Mind your languages: how to optimise your multilingual content strategy

Matt Colley

As global content marketers, one of the biggest challenges can be communicating your content and brand messages across multiple languages. With 15 years’ experience working on multilingual projects, Dialogue’s Managing Production Editor Matt Colley shares his tips on best practice and potential pitfalls when developing a multilingual content strategy in part 1 of a 2 part blog.


I still get a twinge of nostalgia and wistful longing every time I see a Saab. Those elegant, functional Scandinavian lines, the innovative spirit, the aeronautical heritage… it was a sad day indeed when the Swedish car brand went to the wall.

Back in 2002, when I was a fresh-faced university dropout who had just bagged a job in a contract publishing house, one of my first jobs was typesetting Saab Magazine in many different languages. It appealed to my borderline-obsessive attention to detail and interest in foreign languages – I quickly made the project my own, setting about each new edition with relish.

This was an established contract, but over the years Dialogue has launched several new multilingual projects. We have revisited and refined our processes, and learned a lot along the way, to the point where we consider ourselves experts in providing multilingual project solutions.

So if you’re faced with the challenge of creating multilingual content for your brand, here are some tips you might want to consider:

1. Start at the beginning

If the source content doesn’t sing, neither will the translations.  Make sure that the ‘master edition’ (usually English, but not always) is on brand, well written and concise. If you can’t get it right in your mother tongue, what chance do the translators stand?

It’s not just about the words, though – designers also play an important role in making multilingual content fit for purpose, and this is especially true with printed publications. It’s important to ensure that you have a plan to accommodate the inevitable extra text that most other languages generate. Either leave enough white space in the ‘master’ edition, or ensure you have expendable images, expandable columns or other malleable features that will make things easier when typesetting. French, for example, can run up to a quarter longer than English.


2. Translation, translation, translation

Choose your translation partners carefully. While machine translation may never be as reliable as a human – and certainly shouldn’t be considered as a cheap alternative with the technology currently available – most translation companies now offer automated verification of human-translated text, and checking of accuracy, adherence to a glossary and so on.

This may seem obvious, but the translator must always be a native speaker of the destination language. If you get something translated back into your native language and it reads like an eight-year-old wrote it, the chances are the agency is cutting corners by using someone whose mother tongue is the source language. Don’t tolerate pidgin – it just means more subbing and rewriting work.

Finally, are the translators subject experts? If we’re working on a niche brand, it’s important that the translation company is willing to learn at least a little about the nuances of that brand. Some larger companies will consider ‘onboarding’ existing freelance translators that we use – particularly ones with invaluable subject knowledge. Our trusted freelance translator thus remains independent, but can be seamlessly integrated into the overall process and share their knowledge with others.


3. Don’t gloss over the glossary

Compile a glossary of terms that are particular to your brand. Which of these terms should be translated, and how should they be translated in each language? Or are some of them ‘brand names’ that must remain the same irrespective of language?

We learn our clients’ requirements quickly, and implement them fastidiously. We build style sheets for every edition, and every language.


4. Style it out

How is the style sheet different to the glossary, you may ask? The two go hand in hand, but the style sheet should contain typesetting tips and tricks rather than linguistic and grammatical preferences. German quote marks can be a little „different“ to English ones; the French usually prefer « guillemets ». Les Français also tend to add spaces before colons, semicolons, exclamation marks and question marks.

How does each market display numbers? Is a thousand displayed as ‘1,000’, ‘1000’, ‘1 000’ or ‘1.000’? How do markets treat page furniture? Should standfirsts, picture captions and pull quotes have full points at the end? Should you italicise titles of books, movies, video games, ships?


5. Don’t be an idiom

It’s so easy to write for an English-speaking audience. Idiomatic headlines, little nods to cultural peccadilloes and obscure British TV shows… all of these will quickly ostracise your readership in other territories. Our content team all understand how to make our content globally relevant; that quirky double entendre or witty piece of English alliteration will probably be totally redundant in Finnish or Portuguese. Also, it’s always worth empowering the translators to propose a different headline if the literal translation is meaningless or misleading.

This blog only scratches the surface of how to create effective multilingual content that works hard for its audience. Check out PART 2 to find out more.

Dialogue publishes content for brands in 16 languages and distributes to more than 100 countries. Want to know more? Contact us at info@archantdialogue.co.uk.