So you’re ready to take your product or service overseas. Or maybe you need to make a foreign offer relevant in your local market. Localising your language will be critical, but what does that mean and where should you start?

Language localisation adapts a company’s marketing or communications language to speak fluently to audiences from different cultural or dialectal backgrounds. A shrewd localising editor will guide you as to why you should be ‘touching’ rather than ‘knocking on’ wood. Or why your audience might scratch their heads if you mention their ‘gearbox’ even if they know where to find their ‘transmission’.

Why localis/ze language?

Language localisation underpins the success of all multinational businesses. It avoids customers having to stop and think because what you’re saying is vague or foreign, or worse, because you’ve offended them, even if unintentionally.

When editors or others localise copy, they consider:

  • grammar
  • spelling
  • syntax
  • idioms and cultural references
  • tone of voice
  • adoption of local currencies and measurement units
  • use of proper forms for dates, addresses and phone numbers.

By paying attention to all these points, localisation helps you meet audiences on their terms, rather than expecting readers to fight down a path towards you.

Compare the UK and US English slogans for the KitKat chocolate bar. Since the 1950s, the UK English tagline has invited its British and worldwide consumers to ‘have a break, have a KitKat’. However, this invitation might not resonate with American audiences, who would ‘take’ breaks rather than ‘have’ them. As a result, the localised US taglines ‘gimme a break’ and ‘break time, anytime’ were born, becoming very popular in America.

Translation versus localisation

It’s a common belief that language localisation ends at translation. But translation is only one part of localising. A translation converts a written message from a source writer’s language to a target reader’s language, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve connected them with your concept.

Consider the case of a leading global bank that rolled out an un-localised translation of its slogan to overseas markets. It boasted that the business would ‘Do nothing’ rather than ‘Assume nothing’ about its clients’ expectations. The unfortunate wording was a key factor behind the bank spending US$10 million to revise its entire marketing campaign.

Even when translation is not required, localisation often still is. Globalisation and the internet have introduced different cultures to far-reaching shores and influenced their local customs and languages. But like Darwin’s birds, language will always evolve its own characteristics based on their locations, uses and needs.

For instance, below are some common differences between Australian, British and American English.


Australian EnglishBritish EnglishAmerican English
‘-gue’ vs ‘-g’analogue, catalogueanalogue, catalogueanalog, catalog
‘oe’ and ‘ae’ ligatures* vs ‘e’ and ‘a’anaesthetic, archaeology, encyclopedia, fetal, haemophilia, paediatriciananaesthetic, archaeology, encyclopaedia, foetal, haemophilia, paediatriciananesthetic, archeology, encyclopedia, fetal, hemophilia, pediatrician
‘re’ vs ‘er’-metre, calibre, centre, fibre, lustre, ochre, sombre-metre, calibre, centre, fibre, lustre, ochre, sombre-meter, caliber, center, fiber, luster, ocher, somber
Compound verb + noun formsdial tone, draining-board, filing cabinet, skipping-rope, racing car, rowing boat, sailing boatdialling tone, draining board, filing cabinet, skipping rope, racing car, rowing boat, sailing boatdial tone, drain board, file cabinet, skip rope, race car, rowboat, sailboat
Present perfect tenseI have eaten dinner alreadyI have eaten dinner alreadyI ate dinner already
Singular attributivesdrug problem, sports section, mathsdrugs problem, sports section, mathsdrug problem, sport section, math

*Exceptions include aesthetic, antennae, aegis, algae, (proper nouns) Oedipus, Caesar, (loan words) maestro (loan word)

Expressions and idioms

Australian EnglishBritish EnglishAmerican English
up for electionstand for electionrun for office
I’m fineI’m fineI’m good
not onout of orderout of line
perverting the course of justiceperverting the course of justiceobstruction of justice


Australian EnglishBritish EnglishAmerican English
federal electiongeneral electionpresidential election
boilercentral heating boilerfurnace
eskycool boxcooler
real estate agentestate agentrealtor


At Editor Group, we’re always on the lookout to ensure what you say is what you mean. Get in touch to see how our editing and localisation services can help get your message out into the world.

By Damien Choy


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