Author: Sarah Mitchell

Sarah Mitchell is the founder of Typeset, a specialist editorial services, content marketing, and journalism company with offices in Perth, Western Australia, London, UK, and Kansas City, USA. Sarah is on a mission to make the world a better place for readers everywhere and frequently speaks on topics related to content marketing and Typeset's State of Writing research. Follow her on Twitter @SarahMitchellOz.

By sarah-mitchell published March 9, 2011

Lost in Translation? An 11-Step Checklist for Localizing Content

We’ve all had a giggle over a bad translation. Examples of unintentionally funny gaffes on assembly instructions and product descriptions abound on the Internet. But it’s not funny when it happens to you.

What can you do?

As the old saying goes, the devil is in the detail. With that in mind, here is the checklist I use when localizing content. Make sure each of these points is checked off your list before you launch content in a different country or geography.


American standard paper is 8 ½ x 11 inches. The rest of the world operates on an A4 paper size, 21 x 29.7 cm or, roughly, 8 ¼ x 11 ¾ inches. It’s a small difference with a huge impact. American-sized documents do not easily fit into envelopes or binders in other countries. Your documents must be resized – and possibly redesigned – to ensure they print properly in your foreign market.

Hole punches

America uses a standard 3-hole punch. Most other countries use a 2-hole punch and are not aligned with the American standard. If you’re providing content to be inserted into a binder, make sure you’re punching the holes in the right place.


Many words are spelled differently in the United States than in other English speaking countries. While American audiences tend to find these differences charming, foreign audiences bristle at the “arrogance” of not taking spelling into consideration. You must go through your content with an editorial eagle-eye to find these differences. Set your spell checker to the language and country where you plan on publishing and make the changes required.

Spelling traps include:

  • Words ending in ‘or’, e.g.  color versus colour
  • words ending in ‘ize’, e.g. optimize versus optimise
  • Medical terms, e.g. pediatrician versus paediatrician
  • Botany/gardening terms, e.g.  cilantro versus coriander
  • Food terms, e.g. zucchini versus courgette


Running afoul of local slang and colloquialisms can be embarrassing. I discovered this firsthand when I announced to a group of my British male colleagues that I was feeling particularly ‘spunky.’ I meant full of energy; they interpreted it as having a heightened libido.  I was horrified when a mature gentleman asked to borrow a rubber; he wanted an eraser. In South Africa, I couldn’t find a ‘robot’ and got lost on my first day of work. I had no idea I was looking for a traffic light. You get the picture.

Abbreviations and titles

If you’ve ever read a foreign newspaper, you know how frustrating it can be to encounter abbreviations or titles you don’t understand. Government,  law enforcement, medicine and the legal profession use different titles for the same job in different countries. For example, attorney, lawyer, barrister, judge and solicitor all refer to professionals employed in a court of law. Do your readers in every country know what people hold jobs with MP, DC, GP or DO abbreviations in their title?

Units of measure

While most of the world comfortably operates on the metric system, the USA is still using the old Imperial system for weight, measurement and temperature. Your documents will be meaningless to people who don’t how long a yard is, what 80 degrees Fahrenheit feels like, or how much 45 pounds weigh.  Use an online metric conversion program to make life easier for your readers.


If you’re publishing recipes, cookbooks or anything to do with food preparation, you’re going to want to spend some time localizing your content. America – and to a lesser extent Britain – still uses Imperial measurements while nearly everyone else is on the metric system. A good online cooking converter will help you convert ingredients, temperatures, weights and volumes. Keep in mind the way food products are packaged can trip you up, too. Asking for a ‘stick of butter’ is sure to confuse anyone outside the USA. A fluid pint varies in volume from country to country. A punnet is common in Australia but unknown in the USA (it’s a small basket often used when selling fruits).

Number formats

A dead give-away your content hasn’t been localized is if your telephone numbers reflect the American standard of (123) 456-7890. In Australia, we have 2-digit area codes and 8-digit phone numbers and note them like this (01) 2345 6789. Our postal codes are 4-digits long. Make sure your documents are changed to reflect these differences. It’s  important to make sure your online forms can handle different formats for critical numbers. I’ve given up ordering online more than once because an American website insists on a 5-digit zip code and won’t let me complete an order.


While business is pretty good at getting their pricing translated into foreign currency, they often fall down when expressing the value of things. Dollars and cents have no meaning in many parts of the world. Even more confusing, many people have no point of reference for a quarter, dime or nickel. I wish I had a quarter for every time someone asked me how much a dime or a nickel was worth!

Fiscal Years

The financial calendar varies widely from country to country as do tax years. If your content deals with finances, make sure you’re not confusing things by referring to the wrong business calendar. This is especially important if you’re running year-end sales or promotions.  Don’t expect your local market to share your fiscal year or tax year.


Americans love accents but the world does not reciprocate the feeling. If you’re producing videos or podcasts for foreign markets, hire a voice-over specialist with a native accent even if it’s the same language you speak. Your audience will appreciate the consideration. More importantly, they’ll be able to easily understand the point you’re trying to get across. You want them focused on your content, not the way the narrator is speaking.

A couple of notes on translation

If you’re distributing your content into a foreign-language market, get a native-speaking translator. Don’t rely on free Internet translation services: they give literal translations but don’t consider the way people actually speak. I once heard the late founder of the Body Shop, Anita Roddick, speak about a debacle with a major rollout of a ‘mother and baby’ line of products. The South American translation, performed in the U.K., offended everyone when the product names took on a profane slur against motherhood.

If your plan is to publish only in countries using the same speaking language, you still need to employ local services to ‘translate’ your content. Spanish speaking countries vary greatly in their usage of the language. China has several different dialects. People from Brazil have a tough time understanding people from Portugal even though they all speak Portuguese. The worst language offences occur in English-speaking countries where spelling differences, slang and colloquialisms can render your content useless. At the very least, it shows a lack of consideration for your potential clients.

For an example of my latest localization project, read the Australian edition of Chief Content Officer.

Do you have a good story about localization or any points to add to this checklist?

By sarah-mitchell published March 2, 2011

Produce Local, Distribute Global: 3 Keys to Your Content Marketing Localization Plan

Localization is a topic frequently on my mind. As the Australian editor of the Chief Content Officer (CCO) magazine I’ve been part of a team working on the inaugural issue.  It’s been an eye-opening experience for a bunch of seasoned content professionals.

The Australian and European versions of CCO are now available! Read them online and subscribe to future issues!Continue Reading

By sarah-mitchell published October 25, 2010

7 Ways to Get More Value From Your eNewsletter

Email marketing is one of the most popular and effective ways for businesses to share their content and connect with customers. Besides being relatively easy, eNewsletters provide good analytics along with a low-cost way to help you manage customer engagement. Your subscriber list is a goldmine for your business – the bigger the list, the more potential to achieve desired results.

What’s more, marketers rate eNewsletters as one of the more effective content marketing tactics.Continue Reading

By sarah-mitchell published September 23, 2010

How to Make the Case for Design in Content Marketing

What is the biggest problem you face in your content marketing strategy? In the B2B Content Marketing: 2010 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends study published last week, 66% of respondents identified a challenge with the production of the content. Split between three areas, content marketers admitted to being worried about:

  • Producing engaging content – 36%
  • Producing enough content – 21%
  • Producing a variety of content – 9%

Who can’t identify with these concerns? What surprised me is that my biggest challenge wasn’t even mentioned in the study, and it’s a problem shared by all of us. People aren’t reading. Continue Reading

By sarah-mitchell published August 17, 2010

What Content Marketers Can Learn from an Australian Non-Profit

One of the hallmarks of a good content marketing campaign is that it’s designed to pull the customer in. Developing content that will engage your prospective customers isn’t always easy. Getting your audience to take action on your behalf is even harder – a seemingly impossible task. The aged care industry in Australia found a good solution to do both at the same time.Continue Reading

By sarah-mitchell published July 5, 2010

Get Inspired: How a Clever Design of an Email Banner Can Improve Content

As most content marketers know, great content is more than compelling words. You want your readers to want to read your content, which makes design a critical part of any website, email or stand-alone piece.

While this is something you may understand and agree with in theory, it can be difficult to execute in practice when you don’t have the time or budget to spend on design for every piece. Here’s a quick story of how one company, the Australia-based Clayko Group, invested in one design that could be customized across all of their emails to make their content tie together and to make it more likely to be read. Continue Reading

By sarah-mitchell published June 24, 2010

5 Essential Elements to a Great Newsletter

Editor’s note: For more newsletter insights and advice, check out our updated post, 15 Goals, Tips, Examples, and Lessons for E-Newsletter Perfection.

How many newsletters arrive in your inbox every week? How many more land in your mailbox? How many of them do you actually read? Research conducted by Junta42 points to the widespread usage of eNewsletters (63%) and print newsletters (16%) in content marketing strategies. To achieve maximum benefit with your newsletter, make sure it contains the following elements.Continue Reading

By sarah-mitchell published May 28, 2010

How One Small Habit for Content Marketers Can Make a Big Difference

We’ve all heard the expression, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, right? It’s strategic advice reminding us not to get diverted by inconsequential activity. The great thing about content marketing is, sometimes, the small things can produce big results.

A large part of marketing includes reading and keeping abreast of current trends and industry experts. How often do you leave comments on the blog posts or discussion forums you’re reading? You may not realize it, but this simple action can produce appreciable benefit to you and your company.Continue Reading