A 3-Week Journey into Localisation

October 6, 2015

Week 2: Cultural References


Welcome back! For those of you who missed the first part of the blog, you can find it here.

Last week, I finished my article asking how you would say "food sleeve" in Spanish. 

We do not have a definitive answer, but thank you for your feedback and support. Leaving behind the localisation of the recycling flyer, we will now deal with a contract.


In the Court 


Do not panic! It is only a sentence in a tenancy agreement: “The Tenant agrees to pay all charges and bills including…television license.”


The reader needs to know what “television license” is in order to make sense of the clause. Even though this term is lexicalized in the Spanish language, this fee in unfamiliar in the target country; the rendition canon televisivo obligatorio would make explicit the meaning of this term.


Once again, we need to examine cultural elements carefully, so we do not get on the keyboard to typewrite something like “impuesto televisivo”, because it does not exist in Spain for now… Cross your fingers though!


In the Cinema


Localising the script of a film for the Spanish audience, I came across the following sentence:


Original: “Give me a shot of the local hooch

Spanish: "Dame un chupito de licor de la casa".

Back Translation: Give me a shot of the house liquor.


The term “hooch” used to be popular slang for liquor in America. During 1920's Prohibition, it became common parlance for any illegal liquor and the term still has a connotation of an illicit or at least cheap, distilled spirit.


Therefore, hooch is a culture-specific item that is untranslatable. I opted for the term “chupito de licor de la casa”, taking away any vestige of American culture. I could have opted for “licor de hierbas” or “licor de orujo”, but I would have limited my translation  to a certain area of Spain.


In the English School


The last example that I would like to share comes from my time working in an English school. I was asked to translate a brochure to promote this school in South America during the month of April.


However, that was not a good idea. Why?


The commissioner ignored that January is the most popular time of the year for students from South America to start courses in the UK, coinciding with the end of the university semester there. I think that the commissioner was thinking, “Summer time is coming”, but it was not coming. It was wintertime in South America!


In addition, the brochure was promoting a three-week intensive English course. The fact that students from Mexico or Colombia usually spend between 3 and 6 months in English courses, was the second ingredient for the failure of the planned campaign.


How did I localise the brochure? I informed the commissioner that it was not a great idea to localise the brochure.


If you are assigned a translation, and you spot an important cultural difference, inform your client. This will help to create a long-term relationship with the company that will pay off in the long term.


I hope you know now what localisation is and how to localise, being aware that cultural differences often appear.


Your homework?

I would love to hear some of the cultural differences you have encountered when localising or translating from English to Spanish.


Next week, I will answer to the following question: Why do you need to localise colours?


I will keep my posts coming on a weekly basis but you can always subscribe via the form at the bottom of this page if you do not want to miss anything.


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