Saturday 29 April 2017

In the event, you plan to go international, you will probably have to write content in other languages.

Writing content in other languages seems easier than it is. Many elements enter into the equation from the linguistic aspects to the cultural perception passing by the native writing style.

Languages often reveal a very particular perception of the world and require you to jump in that perception. Don’t get tricked! Local versions of a known play a major role language.

E.g. Australian English is different from British English, the best example is the term “thong”.

Here is our list of must know and must do:

1.  Translating or rewriting?

One of the most common dilemmas when it comes to going international is to choose whether a simple translation is enough or whether you should rewrite completely the content. We will present both pros and cons.


Translation is by far the most common approach, however, it may not be the best. Translating technical documents is not translating commercial concepts or communication strategies.

For the last two, you are required to adapt your communication to your audience. Check below the pros and cons of this technique.

Pros Small


Cons Small


  • Translation can be outsourced
  • Easy to set up
  • Relatively cheap
  • Translators are not writers
  • They do not necessarily know the cultural rules to write a compelling text
  • Promotional writing is a very rare speciality



Rewriting is a more subtle approach as it allows to enter your customer’s’ mindset and to talk to him/her in the most efficient way.

Additionally, if you code of your local competitors, you surely will thrive as they have the insider’s perspective. However, there are pros and cons:

Pros Small


Cons Small

  • Provides a real cultural insight
  • Allows you to make market-specific offers
  • Copy can fit the market needs
  • Time consuming
  • Requires a native speaker
  • Can modify the style of communication-based on local needs

2. Cultural integration

Cultural integration is a critical factor when it comes to communicating in another language as every language has a rooted value system in its very core. Moreover, speaking habits have a major influence in the ease of reading and the “native” approach to the language. Think about how much you hate reading texts full of mistakes that look as if they were written in a foreign language. It is the same thing for your foreign customers!

Said vs unsaid

What can you say what can’t you? Such a massive topic! It would probably deserve a PhD thesis by itself. When working with languages and different cultures it is extremely easy to see that some elements can be mentioned while others do not need to be. This mostly depends on the cultural class of the languages.

High context vs low context

Two classes exist:

  • High-context culture
  • Low-context culture

What is then the difference between high-context and low-context, the low-context culture is generally more explicit than the high-context. There are also degrees within the level of high and low-context

Here are some examples of high and low context languages and culture:

  • High-context → Spanish, French, Japanese, Arabic, Farsi or Russian
  • Low-context → English, German, Finish or Dutch

But there are degrees also within these categories. For example, British English is a higher-context language than American English. This is mostly due to the history and local culture. We can see similar differences also between the North and the South of the United States.

It is, therefore, crucial that you get this knowledge aboard to address your customers efficiently.


Taboos, the most dangerous issue. Some languages have visual or even linguistic taboos

They are very often intrinsically linked to the world’s perception derived from a specific language. In Judeo-Christian cultures, cursing is a major taboo in the same way death is. For Buddhist and Hinduist cultures death is not one, due to the belief in reincarnation.

Historical events can also lead to language taboos example in Germany, stay clear of family questions even if it is to improve your customer filtering, you should rather use purchasing habits detection systems.

E.g. If you are florist trying to sell in Italy do not try to sell chrysanthemums on Mother’s day, you only offer these flowers to the deceased.

Taboos are thick skinned and are part of the cultural core values of any society. Do not play with them, if you are unsure, ask a native

Speaking style

Speaking style differs largely as well from country to country, while in English you address someone as “you”, other languages like French, Russian or Spanish have multiple forms of “you”, like the French vous, the Spanish vosotros and despite their inclusive character, sometimes they also have politeness inclusive forms such as the Spanish Usted/Ustedes or the Italian Lei.

Speaking style largely depends on the circumstances in communication and the countries habits.

E.g. In France, the “Tu” is very informal and very negatively perceived when addressing someone you do not know personally. In Italy, while when speaking with your boss you should address him/her as “Lei”, the “Tu” is the most common form and is used in adverts to create a direct relationship with the customer.

Therefore, plan your messages carefully, think seriously about the wording. You do not want the customer to feel insulted or disrespected.

3. Linguistic variations

One of the most disregarded elements in marketing communications is the linguistic variation. Speaking the same language does not mean, meaning the same thing.

The best example is between British and American English. Sometimes the same word is also described to use different things.

E.g. Boot (UK) = Trunk (US) // Thong: G-String (UK), Flip Flops (Australia)

Remember it is not because you have a common language that you think in the same way, the languages evolve differently particularly when they have been separated by large distances over an extended period of time.

english variations

Same language, different country

Languages evolve based on the different influences they receive, while in the UK a dry cured ham will be often referred by its Italian name “prosciutto”, in New Zealand the term prosciutto remains largely unknown. Vice-versa, in New Zealand sweet potatoes, are called Kumaras (a term of Polynesian origin).

Geography, technology, native cultures will all add elements to the language making it unique and different from the version it derived.

Historical impact

The historical impact is also a very sensitive element as well, for example, the love-hate relationship between France and Britain, slavery in America, the aboriginals and Maori in Australia and New Zealand.

All these topics should be considered very carefully. Religions are also a very sensitive topic in most of Europe particularly when it comes to the attitude of people towards it.

Italy, for example, is a very catholic country, on the contrary, in France, religion has a small weight and it is perceived as a private topic.

So if you want to celebrate religious events in France as a promotional offer, make sure you celebrate only the ones that are calendar bank holidays and do not ostracise the other religions.

Finally, avoid at all cost celebrating events hurting national history. The 8th of May does not have the same meaning on both sides of the Rhine, same of the mention of Waterloo when it comes to the Channel.

4. Technical considerations

Finally, there are some technical considerations that should not be disregarded, both in terms of site architecture and information layout.

The way how you structure your information will have a large impact on how your website will rank in the search engines for different countries.


In order to keep this topic as simple as possible for non-tech savvy people, we will just have a look at the two most common approaches.

  1. one domain =  one country


The most common approach is the one domain = one country approach. This specific way of organising a website includes purchasing a variety of domains like, .it, .es, .de and maintaining all of them as separated websites.

It is an excellent approach to rank locally in each market, however, it requires a lot of time as every content element needs to be adapted to the various target markets. Content will have to be grown individually and links built site by site. In a word, this approach is brilliant for large companies but not manageable for small ones

2. one domain = multiple countries


The other option is to host multiple languages on a single website, despite it may slow down the site loading speed, this option is technically the most affordable for small and medium businesses. You can choose the subdomain or the subfolder approach, they both have pros and cons.

But the most important elements are code-related!

Code-related elements

Some pieces of a website are crucial when it comes to going international among these we can mention:

  • Hreflang attributes
  • Sitemaps
  • Interface elements
  • Content related elements (metas, alt tags,…)
  • Reviews
  • Contact elements

The number 1 element corresponds to the hreflang attributes, these attributes will provide information to the Search Engines which part of your website should be indexed on Google Spain or on Google Germany.

E.g. In the event you target three countries using the same language, let’s say Germany, Switzerland and Austria, your hreflang will probably look like that:

<>; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”de-de
<>; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”de-at
<>; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”de-ch

Sitemaps should also be amended to reflect these elements. You can choose to subdivide your sitemap per language, but a single sitemap can do the job. The choice will depend on your traffic structure.

Do not forget to translate the navigation and interface elements as well as all content related elements such as the title and metadata.

Reviews should be translated and replaced by local reviews as soon as you get enough.

Finally, contact details should be localised. Try to obtain a local phone number, if you cannot, offer at least support in the target language to ensure that your customers are happy.

This is just a brief overview of all the elements that have to be taken into consideration when going multilingual, if you wish to discuss a similar project, do not hesitate to contact us.

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