This is one of the 52 terms in The Language of Localization published by XML Press in 2017 and the contributor for this term is Kit Brown-Hoekstra.

What is it?

The sum total of worldview, expectations, manners, activities, traditions, language, dress, and belief systems, including thoughts, feelings, and actions that distinguish one group from another.

Why is it important?

Culture provides a reference point, with cultural differences and assumptions often fueling conflict. More positively, culture also connects people and sets a society’s rhythm of life.

Why does a business professional need to know this?

Geert Hofstede calls culture “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others.” Culture is learned and dynamic, and it provides the framework upon which human beings relate to each other and their world. Culture occurs at multiple levels, from geographic to linguistic, from governmental to familial, from societal to corporate, and so on.

These multiple levels of culture provide context for interpreting experiences by identifying the environment and value system in effect for the participants when interaction or communication occurs. This context dictates the narrative and outcome, as well as the emphasis, emotion, metaphor and wordplay, and level of optimism expressed by the author. Because different cultures admire and focus on different attributes or aspects of the environment, understanding the context provided by a culture is key to successfully reaching customers where they live and work.

Cultural context is particularly important with marketing and branding messages because these types of communication often depend on a shared understanding of cultural nuances to be successful. Plays on words are particularly challenging to localize. Even something as simple as using a graphic with a check mark (aka a tick mark) and an envelope for check for new e-mail only works in English because the word for check mark and the verb to check are not the same in other languages:

  • French = marque de coche vs. vérifier
  • Spanish = marca de verificación vs. comprobar
  • Italian = segno di spunta vs. controlla la posta