Are Your Corporate Materials Localization-Ready?

man writing notes

US-headquartered corporations will often want to expand their operations overseas. At the same time, few of them internationalize their corporate communications and training materials. In other words, the original content was authored with the US in mind, and when the company decides to publish this content abroad — to localize it for other markets — it turns out that parts of it are inappropriate for the overseas audience.

References To US Resources

woman on the phoneOne common thing authors seem to overlook when sending documents for translation is content that is only applicable in the US. For example, the company might promote its toll-free 800 number, although it may be unreachable outside North America. The solution here would be to list a local toll-free number in the target market or, if you don’t have one, to list your normal US number with the country and area code included.

Another example is a company equal-opportunity employment policy that lists all unacceptable grounds for discrimination and end the list with “and other characteristics protected by law.” This may be misleading in a country where protected characteristics differ from those under US law. What the company can do is list any characteristics it does not discriminate on and replace the reference to the US-specific equal opportunity employment regulations with “applicable law.”

Presumed Values

diverse group of peopleImplicit assumptions also pose a challenge for localization. For instance, you may include in your employee training materials names like Zhao, Ben, Tyra, and Carmen. The implicit assumption there is that the company is diverse and various populations are represented in the workforce. However, leaving the names as is may only confuse your overseas audience, who will not have the same association with the names and may be left wondering why bizarre names are used in local training materials.

You may want to come up with a localization strategy and include it in the translation brief for your translation provider. You may choose to give them license to use “typical” names from the target country to make the training read more natural for the locale. If you wish to preserve diversity, you may want to instruct them to include names typical for various groups in the target country. Finally, if you choose to leave the names as is, make sure they do not sound comical or obscene in the target language.

In some cases, values you perceive as worth implementing in your culture may be met with suspicion and even hostility in the new market. For example, a company may encourage reporting violations to superiors. This requirement breaks an unspoken taboo on “snitching” for the former USSR, where people could be imprisoned or worse based on reports submitted by jealous neighbors. If you want to encourage reporting misconduct, you may need to include an explanation of why this is beneficial for all employees and why this is morally acceptable and even commendable. These values may be second-nature to the initial audience, but not to the target audience.

These are some salient points I have encountered working on corporate communications thus far. I would love to hear from people working in other language combinations about their experience. Can you think of any examples of successful internationalization?

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