When many businesses think of the word localisation, their first thought would be of language translation. Perfecting translations between different languages is our speciality as a translation agency.
However, there is much more to translations than just the words on the page or screen you’re looking at. In fact, localisation can cause various design challenges, with everything from the layout of text in another language to colour associations and imagery choices, to name just a few concerns.
In this article, we will outline some of the most common design challenges posed when pursuing a localisation project in an overseas market.
Some languages are wordier than others
Different languages vary in length. For instance, in most cases, English requires fewer characters than other languages. This can be partly attributed to the fact that English words are shorter on average than those in many other languages.
This is important when writing for the web as it can impact responsive design, i.e., when the web design adapts to the screen size. Words can be moved onto other lines for smaller screen resolutions for example.
Let’s take a look at some other European languages to understand why a sentence translated from English ends up being lengthier than ideal.
In German, nouns can end up being extremely long as the language uses compound words and nouns – when more than one word is combined to make a much longer word. In English, to convey the same meaning, a writer would use lots of smaller words, all broken up.
Things can get trickier when the source language and the language you wish to translate into are not from the same family of languages. English and German are both Germanic languages. However, throughout Europe, the Romance languages are extremely prevalent. Therefore, translations from a Germanic to a Romance language can mean producing sentences that look drastically different from their source.
Unless a client has a content management system (CMS) or is using content for social media with a strict character count, we will rarely use alternative words to minimise character lengths as this often means losing some of the accuracy and impact of the content. We prefer to keep the client informed in the process and work to find the right solution should issues with character number or sentence length and structure arise.
Layout – right to left, top to bottom?
Reading and writing from left to right, line by line, until you reach the bottom of a text or webpage, is as natural as breathing for most people in the West.
But what if the language you must translate into is from a little further afield? Several languages read right to left, including the two most well-known – Arabic and Hebrew. When launching a new website or creating marketing materials for a target audience who speak these languages, you will face a design challenge on how to align these texts properly.
Your current website code or CMS may not be set up to handle non-Western texts, so a key consideration if you’re expanding to a country that doesn’t write left to write, or top to bottom, is finding a CMS which is designed for the alphabets and text layouts you will be using. It’s also a user experience (UX) challenge of how you’d like the website to flow and how you tell your story as the user scrolls through the information hierarchy.
Challenges of laying out copy in different alphabets
Some languages use entirely different alphabets to the familiar Latin alphabet we’re used to using in the West and throughout Europe. However, even within Europe itself, you will come across the Cyrillic script used in Russia.
Most English speakers will be familiar with many of the characters in the Cyrillic alphabet, but unlike the Westernised Latin alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet consists of 33 letters, with some unfamiliar to Western eyes.
This poses a problem to marketers, web developers and designers. You might need font installations for Cyrillic and other non-western texts, depending on your market location. If so, you will need to factor this in as an extra cost for your localisation project, and perhaps engage web developers comfortable with the language in question.
Imagery and colour associations
It’s important to bear in mind that imagery and colour choices need to be translated or adjusted for different markets. This means taking into account cultural references and associations. For instance, in China, the colour red is considered lucky.
From a user experience perspective in Western cultures, red would never be considered for a call-to-action button, as one of our key associations for the colour red is that it denotes danger. Instead, we would tend to favour green or blue.
Research has shown that viewing the colour red can increase blood pressure and increase the heart rate. Blue has been shown to have the opposite effect, relaxing the mind and body.
The key takeaway is to do your research for whichever market you’re entering, as colours can have radically different meanings in different cultures.
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We have almost 20 years of experience working on localising different materials for overseas markets, with a working history of collaborating on adapted versions of websites. Get in touch with us today for an instant quote on your translation project.
We’d be delighted to help you launch your new website perfectly attuned to the sensibilities and challenges of your new market.