Culturalization: the Heart of Communication

There are experts employed by global companies like Microsoft, whose job descriptions might read something like: examination of everything going on at every level in every country where we sell products.


Beyond adaption to such elements as foreign currencies, time zones, and programming requirements, and beyond translation of languages, culturalization is the process of deep-level product adaptation to the huge variety of people globally who will use it. Sensitive and subtle issues unique to a country’s current political and social climate can figure prominently in the reception of marketing in a country. Historical circumstances that still prompt emotional responses and geopolitical boundary disagreements that were never satisfactorily resolved – such issues can lurk potently just below the surface of a people’s consciousness.

Imagine a start-up in Eastern Europe deciding to play on the vast geography of the US by using both Union and Confederate flags in marketing graphics. Not every entrepreneur in every country knows American Civil war history and how its symbols can still sizzle and divide neighbors. And, likewise, American knowledge of almost all foreign cultural, political and historical issues is most often limited to a handful of fairly superficial ideas. Experts are required to safely and successfully navigate touchy details at the heart of a culture or country. And such details can be brought to mind for a country’s natives by background music, color schemes, hand gestures… the list of potentially volatile elements is long.

Current developments within a specific people’s behavior are also important to study. As an example, for the Chinese version of Draw a Stickman, the game developers observed and incorporated the fact that Chinese players generally prefer more detailed and explicit instructions. This company also modified the game’s online social integration tools to link to the preferred social media platforms in China. There is no globally uniform strategy for any aspect of communication.

The world of ideas that your product presents may be a fiction conjured from what appears to you to be ‘nothing’. But if it hints at the sovereignty of one people over another, it will be deemed unacceptable in the offended nation. Games that do not show Taiwan as part of China, for instance, are banned there. What is known as the Sea of Japan in Japan is called the East Sea in Korea – clearly that’s a detail one would want to get right or avoid altogether.

Digging into cultural knowledge from the start is the best policy your company can adopt. The geo-cultural experts say they are most often called in when a problem has already arisen. But if you build content from the start with awareness of, and advice about, every market you hope to reach, your core communication can be clean of misguided mistakes. Skrivanek’s approach to serving our global clients has prioritized this practice from the start. We employ the expertise of our native linguists and subject experts in the countries where you need culturalization assistance, and welcome the opportunity to optimize your connections there.

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2 thoughts on “Culturalization: the Heart of Communication

  1. Your post about culturalisation is very interesting, and I can appreciate how its importance is highlighted in this blog post. I believe that today we can see culturalisation as a vital part of localisation as a whole, rather than being considered as one of a number of separate elements in product globalisation. LISA defines localisation as “taking a product and making it linguistically and culturally appropriate to the target locale” (Esselink), a statement which encompasses this need for cultural research and knowledge. In my opinion, localisation is not successful without considering every important cultural element of the locale it is targeting. Expanding on your examples regarding localisation/cuturalisation of games, I think it can be extended to ensuring that players enjoy the overall game experience. “Poor locali(s)ation serves as a constant reminder […] of the fact that the game has not been originally intended for them” which can be “damaging to the commercial interests and public images of the companies involved” (O’Hagan, Mangiron).

  2. You raise a really interesting point here about poor localisation highlighting that a product was not made for the locale it is being localised in. This is why I think translators need to be seen as intercultural mediators, because culturalisation is such an integral part of the localisation process. If a product is not sensitive to the cultural background of the target locale, how can it expect to be well received?

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