Translation vs localisation: considering culture


Following on from our post about the importance of language choices for translation and localisation, this post explores the aspects of culture you should consider when you’re looking into a new market and deciding whether your source text needs to be adapted for other markets.

Cultural considerations for translations

When you come to translate your questionnaire into another language, some questions may have to be adapted or omitted so as not to cause offense or render your survey illegal.  For example in France, unlike the UK and USA, it is illegal to ask someone to classify their ethnicity.

It is also important to consider which subjects may be taboo or inappropriate for particular markets. Questions about race, religion or views about subjects such as alcohol, for example, are not always acceptable.

Classic and Modern Arabic languages originate from the Quran – the Muslim holy text – so the vast majority of people in Arabic-speaking countries don’t eat pork or any non-halal meat and avoid alcohol. Questions on these subjects could therefore be inappropriate or offensive for Arabic-speaking countries.

Mode of address

Another source of confusion is the mode of address used. Many countries have specific linguistic rules governing how you speak to people, whether you’re using formal or informal phrasing.

In Germany, for example, the norm is to address people by their title and surname, like Herr Schmidt or Frau Weber, until you are considered friends and invited to address them on a first-name basis.

For other languages there are different ways of asking the same questions, depending on who you’re speaking to. If someone is a stranger, or older than you, a more formal mode address must be used. For countries such as China, a strict formal and respectful tone of address must be adhered to.

Culture club

Your language service provider should be able to advise when you need to localise your survey for the best results. The Language Factory is a translation agency with over 24 years’ knowledge and experience of market research translations and can be trusted to advise objectively on cultural as well as linguistic questions. Our clients certainly agree, regularly giving us a 98% satisfaction rate across the parameters of quality, ability to meet deadlines and customer service. If you require translation services or need any advice about localisation, give us a call on +44 1727 862722 or email us at and we’ll be happy to help.


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