Localization Cost Savings, Part One: Away with Words

Category: Marketing Translation

In Spanish they say, “Lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno.” The good, when brief, is doubly good. Brevity is considered a virtue in most communication circles. In the world of translation, however, brevity is even more: it’s a money saver.

The first thing any localization vendor will tell you about the cost of translation is that it’s a direct function of word count. The more words your document, brochure, program, app or website contains, the higher the cost for translating it. Rather straightforward, right?

Containing your localization budget through reducing word count at the pre-translation stage requires a challenging time investment on your part, as no one can really perform an “audit” of your resources in your stead. To execute this effectively, you need either to distinguish between must-have and nice-to-have content through a complete content review, or pare down all of your source texts across the board through avid and diligent editing. It would definitely be easier to simply send all of your files to your language partner and hope for the best.

Yet when implemented, this phase of content review will ultimately pay off two-fold: it will save you a good sum of money on translation across all target languages, and it will make your end product better, since content that has been reviewed with a global audience in mind can be rendered more accurately.

Here are a few ideas for reducing your content as you go global with your program or product.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

What are some ingenious ways to do away with words in the context of your product? You may have the ability to substitute appropriate imagery, for example. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Take the example of the Apple iPhone OS. English has the wonderful benefit of offering two practical and short words for the settings buttons: on/off. But in most languages, the translation would occupy the whole width of the phone screen and result in what we call TVA: total visual awkwardness. Here is what Apple did to solve that problem:


The use of line and color here convey the functionality of these buttons for Spanish-speaking users. There’s one caveat, however: when you are selecting your icons and graphics, be sure to choose images that are culturally relevant and appropriate for the markets you are entering.

Mumbling is international.

If you are going to new markets with a game, multimedia file or eLearning platform, you may want to consider how to do away with some spoken words as well, as they require expensive studio time. The creators of Little Big Planet, a best-selling PlayStation 3 game, significantly reduced their costs around voice talent recordings by using the “international mumble”. These garbled sounds are universal in that they can be understood to represent dialogue in the majority of cultures. They are “translated” through subtitles and pop up dialogue boxes.


A little English here and there could be acceptable.

If you’re adapting your software program or website for new language markets, you may want to consider leaving the back end or administrative features in English. Programmers around the world use common programming languages and are usually comfortable with basic computer English. It would be ideal, of course, to have this portion of your product localized as well but if you’re on a budget, this is one sure way to save big in both website and software localization.

Similarly, with translation of marketing communications materials, you may find some brand names, slogans, taglines or catch phrases can be left in English in certain contexts. Sandwich-maker Subway, for example, advertises in Germany using the English, “Subway. Eat Fresh” on its billboards. Directions to locations are provided in German, however.

Synonyms are superfluous.

In international SEM, translating or transcreating each source language keyword for PPC ads, SEO and website keyword seeding can prove to be expensive. You can reduce costs by looking at similar keywords and selecting one or two that describe what you’re going for. Ask for your language vendor’s input as to how best to represent these core ideas in the target language For example, instead of translating “fast”, “rapid”, “high-speed” and “quick”, your vendor can come up with the most frequently used equivalent that best conveys these adjectives in each target language.

Photo attribution: Images_of_Money