Five tips for proper lokalisation


Should a front page of a manual be neutral or hold a picture of someone doing something. In my case it was a woman (clothed but bra-less) standing at a printer and a man sitting at his desk raising his arms in..well…in what.. you could see that something was downloading on his computer screen. But that was it.

I objected that a front page of a manual should be neutral. Furthermore, how would different countries react to a a clearly bra-less woman?! And what about that man raising his arms. If we did not even know what message this picture sent, how would our customers throughout the world perceive this image?

Unknowingly i hit upon localisation, which you can describe as ” the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market” . Images are just one aspect of it, text is another one. There is where we as technical writers come in. We know we have to write concise, clear and unambiguously. But how does this relate to lokalisation?

Below you find a few tips:

Text expansion

By far the most important one. Assuming you write in English, know that a lot of languages run longer than English and a few even much longer. Dutch will definitely run longer, while Czech will run longer in some cases, but in other cases will be more condensed. Keep in mind that there are reading right to left languages (Hebrew) ; vertical as well (Mandarin).

Best practice here is:

  • To create procedures with short sentences.
  • Sentences that must be grammatically correct. Do not create ambiguous two or three words sentences.
  • Use a style sheet, so it is clear to a translator what a word in bold or italic means.
  • Create a list of words that should not be translated.
  • Refrain from using call outs in images; they are a nightmare for any translator as the translation most definitely won’t fit into the space designed for it.


Use the standard graphical colors, shapes, signs and symbol from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Don’t create a Warning or Notice sign of your own.

Be careful with colours :

Red is for the Chinese the color for luck. For the Hindus, it symbolizes love, lust and passion. Generally, green is a color for health and the environment but in Tibet it represents exorcism and the underworld. In Germany, yellow is the color of jealousy, but in Japan yellow stands for something brave and courageous.

Be careful with hand signs:

A “thumps up”  is generally accepted as a sign of approval in many countries, but in some parts of Greece and Italy and in Iran and Afghanistan, it means ”up yours.” In Hungary and Germany, it means #1, but in Japan, it means five million. You perceive a “closed fist” probably as a sign for solidarity, but in Pakistan it is a sign for “up yours”.

Hard coding

Get word to the developers that they do not hard code dates, numbers, units and times. “9-11” is in European countries  November 9, and not  September 11.

Use accredited translators

They know the pitfalls. They will save a company money. Apple forgot about this in the ’80s when they launched their Apple II in the USA and Europe, but nobody had thought to include umlauts, cedillas, accents or other special characters on the keyboard. It is just one out of many, many examples.

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