More on ISO Codes

Category: Technology

In this post, we’re getting in the time machine and going back to a post from — can you believe it? — two years ago, on International Organization for Standardization (known as ISO) and language codes. While Russell Brand and Katy Perry’s marriage has come and gone since then, language codes are still still very much around, so let’s delve a bit deeper now and look at the codes and the “flavors” of a language.

When you start thinking about going international, our Localization Geek Jon Ritzdorf, always advises businesses to ask, “who is my target global user?” Are you targeting a region, a specific country or countries, or a language group?

Depending on your go-to-market strategy, you may find yourself targeting several countries in Western Europe, such as:

Country Language ISO Language Code
Spain Spanish ES
Portugal Portuguese PT
France French FR
Germany German DE
Netherlands Dutch NL
United Kingdom* UK English EN

*Yes, you’ll want to localize for the UK (as noted in our recent newsletter article) if your original, source language is American English!

Then, your sales director decides that Latin America is the perfect market for your product and requests localization for Brazil and Argentina. You think, “I already have Portuguese and Spanish covered — I am such a rock star!” Sorry, Mick Jagger, but it’s not that easy. If you truly want your target market in each country to have a locale-specific experience, in their local language, then you’ll have to translate into the local, country-specific language, or “flavor” of the language. Just as with UK and American English, there are different words, metaphors, sayings, and even tone of how businesses talk to their customers. Here are a few examples of the differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese:

English Brazilian Portuguese European Portuguese
Candy Bala Rebuçado Bala in Portugal is a bullet.
Line (as in get in line) Fila Bicha Bicha in Brazil is slang for gay.
Cell-phone Celular Telemóvel Celular in Portugal refers to a cell.
Getting a cold Ficar resfriado Ficar constipado Constipado in Brazil refers to being constipated.
Suit Terno Fato Fato in Brazil means fact.
Juice (fruit) Suco Sumo Suco in Portugal refers to the sap of a tree.
TV screen Tela Écran Tela in Portugal is a canvas.
Leave me alone Vai plantar batatas Desampara-me a loja

To help distinguish the “flavor” or regional preference of a language, you may see other letters appended to the ISO codes when working on your localization project with an internal team or a localization company.

Now, the language grid would look like this (the first abbreviations being the “flavor”, the second abbreviation being the ISO language code):

Country Language “Flavor” & ISO Language Code
Spain European Spanish EU_ES
Portugal European Portuguese EU_PT
France French EU_FR
Germany German DE
Netherlands Dutch NL
United Kingdom UK English UK_EN
Brazil Brazilian Portuguese BR_PT
Argentina Argentine Spanish AR_ES

If your budget or timing restricts you from localizing for each language flavor, there are options for “universal Spanish” or “Latin American Spanish” (if you’re targeting a Latin American Spanish-speaking region). Note that not all languages can be universal or grouped together; Chinese isn’t necessarily interchangeable depending on your target market. How specific you get with each language depends on many factors. Your localization agency can help guide you through this process.