cultural and lingual differences between the primarily Spanish-speaking countries, not states, of Central and South America and suddenly Spanish localization doesn’t look quite so easy-peasy.

Another localization consideration is the content for translation. If José works in the accounting department for a computer technology , he will not likely have the subject matter expertise of a more technically-trained translator, human or machine.

Related: Human Translation vs Machine Translation: The Numbers

Yappn’s enhanced machine translation solution already possesses existing translation memory and customer-and-industry-specific lexicons.

Bad localization of Spanish sign into English

See what happens when you settle for discount localization? Photo by Fabian Argento on Flickr

José’s vocabulary will be far more accounting-specific than technology-specific and he may not have an understanding of content that is ‘outside his wheelhouse’.

We wince a bit every time we visit a website with cut-rate localization. The culprits mostly appear to be translation ‘widgets’ that do an okay job but not a great job of language translation. While the content the widget does pick up is generally translated better than it was a few months ago, some telltale signs are banner ads, graphics and menu options that are left in English. If you think ‘good enough’ is good enough, try visiting a website in a country where the writing system is different, like an Asian or Indian language. Click the translation widget for English and ask yourself how easily you could navigate, shop and understand this website if you lived in that country. See how much of the website isn’t translated and whether you could accomplish your objective there, whether it’s buying something or getting information.

Related: Translation Tools: A Perfect Storm For Data & Localization

While José might well do a better job of website localization than a free or inexpensive translation widget, the results could turn out to be unprofessional-looking and even reputation-risky unless he knows what he’s doing – and an accountant won’t have the same skills as professional translators. Yves in Shipping might run his own sole-proprietor small business on the side but that doesn’t mean he has the professional accounting skills to perform José’s job and if you ask Yves to handle the French translation for your Canadian customers, you could run into some sticky political and cultural difficulties if his French is Parisian and not Québecois as he may be unfamiliar with the unique culture of Québec , where the majority of Canada’s Francophones resides.

If your website is an online store or marketplace with multiple vendors and product lines, the project has likely moved beyond the scope of one translator and will require particular attention to make sure all the product names and descriptions are translated properly.

José and Yves can certainly help with the translation proofreading and proper post-editors familiar with the cultures can ensure you don’t inadvertently insult your visitors or make them laugh out loud with embarrassing localization errors.



Yappn Corp is an enhanced machine translation company now offering translations in 106 different languages and a clear understanding of the differences between European and Canadian French. And we know our empanadas from our gazpacho! For more information please contact sales@yappn.com or call us at +1.905.763.3510 x246.


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Written by Nicole Chardenet, Sales Development Rep at Yappn


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