Wednesday 23 September 2020

Language mythologies: variation is the norm

Wouldn't it be easier if we all spoke the same language?

No need for expensive translators or interpreters. No need to waste money and time on crossing linguistic barriers. After all, with a single, unique language, we would understand each other better. 

Maybe there was a time in history when everyone spoke the same language.
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
— Genesis 11:1
Who knows, maybe our efforts to learn languages aim to reconstruct precisely this blissed state of the past. A time period when everyone was understood by everyone without the need of an intermediary. 


Variation is part of the human condition. In fact, being human means to be variant, self-contradictory and complex to understand. It easier for scientists to idealise and speak about an universal grammar, ideal native speakers, pure linguistic communities and native speaker intuition. 

We need to focus on the fact that such idealisation is practical for theoretical linguists in order to break up the linguistic system and study it more effectively. However, bear in mind that this has nothing to do with the individual linguistic performances of specific individuals that belong to a certain linguistic community.

After all, even if there was a single language from which all other languages stemmed from, each speaker used it in their own, individual way. This is the complex linguistic reality of being human.


The moment we accept the complex linguistic realities of everyday life, it's easier to make decisions. We can see that there is no ideal native speaker. No ideal grammar book. 

Besides, we see clearly that no native person can be an ideal language teacher or translator. 

Indeed, there has to be a formal education to become either a language teacher or a translator. Sometimes, even a native person can use grammar in an incorrect way while it's possible for a trained non-native individual to speak and write in a grammatically coherent way.


Again, we must accept that variation is the norm. 

Even in the same person, there can be times when their linguistic performance is low or high, according to certain circumstances. 

Besides, there is always room for improvement, when one has a growth mindset. Even a native speaker can improve their linguistic skills, even their accent. There is no clear-cut line that separates native speakers from non-native speakers.

So, if you work with language, make sure that:

  • You maintain a high level of knowledge regarding language
  • You check everything, even if it sounds okay to you as a native speaker
  • You are aware of the variations within the same linguistic system

Variety is part of human nature. Once we embrace this notion, everything starts to make sense.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Translation vs. localisation: how to boost your brand in another language

When it comes to online content, I always notice cross-cultural differences, especially when there is a marked difference with Greece. I am a translator, after all.

The good news is that these local differences can be explored to boost a brand.

How can this be done?

With localisation.


What is localisation? Well, localisation is just like translation, but at the same time, it is much more than that. When it is done right, it looks as if the brand was specifically created for a certain market. 

In localisation, every word is important as it determines whether the brand fits the local narrative or not. And this is crucial for success.

A localised website can help a brand find its place in the local narrative.

Some cultures prefer more detail-oriented product descriptions. Even in a website that sells toys for children, they want to see facts and figures. For them, an informed decision is what matters most.

However, I cannot imagine a Greek commercial website that sells toys mentioning facts and figures. Traditional countries like Greece prefer to see the social and cultural values behind a product or service.

For the example above, I would expect that the Greek website would mention that the toy can be given as a gift. In our culture, it is customary to exchange gifts on many occasions. Greek children receive gifts all the time: on their name days, on their birthdays, on Easter, on New Year’s Day. We do shower children with gifts.

Another example is the content that refers to recipes and food. Many Greek recipes underline the fact that this is something that children will like and thus eat voluntarily (as child nutrition is very important in our culture). Numerous milk ads feature children hopping up and down, impatient to drink up their glasses of milk, filled up to the brim.


We cannot say that some strategies are more authentic than others. Each is authentic for its respected audience. That is why websites and online content should be localised, not just translated. Not written from scratch, but not just translated either.

Localisation begins in the target text but it is not chained to it. If something is not working in the target culture, localisation simply throws that out of the window and tries to find an alternative way to make it work in the target culture.

For example, Befana can become St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, or Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great.

Beware: this works only in the context of website commercial translations. If you are translating a novel, Befana will have to stay Befana.

Local culture, local images and local problems make more sense to local people. So, they are more likely to buy from you when your content is adapted to their preferences.

A good place to start is to watch out for:

  • Idioms and fixed expressions
  • Graphic design and images
  • Currency, geography, religion and cultural-specific concepts

Are these adapted for your local audiences?


Global brands are popular. People all over the world want to be part of them. People are thrilled to be able to try out new products or services.

Very often, though, the product or service needs to fit the narrative of the local market. You cannot expect loyalty from customers and clients when the product or service plainly ignores them.

Rather, it is better to present yourself as aware of the local narrative; this way, your brand becomes relevant. It becomes part of the solution.

If not, people will not be able to relate to it. It will not be relevant to them or their needs. They have to be able to visualise themselves using the product or service. They have to be able to see clearly how the product or service is going to satisfy their own particular needs.

Each of us experiences life differently. Our culture is part of who we are, whether we like it or not. And it almost always informs our decisions when it comes to buying a product or hiring a specialist. A good brand strategist needs to think locally to effectively enter a new market. A local specialist will make a difference. And localisation is key.

If you want to know more about Greek, check out this post: 5 good reasons to learn Greek.

Thanks for reading!