Two Common Misconceptions about Translation and Localization

Posted by Uliana Prosvirina on November 10, 2014

iStock_000040205720SmallMany companies are convinced that to localize their product or service means to simply translate related marketing materials. However, in the majority of cases, just translating is not enough.


Translating is Not Enough

Often times, the process of localization includes Transcreation, which is “adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context”.[1] This involves both translating already existing materials and modifying the content so it better fits the cultural context of a particular market. Here are some examples of Transcreation:

  • To market a contraceptive product for females to two separate populations – U.S. English-speakers and U.S. Latinas, a pharmaceutical company created an advertising campaign that looked and “felt” the same, but appealed in different ways to their targeted audiences. The main thrust for the English version was about convenience and that for the Spanish version was about freedom of choice. These choices reflected the transcreators’ research on what drives women in each demographic to choose contraceptive products.

  • The computer chip-maker Intel wanted to bring its successful “Intel: Sponsors of Tomorrow” campaign to Brazilian markets, but research showed that “Sponsors of Tomorrow”, rendered in Portuguese, implies that Intel would not deliver on its promises immediately. The line was modified to read, in Portuguese, “Intel: In love with the future”, thus appealing to the presumed passionate nature of the target audience.

  • In the 1990s, the Swedish automobile manufacturer SAAB launched a new convertible model and, in the ensuing advertising campaign, wanted to establish the idea that the car allowed passengers to experience wide-open spaces. In the U.S., the ad’s headline read "Saab vs. Oxygen bars", because oxygen bars were popular in the U.S. at the time. In Sweden, where there were no oxygen bars, the same ad ran with the headline "SAAB vs. klausttrofobi". By substituting ‘oxygen bar’ with the Swedish word for claustrophobia, the transcreators changed the literal meaning of the message but appealed to the same emotions as the U.S. ad did. [2]

What is a Professional Translator? 

Being able to speak two languages does not make one a translator. Translators are linguistically trained professionals with BA and MA degrees. They are trained to render a message from one language to another using syntactic and grammatical structures appropriate for the language of translation while preserving meaning, style and tone of the original message. They are also familiar with cultural aspects of translated text and would never let slips like these happen:

In 2009, HSBC bank had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its catchphrase "Assume Nothing" was mistranslated as "Do Nothing" in various countries.[3]

Dealing with a non-translator can even cost somebody their health, or even life.

  • In 1980, 18-year-old Willie Ramirez was admitted to a Florida hospital in a comatose state. His friends and family tried to describe his condition to the paramedics and doctors who treated him, but they only spoke Spanish. Translation was provided by a bilingual staff member who translated "intoxicado" as "intoxicated." A professional interpreter would have known that "intoxicado" is closer to "poisoned" and doesn't carry the same connotations of drug or alcohol use that "intoxicated" does. Ramirez's family believed he was suffering from food poisoning. He was actually suffering from an intracerebral hemorrhage, but the doctors proceeded as if he were suffering from an intentional drug overdose, which can lead to some of the symptoms he displayed. Because of the delay in treatment, Ramirez was left quadriplegic. He received a malpractice settlement of $71 million.[4]

Did you know that:

  • in different languages the order in which day month and year appear differs? For example, the English date format is month/day/year. In Russian, on the other hand, the order is day.month.year.. If a company was not aware of that one simple fact and it were to print an expiration date on an American product sold in Russia, the legal consequences for that company in Russia could be catastrophic.

  • in different languages the order in which the last, middle and first names appear is different? In English-speaking countries, the first name appears first, followed by the middle name and then the last name. In Chinese, the last name appears first. In some languages there are no middle names at all. In the majority of Slavic languages the middle name is patronymic (derived from the name of one’s father) and in most cases can only be used with the first name.

    The list of such differences goes on and on, and a non-trained person would not be aware of them. This goes to show that language localization is an integral part of working in a foreign market or with people who speak a different language.


Next Steps

Translation vs. Localization vs. Globalization - Connecting the dots! Download now



[2] Examples are taken from

[3] Example is taken from

[4] Example is taken from


Topics: Localization