What is language localization, and which languages are most commonly localized in 2023?

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Logistics company Bigblue had a problem.

While its English website was getting a decent number of visitors from English-speaking countries, the business realized that its website wasn’t adapted for the sizable base of French customers from its home country. And with logistics being a more complex topic, Bigblue wanted to educate its French customers on the relevant issues in their native language to prevent miscommunication.

So what did it do? Bigblue used language localization to make its website available in both English and French – and has since doubled its blog traffic.

Likewise, language localization can also be the solution as your business seeks to better cater to the needs of existing and new markets. If this sounds interesting, then read on as we explore:

  • Exactly what language localization is,
  • Its benefits,
  • The most popular languages for language localization, and
  • Best practices to follow when embarking on a language localization project.

What is language localization, and why does it matter?

In general, localization refers to the process of adapting an offering (such as a product or service) for an audience in a certain geographical region or market. For example, suppose you’ve created a TV ad containing German voiceovers for people in Germany. In that case, you could localize the ad for viewers in Spain by re-recording these voiceovers in Spanish. Alternatively, if you’re a video game developer, then you may want to undertake video game localization before launching the game in different countries by:

  • Translating and modifying the game’s text to insert region-specific idioms or cultural references, and
  • Updating art assets.

In the same vein, language localization involves the adaptation of a product’s language for a particular market. Going back to the ad and video game localization examples above, you’ll see that language localization is involved in both these activities. That’s because they call for the localization of voiceovers and game text respectively – and voiceovers and text both require the use of language.

Language localization is essential for any business that intends to go global and create new revenue streams from international markets. After all, people typically interact with and buy from businesses they can communicate with. Think about it: would you shop from an ecommerce store displayed in a language that’s foreign to you? Unlikely, when it’s so much easier to head to a different shop that uses your native language. Your customers probably feel the same way, regardless of what you sell and your target audience demographics.

How is localization different from translation?

While localization is commonly misunderstood to just mean translation, localization goes beyond that. Here’s a hypothetical situation to illustrate:

You have a website in American English that you want to localize for the Indian market. With Hindi being the most spoken language in India, a pure translation of your website’s contents would have you simply converting its English text into its Hindi equivalent. At the same time, you’d make any necessary adjustments for grammar and spelling.

Even though your website content is now in Hindi instead of English, its context would still be targeted toward an American audience. And although globalization has broken down language and cultural barriers somewhat, your Indian audience might still be left scratching their heads over the use of certain American-specific slang or references.

To ensure that your website text perfectly caters to the needs and preferences of the Indian market, you’ll need to undertake language localization instead. For example, you might:

  • Use local wording for terms – Such as using the Hindi equivalent for “buddy” if you address your readers as such on your website.
  • Insert culture-specific references, expressions, and nuances – As an example, if your website discusses famous Hollywood stars, then look into replacing these with references to well-known Bollywood celebrities.
  • Format your dates differently – While Americans typically write dates in MM-DD-YYYY format, Indians prefer using the DD-MM-YYYY format instead.
  • Rewrite your website privacy policy – For compliance with Indian privacy laws and regulations as you do business in India.

Benefits of language localization

As seen from our discussion so far, language localization definitely involves more work than doing, say, a straightforward translation – or even not doing any form of adaptation at all. But there are benefits to be reaped from this endeavor, such as:

  • Increasing the accessibility of your brand among a global audience: With language localization, you can more effectively communicate with customers in situations where language may otherwise be an obstacle.
  • Expanding your customer base: When people can understand what you offer and how it benefits them, then they’re more likely to convert and become customers.
  • Greater customer goodwill: Because customers can better identify with and relate to your brand.
  • A more superior customer experience: This is especially if you localize not just your website, but also all other touchpoints from which customers interact with your brand. Such touchpoints include your social media marketing campaigns, product manuals, multimedia presentations, and customer support channels.

And what are the end results of all these? More interest in your products and services, more sales, and ultimately more revenue for your business!

Which are the most popular languages for localization?

According to language intelligence research center Ethnologue, over 7,150 languages are spoken in the world today. That’s a lot of languages for sure, but don’t worry – you don’t have to localize your text for every single language in existence.

The languages that have been designated as countries’ official languages, and/or that have enough users to make localization efforts worthwhile, are much smaller in number. As Ethnologue shares, more than half the world’s population speak just 23 different languages, including Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia, and Japanese.

Translation-wise, we’ve found that our Weglot language localization tool most frequently translates website text into these languages:

  • English (32%)
  • Spanish (12%)
  • French (11%)
  • German (7%)
  • Arabic (5%)

What makes these languages more popular as target languages for website translation and localization? There are various possible factors:

  • The popularity of the language: For instance, there are over 400 million native English speakers worldwide, according to Lingoda. English is also a top language of business globally, and the official language of 67 countries and major institutions such as the European Union.
  • The buying capacity of the language’s speakers: The average net annual income per capita in Spain – whose official language is Spanish – has been on an uptrend since 2014, as reported by Statista. And higher incomes lead to higher purchasing power, which is great news for businesses plying their trade in the country.
  • The changing technological landscape: The COVID-19 pandemic has had long-lasting impacts on the way consumers obtain goods and services. In particular, they’re more comfortable shopping online – and this is no different in the Middle East. As PwC shares, consumers in the Middle East are now doing more online and mobile shopping. This presents a huge opportunity for businesses vying for a slice of the Middle Eastern market, even if they may not have a physical presence there. And what is a key language in the Middle East? Arabic.

Best practices for website language localization

We’ve already discussed the need to incorporate cultural references and language nuances into your text during the localization process. So apart from that, here are more best practices for seamless website language localization:

  • Use translation software to do a first pass of translation: Manually translating your text in its entirety is not only time-consuming but can also leave a lot of room for translation errors. Translation software such as Weglot will use machine translation to automate the translation workflow, instantly translating large volumes of text with high accuracy. You or your professional language service provider can then fine-tune key portions of translations with full editing control, including the insertion of country-specific jargon and nuances, to ensure their suitability for your target market.
  • Add hreflang language codes to your website: These language codes signal to search engines what language your web pages are in, so that the search engine can rank the right language versions of your web pages for searchers from different countries. As a result, searchers will be directed to the language version of your web pages you’ve localized specially for their consumption.
  • Install a language switcher on your website: Apart from automatically directing searchers to certain language versions of your website, install a language switcher that allows visitors to choose their preferred language for browsing your website in. This is particularly useful in multilingual countries such as Canada, where French and English are both frequently spoken.

There’s more to language localization than just the words on your website. Next steps? How does it impact the design of your site… Read our guide on multi-language design tips.

Localize your website languages with Weglot

Language localization isn’t something you do once and then leave on complete autopilot. Once you’ve localized your website’s languages, track the business’s performance in your target markets according to key metrics such as revenue earned. If the numbers start to slip, or if new cultural trends start to emerge, then you’ll know it’s time to revisit your localized text and make any necessary modifications.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. If you’re completely new to language localization, then you’ll need to get started with it in the first place! And for localizing website text, we highly recommend our Weglot localization solution. It integrates effortlessly with all leading website platforms, including WordPress, Shopify, and Webflow, and uses a proprietary mix of machine learning translations to produce high-quality website text translations.

All these translations are centrally stored in a cloud-based dashboard for easy access and management from any location or device. For quality assurance purposes, you can also tap on Weglot’s team collaboration features to bring in native speakers, and proofreading or localization service providers, and refine your translations for cultural fit.

Through all this, you stand to improve the local user experience, perception of your brand, and ultimately sales volumes. Weglot is built to scale along with your business too, making it the perfect internationalization partner for your move to the global markets. Check out our extensive range of case studies to learn how other businesses like yours use Weglot to expand their international presence.

And once you’re ready, click here to start using Weglot for your language localization project.

In this article we’re going to look into:

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