Non-Verbal Localization

seeing-behind-words Non-verbal communication is often associated with face-to-face communication. In addition to the actual words, people communicate with facial expressions, body gestures, eye movements, and so on. In a real, face-to-face interaction we are able to sense all the signals and micro expressions which help us to build up the overall perception.

The value of these unspoken clues shouldn’t be underestimated, even though they are mostly analyzed automatically and unconsciously. If there’s a conflict between the verbal and non-verbal communication people tend to trust the non-verbal message more. Likewise when the non-verbal message supports the verbal message it’s easier to believe that the person is telling the truth.

This habit of searching non-verbal clues doesn’t limit to real-time communication. When reading an article or scanning a webpage our minds try to see what’s behind the words. We don’t just take every word as it is. We can trust the message only if the layout, style, medium, source and all such things support the written message. This seems to be quite universal part of humanity all around the world.

International brands and knowledge distributors know that a language barrier blocks people out completely. This is why translation is an important initial step. Translating words and text is a huge part of localization but it doesn’t matter whether the text is translated if all the other clues scream unreliability. A shady business is shady in every language. Unfortunately, even the most honest source can feel unreliable if the localization of non-verbal elements is left unfinished.

Cultures have their own customs and behavioral norms. Without any knowledge of the local customs, it’s very easy to offend, upset, amuse or confuse the local people by accident. Any amount of uncertainty can prevent people from trusting you. The writing style can be too straightforward or too mealy-mouthed. Or the image might show the ‘wrong side’ of the globe.

non-verbal localization

It’s all about the goals. The desired response from the local audience determines the level of localization. The more persuasive the goal is the more fundamental localization is needed. At its extreme, localized version can feel like it’s the original one. Similarly, sometimes text translation is enough. In most cases the ideal localization level is somewhere between these two extremes. The point is to recognize all localizable things and decide how much effort is required in order to reach the goal.


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