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5 reasons why you need to localise your UX writing

SwissGlobal, your expert for localisation
The difference between translation and localization is context.
Mette Thomsen, Language Specialist

One of the most important things to consider when it comes to user experience is the idea that different people use and interact with technology in different ways.

That’s why smart companies invest in UX writing. Even smarter ones make an effort to localise their UX writing.

As with all digital mediums, localisation is key for successful communication across borders! Your target audience wants to receive information in a language they can understand and identify with.

And by language, we mean far more than just words.

Here’s 5 reasons why you should localise your UX writing.

1. English as a Lingua Franca – yes, but…

English is the Lingua Franca of the world – meaning, it is the language spoken by the most people globally. Around 1.5 billion people speak English today, either natively or as an additional language. Moreover, English is the universal language of business and commerce.

Here’s the but…

English won’t be sufficient for your digital medium if your target audience speaks a different language. There’s tons of research that shows how consumers, or “users” as we call them in the online-space, want to have access to digital media in their native language. Think anything from casually browsing websites, taking online courses or purchasing products in e-commerce shops.

Whilst your target audience may be able to understand your content in English, they’re less likely to interact with it or buy your product or service.

But the job isn’t done with a translation. Just have a look at how many different versions of the word “popcorn” there are in the Spanish language. Localisation will make all the difference here to really get through to your target audience in a specific country or region.

Picture from Motionpoint.com

2. Text length – short and sweet is the way to go

So you want to localise your UX writing into other languages? Great, but one of the key things to consider is the length of words in relation to the space available for each piece of text. UX writing is sometimes put on par with the term “Microcopy” because it refers to the various types of small text snippets used on websites or apps. Some examples of such UX elements are texts for buttons, error messages, sign-up forms or confirmation messages.

They all have in common that space is always limited. It’s partly why UX writing should always be clear, concise, and useful. Easier said than done when translation is involved!

Particularly when translating from English into other languages, texts tend to be longer in the target language:

EnglishAn Englisch text usually becomes longer when translated into other languages.
GermanEin englischer Text wird in der Regel länger, wenn er in andere Sprachen übersetzt wird.
PortugueseUm texto em inglês torna-se geralmente mais longo quando traduzido para outras línguas.
Russian Текст на английском языке обычно становится длиннее при переводе на другие языки.
GreekΈνα κείμενο στα αγγλικά γίνεται συνήθως μακρύτερο όταν μεταφράζεται σε άλλες γλώσσες.

3. Fonts and formatting

Unless you’re a UX writer, you may not pay much attention when it comes to fonts and formatting.

Your choice of font conveys a certain image. It should complement the tone and voice of your brand. If your brand is classic and elegant, you probably don’t want to choose a font that looks bold or quirky.

How you format your text essentially determines how easy it is for the eye to read the text. The use of spacing, line length and height, whether you use numbered or bulleted lists: All of these factors come into play when it comes to good readability.

And remember: Not all eyes read texts the same way! Some eyes can’t read small fonts. Some eyes read languages from left to right and others from right to left.

Here’s a few things to be considerate of when deciding on a suitable font and format:

  • Capitalization
  • Dates & numbers
  • Acronyms & abbreviations
  • Italics & bolding
  • Links
  • Lists
  • URLs

Think about how these features will look like in other languages and choose fonts and formats that look good universally across all your different languages.

4. Slang, jargon and idioms

Using slang, jargon and idioms is generally a bad idea in UX writing. There could always be people, even within your target audience, that may have difficulties understanding them. The same goes for humour.

Now add in translations into different languages and the chaos is complete!

Your wording should be in plain and simple language. Use language that a 12-year-old could easily understand.

This will also make things easier when it comes to localising content into other languages.

5. Use inclusive language

Admittedly, this one should be common practise in all forms of writing by now. The fact that we still have to speak and write about inclusive language and design shows that we still have work to do.

Pronouns are a particularly tricky subject. Contrary to what you might think, pronouns don’t just define a person’s gender. They can also indicate:

  • The number of people you address
  • The level of formality (such as the Spanish “tú” if you know a person well and “usted” if you don’t know the person or have to address them politely)
  • Who is included (eg. Vietnamese uses a pronoun for “we” when you mean you and the person you’re talking to (inclusive), and a different version of “we” when you mean you and someone else who isn’t the person you’re talking to (exclusive).
  • Traits of people and things (eg. Swahili uses different pronouns for animals and humans. They also have pronouns for things that are expansive such as lakes or the sky)

Our advice? Just avoid pronouns all together. Good UX writing does not need them to get a message across. This way, the person localising your texts has one less problem to worry about.

Need help with localising your content for a different market? Get in touch with SwissGlobal now to get a personalised consultation for UX writing or localisation services.