Fired Ducks and Other Assorted Localization Fails

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Cliches makes for wonderful illustrations of cultural and linguistic pitfalls. If you read this blog, then the business of localization is something you are likely familiar with. There is often less attention to detail in localization than there should, that is one of the learnings. Professionals as well as customers and business partners will judge you on it. I found an interesting example that I wanted to share.

I had Asian food for lunch the other week, and as is the cliche, the menus in the restaurant had bad and inconsistent translations. My colleagues and I were wondering if that was on purpose. Do customers expect it (part of the charming effect of enjoying Asian food - probably not) or why is it, that nobody double-checked the text before printing? Most menus probably have little text, a friend would likely perform that task for free. “Fired Duck” [sic] - that is what I almost ordered - sounded intriguing, but this unnecessary misspelling recurring several times, intermixed with the correct “Fried Duck”, was a sad lack of professionalism (arguably not as bad as this one) on part of the restaurant owner, at least I think.

How about banks? They can afford quality assurance, correct? A friend told me during that same lunch, that on an ATM in Brussels, they mis-localized the German buttons, so instead of “abheben” (to withdraw) it said “abnehmen” (to lose weight). Close, but no cigar. Nobody conducted any quality testing before putting those machines on the street, it seems. How can that happen?

Two things are at play here, that apply to both the restaurant as well as the bank. One, there is often surprisingly little quality assurance in businesses with high customer proximity. Two, there is a certain ambivalence towards really correct foreign language in some professional communication. It’s just not a priority sometimes. Oddly, that is even though improvement comes at little extra effort. The pitfalls from my examples can be mitigated easily, in order to improve customer experience and business success to a great extent.

The technology is here to do away with the conception that localization has to be some kind of tedious process. If you develop an app (and an ATM user interface is very similar to that of a cell phone app if you consider), the entire localization process can be smoothly integrated into the development workflow - lingohub takes the headache out of that one for you. In terms of awareness and culture, it is important that professionals speak out and for business leaders to recognize the value of speaking the customer’s language. Be Global, Go Local!