Translation Style Isn't Unique, And That's A Good Thing!

Language Style

Fast-growing rising stars are innovators and, as such, they rarely take the exact same path to global markets. But that doesn't mean every global company needs to innovate its own unique translation style, tone, and voice.

It's almost never worth the time and budget investment to create terminology and style from scratch — especially since pioneering tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google have made their standards available to the public.

Each of these companies seeks to influence the way existing and developing markets think about — and talk about — foundational concepts that pertain to their offerings. Getting the market to accept their terminology is one way these big name tech companies measure their global success. As a result, each company is more than happy to put its own key localization tools — including terminology database content and style guides — in the hands of rising stars seeking to accelerate their time to market, reduce costs, and use words and concepts that are familiar to their target markets.

Microsoft Leads the Way

There’s plenty to learn and take from the language resources made available by Microsoft. The company has localized its products into more than 100 languages. With those kinds of demands, there is a clear need for standardization.

Recognizing the role of terminology in winning market dominance, Microsoft open-sourced its glossaries and style guides very early on, and the technology sector has definitely embraced their terminology.

Microsoft Language Portal

Lessons Learned

My colleagues Katerina Gasova and Libor Safar along with Alfred Hellstern of Microsoft wrote an in-depth report on Microsoft’s approach to this for Central and Eastern European languages. I hope you take the time to download the complete article from MultiLingual Magazine, but here are some key points to consider:

  1. Much like the major technological developments that proceeded them, smartphones are a driving force in terminology change, especially in the push toward informal language. One of our clients put it this way: “Your smartphone is not a ‘device’ anymore, it’s become your best friend. After all, who else do you take to the bathroom with you?”

  2. English loan words are sometimes more recognizable to consumers than the official native terms for the same.

  3. In a nod to both of the above, Microsoft made a major break with its old language “voice” to roll out a more modern, colloquial style for Windows Phone and its desktop products. Take a look at the word cloud image, taken from the article mentioned above.
    Word_CloudIt shows the result of focus groups organized by Microsoft, in which the participants were asked to
    write down one word describing the application today and one word describing it as it should be in the future. Office users wanted Office applications to be more approachable and helpful, which Microsoft has reflected in the new voice and tone.

  4. Culture and context still matter to the user-first paradigm. As our friends at Common Sense Advisory remind us, “if they can’t read, they won’t buy.” Yes, you want to keep your language choices dynamic, fresh, and relevant to contemporary speech. But it is far more important that your products specifically speak the languages of your customers in their markets, respecting their culture and its requirements.

Other Resources

Microsoft is not alone in creating and distributing language resources to developers. If you’re developing apps for the Apple App Store, you will want to look at the very good and valuable information available on the Apple developer site, because it also maintains standard terminology resources. The same goes for Google and others. If your offerings don't align directly with one of these organizations, then you should plan to spend some time evaluating the scope and style of the various resources to help narrow down which ones to use as a starting point.

Internationalization_and_Localization_-_Apple_DeveloperWith the variety of resources available, there's really no need to waste time at the start of your project by reinventing the wheel in terminology translations. As they say in sales, “make yourself equal before you make yourself different.” Localization best practices dictate that you understand who is the target of your products, uncover the language and style you want to use to address them, and then first turn to the resources that are available to you in meeting those needs before trying to go it alone. (Looking for more localization best practices for entrepreneurial companies? Check out Michael Stevens' recent post describing localization success factors for rising stars.)


Have you incorporated linguistic resources from Microsoft or other leading companies? Did the experience help accelerate your localization efforts or reduce costs? Did you customize the translations to make the voice "your own?"

From Good to Great: How to Beef Up Your Localization Program