In this chapter, we'll discuss the importance of creating content that caters to everyone, regardless of their gender, background, or abilities. We'll delve into the challenges of gendered languages, accessible writing, and ensuring inclusivity in your content.
Then, we'll explore the various levels of formality in UX writing and localization, and how to strike the right balance based on your target audience and the brand's tone of voice. We'll provide tips and examples to help you master this aspect of content creation.
And finally, we'll tackle the challenge of adapting your writing to fit within the constraints of an existing layout or design. We'll share best practices and techniques for making your content shine, even when working within limitations set by someone else's design choices.
Issue 1: Writing for everyone
Addressing gender in languages is a significant challenge, as 38% of the world's population speaks a gendered language. Gender in languages can influence its members attitudes towards equality and roles in society - and even towards themselves. Languages like Spanish, German, Arabic, and Hebrew have gendered nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and even verbs, which influences content and texts considerably.
In German, for instance, nouns have three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. And languages like Arabic and Hebrew assign gender to verbs and adjectives as well. Navigating these complexities becomes particularly tricky when attempting to speak to both men and women simultaneously without defaulting to masculine forms.
Between sex and gender
Before we continue, let's understand the difference between sex and gender:
Sex refers to biological aspects like reproductive organs and chromosomes
Gender concerns social and cultural roles, behaviors, and identities.
This distinction is fundamental to understanding the complexities of gender in language and communication.
Gendered writing has its drawbacks, primarily because it can exclude or alienate people who don't fit into the specific gender being used. This exclusion affects not only non-binary individuals but also those identifying with traditional binary genders.
To be more inclusive, we can use gender-neutral writing. This approach is effective, though it often requires linguistic acrobatics to maintain fluency and neutrality. On top of that, some product teams might resist the idea of gender-neutral writing in favor of accuracy and adherence to source content.
As localization experts, it's our responsibility to advocate for users in our locale and language. By pushing for gender-neutral language, we contribute to creating a more inclusive world, respecting the diverse users in our locale.
The good news is that awareness around this issue is growing, and more teams are recognizing the importance of inclusivity in their writing. This shift makes it easier to make the case for gender-neutral writing in localization.
Before we see some approaches to writing in a gender-neutral way, bookmark the Gender Neutral Language Project from the UX Content Collective. They have provided some excellent free resources and valuable tips on this subject, offering an extensive understanding of gender-neutral language and its application across different languages.
Now, let's dive into the various methods that can help you maintain gender neutrality in your writing across numerous languages:
A simple yet effective way to create gender-neutral copy is by rephrasing it. In English, for example, you can replace "he or she" with "they." Let's take a closer look at some examples in other languages:
Croatian: In a creative move, Ikea uses the adjective "Forgotten password" to sidestep gender in their sign-in form.
Hebrew: Green Invoice, an accounting software for freelancers, changes the title to "Shall we sign in?" by using the plural "we" that's not gendered in Hebrew. They also use the passive form in the "forgot password" link to work around the gender issue.
German: LinkedIn localizers opt for the noun "follower" instead of the verb "following" to maintain gender neutrality. The colon is used to signify that a person identifies as male or female, making the term gender-neutral.
2. New language structures
The invention of new grammar allows for the creation of gender-neutral language. In Spanish, people have started adding an "x" to the end of nouns, making them gender-neutral, and using "they" as a non-gendered reference. Watch this video to learn more.
Similar suggestions have been made in Portuguese, Romanian, and Hebrew, where feminine and masculine suffixes are separated with a dot, slash, or asterisk.
However, these new structures face some challenges, such as compatibility with screen readers and resistance to widespread adoption. As a result, they may not yet be suitable for UX copy due to potential backlash from users.
3. Tech solutions
Harnessing technology can help make language more inclusive in several ways:
By asking users how they'd like to be referred to and showing them copy tailored to their preferences using ICU syntax. While effective, this approach requires writing separate copy for feminine and masculine users, placing a significant burden on the product team in terms of time and finances.
Auto-converting gendered language into gender-neutral language with browser extensions or special fonts, which can be installed on a site or app. Users can then choose the type of copy they'd like to see. However, these solutions demand a considerable technological commitment from both the product team and the users.
It's important to note that many tech solutions still treat gender as binary, which means they are not entirely gender-inclusive but are more inclusive than fully gendered versions.
Accessible writing is incredibly important, and it's fantastic to see it gaining traction in recent years. You might remember our discussion on usability, where we emphasized that good user experiences can truly make a difference in people's lives. They can provide access to vital information or simply enhance their overall quality of life. As a result, when designing a product, it's crucial to ensure it's accessible to all members of your audience.
If your localized copy isn't accessible, you're inadvertently excluding people. That's not only unkind but also detrimental to your business. Your product team wants the product to be usable by anyone who needs it.
When we talk about writing accessible copy, we often focus on visually impaired individuals or those with various reading disabilities. This includes people who have difficulty seeing small text, deciphering complex layouts or texts, or those who can't see the screen at all.
There's an array of tools and techniques available today to help people with visual challenges navigate the web or use apps comfortably. For instance:
Screen readers: These devices read the text on the screen aloud to users.
Braille displays: These tools help visually impaired people read if they're unable or unwilling to listen to the content.
Extensions or special apps: These can be used to enhance the accessibility of an app or webpage. Take a look at this widget we have on the Localization Station website, for example. Users can use it to increase contrast, enlarge text, boost text spacing, pause text animations, make the cursor bigger, or even change the font to one that's more readable for people with dyslexia.
When it comes to interacting with buttons or links on a website or app, visually impaired individuals can't simply scan the screen and understand where to go or what to click. Instead, they use their keyboard or a special device to navigate and select different elements on the page - like in the video below:
About ARIA tags
In a nutshell, people with impaired vision are only aware of the element they're focusing on at any given moment, rather than perceiving the entire screen. This can lead to a potentially confusing experience, which is why it's crucial to craft accessible copy for all users.
To help users understand where they are on the screen, developers use ARIA tags. These tags have a critical role in making web interfaces more user-friendly for visually impaired users. They're a fantastic tool for developers, helping screen readers decipher and communicate the functions of different elements on a page.
The ARIA acronym stands for "Accessible Rich Internet Applications," and it's a collection of tags that developers can use to convey additional information about various elements on a website or app, such as buttons, links, and other interactive components. By supplying this extra context, ARIA tags empower screen readers to provide a better understanding of the layout and user interactions.
Although ARIA tags might seem like a minor addition, they can significantly enhance the experience for visually impaired users. These tags help them navigate interfaces and use websites or apps more efficiently. There is an extensive array of ARIA tags, most of which cater to screen readers:
aria-busy: Signals the reader that an element is loading and to wait before announcing it to the user.
aria-describedby: Directs the reader to another element that has a description for the current element, such as an image caption or additional context.
aria-expanded: Indicates whether an element is in its expanded mode and if its content is visible or hidden.
While the examples above are essential, there's one particular ARIA tag that UX localizers need to pay special attention to: the aria-label.
ARIA labels are tags developers add to elements on a website or app to deliver extra information about the content. Consider them as handy "labels" that guide screen readers in understanding various parts of the interface and their purposes.
For instance, let's consider a scenario where a user is prompted to input their military service history, and an "edit" button is provided to make adjustments. For sighted users, this is clear and straightforward. However, for visually impaired users who navigate through the page one element at a time, the context isn't as apparent. To address this issue, developers can attach an aria-label to the button that reads "edit service period." This extra information clarifies the button's function and makes it more accessible.
While the majority of ARIA tags don't require localization, ARIA labels are designed for users and should be localized accordingly. Understanding this concept and its implementation is crucial for localizers, as it plays a vital role in making the web accessible to all users, regardless of their visual abilities. By being aware of and utilizing ARIA tags and labels, we contribute to a more inclusive and user-friendly digital landscape.
Beyond ARIA tags, let's delve deeper into various techniques for making copy accessible to visually impaired users and creating an inclusive user experience. Here, we'll discuss potential issues in a sign-up form and provide guidelines for crafting accessible copy.
1. Use logical order and context
Consider a sign-up form with the title "Hi there!", fields for name, email, and password, a CTA for creating an account, and a link to "sign up with your organization." Visually impaired users might have trouble, as screen readers follow a set order, moving from top to bottom and left to right (or right to left for languages like Hebrew, Arabic, or Farsi).
Therefore, it's crucial to present information in a logical order, with explanations appearing before the corresponding actions. This way, users can make sense of the screen more effectively.
In our example, users only discover the purpose of entering their information after completing the form and find out about signing up with an organizational account after creating a personal one.
In contrast, the Ikea app provides a more logical and accessible layout:
Title: Welcome to Ikea
Instruction: Sign up or log in to access special discounts, your favorites, and your Ikea family card.
Link to Ikea for business
Clear links to sign up and log in
2. Avoid visual dependency
If the copy relies too heavily on visuals to convey information, visually impaired users will struggle to understand the content. Copy should stand on its own without any visuals, as these users can't rely on visuals to understand what's happening on the screen.
3. Use ALT text
If visuals are essential for understanding the copy, product teams should use alt text for images (e.g., "Astronaut floating in dark space with the earth underneath and the moon in the background") and ARIA labels for functional elements like icons and buttons (e.g., "close" for a small 'x' icon).
When writing alt text, keep it concise and helpful, ideally within 125 characters, as screen readers often cut off longer texts.
4. Avoid visual, directional, or color-based language
Refrain from using visual or directional language (e.g., "right," "left," "below") and color-based instructions (e.g., "click the blue button") that might not make sense or be unusable for visually impaired or color-blind users.
5. Keep links and buttons contextually clear
Ensure that links and buttons are contextually clear for users who focus on single elements at a time (e.g., instead of "tap here to read more posts about user experience," write "read more posts about user experience").
6. Use inclusive and sensitive language
Be mindful of potentially offensive language and strive for inclusive, sensitive word choices. This involves avoiding gendered content and common phrases that might be offensive to people with mental or physical disabilities (e.g., "crazy," "insane," "lame"). Familiarize yourself with lists of potentially offensive words in various languages and be sensitive to cultural nuances.
Creating accessible and inclusive copy: The big picture
Accessible writing is not just about addressing technical content considerations; it's about fostering inclusivity and avoiding unintentional harm. By following these guidelines and embracing an empathetic mindset, we can enhance user experiences and make the digital world more welcoming for everyone. In doing so, we'll create products that resonate with a wider audience, breaking down barriers and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to engage with our content.
Issue 2: Navigating formality
When adapting content across different languages and cultures, it's crucial to strike the right balance between casual, friendly, witty, and approachable tones. This is complicated by the fact that the degree of formality in a language can vary significantly. Some languages have distinct formal and informal grammar structures, while others have more fluid boundaries that shift with context.
For instance, Japanese has a clear distinction between casual and polite language. In Spanish and French, speakers can refer to others using formal or informal forms (e.g., "tú" and "usted" in Spanish).
Language and culture are inextricably linked, and the formality spectrum is no exception. Cultural norms can shape the situations and tones that call for formal or informal language. For example, Spanish speakers might use formal language when addressing elderly individuals or royalty, while French speakers typically adopt a formal tone by default, except with close friends or children.
In some cultures, hierarchy is deeply ingrained, which affects language use. Korean, for instance, has a complex system of speech levels and honorifics that reflects societal hierarchy. This cultural aspect is essential to consider when localizing content for a Korean audience.
As you can see, in the English version of the YouTube app, the copy is casual and friendly, stating, "Your notifications live here." However, the Korean version is much more formal, adhering to cultural norms in Korea when speaking to people you're not close to.
Spotify presents another intriguing example. The English copy is laid-back and relatable: "Let's find something for your playlist." Yet, the Arabic version is considerably more formal due to the standard language used in Arabic localization, which is formal by default.
Localization also plays a role in brand image. Ikea, a multinational furniture brand, adopts an informal tone on its Croatian website to reflect its approachable, affordable brand identity.
In contrast, Lesnina, a Croatian high-end furniture company, uses formal language to project a sense of luxury and exclusivity.
Overcoming the formality challenge
Localizing content across languages with varying formality levels poses unique challenges. When translating from a language with formal and informal variants to one with fluid formality, maintaining the appropriate level of formality can be difficult. And when localizing from a language with fluid formality to one with formal and informal dialects, it can be challenging to discern the intended formality level in the source copy.
On top of that, localizing to a language with a standard variant, like Croatian or Arabic, can limit the ability to create non-formal content. Companies must carefully consider the linguistic and cultural implications of their localized content to ensure it aligns with their brand voice and resonates with the target audience.
Why is it important to use the correct level of formality?
In some cultures, using an incorrect level of formality can come across as rude or offensive. Imagine launching a product with overly informal copy in Japan - you might unintentionally alienate your audience. On the flip side, using formal language in a casual chatbot for a gaming app might make the experience feel robotic and stiff, turning off potential users.
Formality is similar to dressing appropriately for an event. You wouldn't wear a tuxedo to a beach party, nor would you attend a fancy dinner in your swimsuit. Both scenarios would be awkward and could make people uncomfortable. Striking the right balance in formality ensures that your localized content is approachable, relatable, and culturally sensitive.
When it comes to navigating formality, localizers are the experts. Product teams can offer guidance and recommendations, but they often lack a deep understanding of the cultural nuances that influence formality levels. As localizers, your primary responsibility is to strike that delicate balance between staying true to the source content and adapting it to fit the cultural context and audience expectations in the target language.
Can MT strike the right balance?
While it can be a useful tool, machine translation currently struggles with handling the formality spectrum. Unlike chatGPT, which can adapt its output based on context and user input, machine translation doesn't always take into account the wider context of the copy it localizes.
As a localizer, you need to consider the formality level of the source content, the target audience, and the specific context. This involves reading the source material and discerning its original formality level, then taking into account the cultural nuances that shape formality in your target language to create an appropriate localized version.
Machine translation still has a hard time with these subtleties, particularly when it comes to differentiating between content for a young and trendy gaming app versus a more serious banking app. As of now, AI hasn't been trained to generate different formality levels based on contextual information.
However, there's hope on the horizon! According to an Amazon Science blog post from December 2022, researchers are working on developing machine translation systems that can respond to different formality cues and predictors. This means that in the next few years, we might see significant improvements in this area.
In the meantime, when working with machine translation, it's crucial to keep an eye on the formality level and make adjustments as needed. Don't just focus on accuracy and style - make sure the output uses the appropriate formality level for the target audience and context. By carefully reviewing and editing the machine-generated translations, you can ensure your localized content hits the right note and provides a delightful user experience.
Issue 3: Using English as a blueprint
One of the most significant challenges in localization is adapting the layout and design of the source content to suit the needs of the localized app. Product teams often assume English can act as a one-size-fits-all solution, but as we all know, that's not the case. Languages differ in word lengths, sentence structures, and characters, making it difficult to fit them neatly into an English layout. Additionally, cultural expectations can significantly impact design and presentation, which adds another layer of complexity to the localization process.
Let's dive into some common challenges that pop up during localization and examine them more closely.
1. The concatenation conundrum
First on our list is concatenation. If you're new to the concept, concatenation is when developers "stitch" together parts of a sentence or phrase, piece-by-piece. This method is popular among developers as it reduces redundancies, resulting in cleaner code and faster app loading times. However, while it might be great for app performance, it often creates headaches for localization.
Consider this example: In English, we might have a phrase like "Reset your password." A developer could create three strings – one for "Reset," one for "Change," and one for "your password."
This allows the same sentence structure to be used for both "Reset your password" and "Change your password." However, this approach falls apart when localizing the content for languages with different sentence structures or word orders, such as Dutch or Japanese.
Another issue with concatenation is that it makes it challenging to account for genders, quantities, and other linguistic nuances. For example, a simple phrase like "This store is not available" works well in English, which has no gendered nouns. However, when translating it into French, where gender and the first letter of the noun affect the choice of "this," we run into problems. Similarly, in Hebrew, both the word "this" and the adjective "available" change based on the noun's gender, creating even more complications.
Another issue that often arises from concatenation is that strings may be fully split up, making it difficult for linguists to understand the context. For example, consider the phrase "from 12 euros per person." Developers might need to style the words "from" and "per person" differently from "12 euros," resulting in three separate strings. However, this fragmentation can lead to confusion and inconsistencies in the localized content.
Sometimes, developers will try to use the same "from" for different contexts, such as dates, currencies, or locations. This can make it difficult for linguists to understand the intended meaning, resulting in translations that may not accurately convey the original message.
While concatenation can be a thorn in our side, sometimes we have no choice but to work with it. In these cases, it's essential to find creative solutions that work around the problems concatenation presents.
For example, in languages where word order is an issue, linguists can rearrange words to avoid problematic structures and create sentences or strings that work well, regardless of the tags used.
If we really can't work around it, it's important to flag it and let the product team know. Depending on the problem, sometimes they have ways to solve these issues. For instance, they can use ICU Syntax - a way to present the right form of the string based on if it needs to be feminine or masculine, or plural or singular.
About ICU syntax
Here's a rough example: We have two lines:
"Hello, your friend Sarah is now online."
"She added a new image to the system."
The app uses the right pronoun based on if Sarah chose to use a feminine, masculine, or other pronoun. The problem with using ICU syntax for genders is that it only works if you know the user's gender or preference. It doesn't work for random nouns like "store" because the app has no way of knowing if it's feminine or masculine or neuter, like in German.
ICU syntax can also work well for numbers. Take the line, "I bought x books." So, if there's one book, it'll show "book," and if there are multiple books, it'll show "books." The app already has the information—it knows whether it's 1 book or 8 books because it has the data. This makes it easier for the app to display the right noun and for translators to provide the correct versions for the product team.
However, ICU pluralization isn't always straightforward. We saw "one" and "other" before, but in languages like Polish, pluralization isn't limited to these two categories. For example, the noun "tickets" changes for zero, for one, for 2 to 4, and then again for 5 to 21. Furthermore, every 2, 3, 4, they revert to the 2-4 format, such as 22 to 24 and 32 to 34.
But whether ICU syntax is possible or not, it's always vital to communicate with the development team and keep them in the loop regarding any localization challenges. By collaborating and working together, you can improve the localized app, making it truly usable and practical.
2. The space race: Language expansion
Apart from concatenation, we also face the challenge of writing within the limitations of the space and layout we're given. Some languages are naturally longer than others. English, for example, is significantly shorter than many other languages out there, such as German, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Arabic.
If product teams aren't prepared for text expansion, localized apps can become unreadable and lead to terrible user experiences in other languages. For instance, copy might overlap other elements or slide off the screen entirely.
Another common issue is when designers create a small button that fits perfectly with its text – for example, "buy now" – but the localized copy is too long. This forces the localizer to choose sub-optimal copy or requires the team to make last-minute changes for it to fit.
3. Flipping the script: Right-to-left languages
Some languages, such as Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew, run from right to left instead of left to right. This difference in orientation can cause issues with the layout of your entire app, affecting usability and user experience.
Designing for RTL languages is not as simple as merely flipping the layout horizontally. The change in text direction impacts the overall design and interface, affecting elements such as:
Text alignment: The text in RTL languages should be right-aligned, and any associated punctuation marks should also follow the RTL convention.
Icons and images: Some icons and images may need to be mirrored or adapted to maintain their meaning and usability in RTL languages. For example, a "play" button should point to the right in LTR languages, but to the left in RTL languages.
Navigation and UI elements: Navigation menus, buttons, and other user interface components should be reordered and repositioned to accommodate the RTL reading direction. In RTL layouts, primary navigation menus are usually placed on the right side of the screen.
Animation and transitions: Any animations or transitions in your app or website should be adjusted to follow the RTL reading direction. This can include page transitions, sliding panels, and carousels.
Input fields and forms: When localizing forms and input fields, labels should be right-aligned, and input fields should start from the right side.
Dealing with these challenges
There are several ways to work around the challenges of localization. Some solutions are in your hands, while others require collaboration with your product team.
On your end, you can:
1. Ask for character counts
When it's relevant, request character counts to help you check your work and ensure your copy will fit without leaving anything out.
2. Use source copy and screenshots as guides
Character counts can't always predict exactly how long the copy will be. Use the source copy as a reference to estimate how long your copy will be and whether it will fit where it should.
3. Work within context
Utilize in-context CAT tools, edit copy directly in design or prototyping tools, or use a dedicated UX writing tool like Frontitude.
On the product team's end, they can:
4. Implement dynamic layouts
Adjust the size of text and elements based on the language being displayed. This ensures text fits within the space provided and maintains a balanced design.
5. Create custom layouts
Work with localization teams to develop custom layouts for languages with unique requirements, such as right-to-left languages or languages without spaces.
Remember, design is also a cultural aspect, and custom layouts can be helpful even when there are no space or alignment issues. Different cultures have different priorities, such as a strong emphasis on community and collaboration or a need for confidence and certainty. Adapting the design to reflect these priorities will naturally lead to better performance in localized versions of the app.
Issue 4: Skipping cultural adaptation
Cultural adaptation goes beyond language and tackles various aspects of user experience, such as visual design, messaging, and functionality. It helps create a more personalized and relatable experience for users, ultimately leading to better engagement, customer satisfaction, and brand loyalty. Let's explore some examples where this was done well.
Mozilla's landing page in China
In Western countries, we're used to a lot of white space and clean layouts with one title and one CTA, as seen in the landing page on the left. However, that would look out of place in China, where the cultural norm is content-heavy with many images and CTAs. Mozilla adapted their landing page in China to fit this cultural preference, and it resonated well with their target audience.
Deskbookers' German site:
Deskbookers, a platform that lets you rent office or workspace in different cities, initially used the version on the left, which worked well in other markets. However, when they tried to enter the German market, it didn't perform as expected.
After conducting research, they discovered that German users needed to feel confident in their experience. They added testimonials and images of various rental spaces, and the German site became one of their highest-performing ones.
These examples show that understanding the local culture and adapting your design accordingly can significantly impact your app's success in a new market.
The Key to overcoming localization challenges: Communication
Both the localization and product teams play crucial roles in overcoming localization challenges. Maintaining open communication and working closely together ensures a smooth localization process and a better user experience in all languages.
As a localizer, don't hesitate to raise concerns and flag issues when they arise. Your expertise and insight are invaluable in helping the product team address any problems and make the necessary adjustments.
The product team, on the other hand, should be proactive in collaborating with localizers and providing the necessary tools and resources for successful localization. This includes dynamic layouts, custom layouts for specific languages or cultural requirements, and giving access to tools like in-context CAT tools, design, or prototyping tools.
This is the end of the course... But it's just the beginning for you
Localization goes beyond just translating words; it's about understanding the culture and context of your target audience. As cultural experts who know the market inside and out, your role in the localization process is invaluable. When something feels off, don't hesitate to speak up, explain it in detail, and provide examples to help your product team learn and understand.
Remember the image from the very first lesson?
You are the hero advocating for your users. Be that hero, and help them get the best experience possible.
Thank you for being a part of this journey through these nine lessons. I hope the knowledge you've gained will be valuable to you.
UXW & loc challenges