Common Mistakes In Foreign Language Localization

Common Mistakes In Foreign Language Localization
Summary: Let us have a look at the most common mistakes in foreign language localization and how to fix them.

Foreign Language Localization: Localizing English Projects To Foreign Languages For eLearning Companies

Adelphi has worked for companies from all over the world localizing their print materials, creating subtitles and dynamic on-screen text for video, as well as recording and publishing voiceovers for their eLearning content.

Foreign language localization can often present a learning curve for companies. Often, we find that when producing the initial eLearning material, companies are not aware that their work will be localized further down the line, and even if they are, they do not necessarily know how to adapt their work to make the process easier. Below are some examples of the most frequent mistakes we encounter.

Printed Materials

1. Text Expansion.

Some designs fill the page with text, leaving no room for text expansion. Most languages (with some notable exceptions) run longer than English and some of them run much longer. This causes the localized versions to have to make some sort of compromise: Either text becomes smaller, a condensed font is used, or some material is completely cut out for brevity. Neither scenario is ideal, so it is much better to consider this aspect of the task at the design stage.

2. Formatting.

Overuse of text formatting features like colored text, bold text, and italic text etc. can slow down the localization process, as the formatting needs to be applied to the precise word or phrase in translation that is equivalent to the English. Sometimes, this does not work at all if the target language has a dramatically different word order.

3. Embedded Text.

Embedded, non-editable text in images require extra attention, and can slow things down dramatically, especially when covering the main part of the image. Where possible, the text should be made available for editing in InDesign. If not, all of the PSD files will be required.

4. Word Clouds.

Avoid designing paragraphs or “word clouds” with mixed font sizes that look good in English, but have no chance of being replicated in the target language: Quite often they do not have the same impact when localized and can often be “lost in translation”. Furthermore, due to word order difference, key words in English at the beginning of a sentence might end up in the middle or at the end of the sentence when translated.

5. Style Sheets.

One of the most frequent issues encountered is incorrect and inconsistent usage of style sheets, in particular where one style has been edited but some instances of bold text, italics, or even different fonts have been changed manually. This can cause the most significant delays of all, and is the biggest source of small typos encountered during internal QA.

6. Jumping The Gun.

Sending the artwork to be typeset before it is signed off by the client is never a good idea, and neither are new design changes after work has commenced. Where significant changes are requested mid-project the only option is to begin the project again incurring further costs to the client.

7. Right To Left.

Arabic or other right-to-left languages require that documents have their alignment flipped. This takes longer the more complicated the design is.


1. Text Expansion (Again!).

The most usual problem found when subtitling a video or slides is that the original film has been edited precisely to match the English. This causes the same problem of text expansion as explained above. The resulting text either does not fit the same time slot or is too long to be read at a comfortable pace. This can be tweaked for better timings, but it is always better to take expansion of text due to translation into account and add more pauses in the original work.

2. Graphic Placement.

Another common issue particularly in animated or explanatory videos is that important graphics are placed in the area where subtitles would normally be run (mid-bottom region of the screen), so they end up being obscured. This can be worked around by scaling down the video and placing a border where the subtitles are added.


1. Text Expansion (Again!).

As with subtitling and printed material text expansion is a problem. It causes timing errors where no allowance has been made for longer languages. If the voiceover is then synced to the videothe timeslots given are insufficient as they stem from the timing of the English. Therefore, where possible, it is best to add a few seconds of space before and after each portion of script. This allows our voice artists to be able to deliver their lines as faithfully to the original as possible without being rushed to fit into a specific time slot. It's best to ask in advance.

2. Backing Music. 

Another common issue is the backing music or score to a video. Sometimes clients like to turn down the volume during speech and then turn it back up afterwards. The sound mixer will lower the volume of the music when someone on-screen is talking. This is a great dynamic effect for the original version, but for voiceover it can cause problems: The artist may need to rush the delivery of each line in order to finish it before the volume on the original video turns back up. If your video has this feature, then it can be replicated in the localized version, but the background music should be provided on its own with no volume tweaks, so that it can be adjusted.

To Translate Or Not to Translate

Names And Logos. 

In many cases, company names, product names etc. remain in English, but sometimes these terms have already been localized into the language required, or have an agreed foreign pronunciation for voiceovers. Agencies need to be told about these. If you have had material translated before, no matter what it is, it may help to get the translation just right.

Final Word

In short, no matter what your eLearning project is, if it is going to be localized into foreign languages communication is key to saving time, money, and getting quality localization.