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What does localization look like when you localize into the same language? That's exactly what we tried to discover in this incredible conversation with Monica Martín del Campo from Despegar. Monica collaborates with the UX team on Spanish-to-Mexican-Spanish localization, to create a unique experience for Despegar's Mexican audience.
About Monica Martín del Campo
Mónica is a bilingual content strategist specializing in SEO with over six years of experience in the innovation and startup ecosystem. She has previously worked as a translator, copywriter, and content creator within both product and marketing fields. Mónica is currently part of the UX Content Management team at Despegar, the largest Online Travel Agency in Latin America, where she leads content localization projects all across the platform for its Mexican users.
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Michal: Hi everyone, and welcome again to the Localization Process Pod, the podcast in which we discuss different localization processes of companies all around the world, so we can learn from each other and deliver better experiences to users worldwide. I'm Super excited to be hosting Monica MartÃn del Campo in the episode today.
In the industry, we usually talk about localization from language to language, right? From one language to the other. But Monica works at Despegar, which are a digital product company in the travel industry. And at Despegar, they do localization from country to country within the same language. So they do localization in Latin America from Spanish to Spanish in different countries, and I think this brings a really unique perspective into this discussion. So we're going to be hearing some really interesting insights.
So hi Monica, it's really great to have you here.
Monica: Hi there! it's so nice to meet you and happy birthday, by the way.
Michal: Thank you. It'll be a distant memory by the time people hear this, but still, thank you so much.
Monica: I just thought it was your birthday yesterday. Mine is right around the corner on Monday.
Michal: Oh, really? Happy birthday too!
Monica: Thank you!
Michal: Summer babies.
Monica: Summer babies. Exactly. That's really good.
Michal: Although you're on, is it summer? Is it winter?
Monica: It's summer. I'm in Mexico. So yeah, we have summer over here. If I were in Argentina, it would be winter time. And you would see me like fully clothed all the way up to here.
Michal: Isn't that confusing though? Although I would imagine that's the same for English speakers in different countries.
I'm so not used to it because I speak a language that is in one very, very tiny part of the world.
Monica: Well, that's kind of what we're going to talk about today, right?
Michal: Yeah, absolutely. That's exactly it. So tell us a little bit about you. What brought you into localization?
Monica: I think I have a little bit of a mixed background. I started out studying mother languages and interculturality, and I was interested in that program because it had a track focused on translation. And I had my eye on being a translator. At the same time, I did have the opportunity to work for a business incubator.
So I had my first approach into the innovation startup ecosystem. Like, I had got a glimpse of what my life would end up being like working more in the digital context.
And by the time I graduated, I officially started my first role as a translator. I started getting the seeds in that job for like understanding localization and like my other specialization, which is SEO. I would start seeing all of these patterns and like, Oh, this is interesting. Why do we always highlight or have a link to this word?
Or I started having an understanding of keywords, and things like that. I went on my own and I started learning. I started working more as a freelancer, with my own clients.
For these clients, I was not just translating, but I was also doing copywriting. And so we needed more nuance to all of the work that I was doing with them.
But it wasn't until I was offered a full-time job at the FinTech company that I was also introduced to not just SEO and copywriting, but to UX writing.
I don't know if you've ever worked for a startup, but you know, it's like, everyone does everything basically. If you are the copywriter, you are the UX writer because you also need to write copy for the website. And so I was like, okay, I need to start learning about it a little bit more. So that was my background before arriving in Despegar.
Michal: So then you came into Despegar and then... What kind of role were you doing in there?
Monica: So in Despegar, they found me because they were looking for someone for the UX content management team. And so they were looking for someone who had skills that were very similar to mine, but also happened to be Mexican because one of our three main markets are Argentina, which is where the company started out. And then Brazil, our brand is Decolar instead of Despegar, and then Mexico. And Despegar right now is in 19 countries. So again, these are the top three markets that we have, but we're also in Columbia, we're also in Peru, Chile, so all over Latin America.
Are all the markets Spanish-speaking, Portuguese-speaking, or do they have markets that speak like, Asian languages or European languages, other kind of Latin languages?
Mostly it's Spanish-speaking countries with their varieties, Brazilian Portuguese, and we also do have our website in the US, in English.
Michal: What's your source language?
Monica: Spanish. So most of the content is written in Spanish, Argentinian Spanish because again, that's where the company started out. Now that we have a bigger team of UX writers that are also Brazillian, there's some content that actually starts out in Portuguese and then gets localized into Spanish.
Michal: You've mentioned that you came from SEO writing, SEO translation. I think it's really interesting because in SEO, you have to use the words that people use, right? Because that's the words that they use to search.
And then UX writing is very, very similar in the sense that you have to use the language that users use, the language that your market actually uses. So there are similarities between those two fields, I think.
Monica: Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I've heard like, oh, UX and SEO, they're like enemies or like they are constantly clashing. I'm like, not necessarily. SEO is actually you doing UX for search engines in a way like you're helping the audiences find you. And like you just said, you need to create a strategy based on how your users are searching for you or for what you are offering. I could have the same landing page for Mexico or for Argentina, but the way we say, like "Vacation rental", "rentas vacacionales" in Mexican Spanish. And then for Argentina, it's "alquileres temporarios".
Michal: Oh, like temporary rentals.
Monica: Yeah. So, like, the concepts that we use are very different. That's where also localization comes in. Inevitably in SEO as well as in UX.
Michal: I think this is very interesting because a lot of companies, the way that they do localization is they do research in a source language, in one language, and then they take all those insights, they write the copy, they translate the copy and no research comes in at the middle of that process, right? But it seems like you're doing a lot of adaptation to each market.
Monica: I mean, it is challenging. I'll tell you. That's the ideal, what we're trying to constantly do. We are in 19 countries and I think it's 17 Spanish-speaking countries. So we're not quite there yet. We try to do that at least in the three main markets, that's something that we're focusing on.
Michal: But it is incredible that it is the goal. And I'm guessing that sometimes, when you do localization, for example, for Japanese and, I don't know, German, it's really hard to look at the tiny things that distinguish different variants of those languages. And when you do a lot of different Spanish variants, then I'm guessing the unique features pop out.
Monica: Yeah, exactly.
When I joined the team, I didn't join as a localization expert. It was more like your content strategist and a lot of, you know, localization-related projects go through this team, which is the UX content management team.
However, it was like, oh, we have our first Mexican UX writer on the team. I think we're 24 UX writers in the company now. And so they would start sending me messages, like, Hey, can you peer review this content? It's for Mexico. It's just going to be a quick checkout message. But then it started getting a little bit more complex with some of the requests. Like, here's the screen. And we were trying to welcome someone into a new feature. And then I'll be like, okay, we need more cultural nuance. So give it to me, let me work on it a little bit, and then I'll bring it back to you.
And at the beginning that sounded great, but eventually, you know, like that, it was not a process precisely. Maybe in a week, I would get more simple requests and I would just answer and that would be it, or I would get bigger requests which would eventually delay both their deadlines and also my own projects. In the beginning it was just me. Thank God we now have Juan Bravo, the second Mexican UX writer on the team.
That was like, just for the first, I think, six months in the company. That we were just getting requests and we're responding to the requests, depending on how big the project would be or the necessity of the feature.
And then we realized, you know, guys, I think we need a process. It's getting confusing and like, how do you prioritize what comes into your workflow? I sat down with my manager and our content ops specialist, and we decided, okay, it's time to design a new process.
There was already a process in place for localizing from Spanish to Portuguese or Portuguese to Spanish. We assign a ticket to one of the Brazilian UX writers, and then they do their magic.
But we kind of need to adapt because of what you just mentioned, like maybe it's a little bit more obvious when you go from one language to another. Because like, it's the same language, just a different variant. So, we started thinking, how do we adapt this process? And on that process, we found you actually. We started doing some research because again, I have a little bit of a background. I took some courses at some point in my career, but I really wanted to know how to work on that process and make it so that we can streamline all of this.
And then we went into talking to the UX managers. Our goal in that meeting was not just to explain the process, but to explain why this was a need. Like, why is it important, not just for the user, but as a company to have this process to make sure everything's organized. To be honest, I was very nervous for that meeting. Because like, these are UX managers that have the longest career in UX, and then just, how do I talk to them into this?
And fortunately, I do think that the culture... Everyone in the company are very much open and understanding and being receptive to new things.
So on that hand, we did great. "Yes, like we need to do this. It should be a process". However, we did get feedback like, "You know, I'm not sure this is the right process for it". Like it feels too complex sometimes. Are we supposed to upload a ticket for every single piece of content that should go to Mexico? That sounds insane, you know, it's just going to be endless.
So we had to go back and workshop a little bit more and understand, like, what are the nuances? How does localization from Spanish to Spanish work specifically? And where is the need? We came up with this three-step process, for this first version. Sometimes you just need to confirm a concept, or just get a quick peer review. So for those messages, we created a channel in our company messaging app. You can say it's like the hotline for Mexican localization.
So, "Hey, Moni", "Hey Juan", "We have this question. Can we use this word? Can we use the word carro or coche?" Because in Mexico some people are like, no, it's supposed to be carro. No, it should be coche. But those are the quick questions about specific technical aspects of it. What we do there, we start recording them and we start understanding where's the pattern, what are the most typical questions that we should later document so that we're not answering the exact same questions every three months.
So that was like part A. And then for part B, we're still going to use this process of creating a ticket for localization, but it has to do more with specific scenarios that affect the brand voice, that have to do with cultural nuances. Based on the audit that we did before, we understood, okay, these are the scenarios that we can just dig into a little bit more.
And so now the team knows to add a stage for localization. And so they also see that in like their timeline and, you know, their Gantt and everything that they need to work on.
And for us, it's just clear. Okay, we're going to have to work on this for two days, three days. And sometimes something will come in through the chat and we realize, no, it still needs more of a cultural nuance.
And sometimes we get something through the ticket and it's like, oh, this is actually pretty simple. But we're documenting all of these things so that eventually we can workshop with the rest of the UX writers. And streamline the process a little bit more.
Michal: So I'm curious because you said you are localizing into 19 markets and you only do Mexican Spanish. Do you have in-house people for every one of those markets? Do you work with freelancers?
Monica: We're not localizing right now for the 19 markets. We're localizing mainly to Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. Maybe a little bit more on the US side. So three main languages and like the two variants. We do work with the, quote-unquote, neutral version of Spanish for the rest of the countries. But there are again, scenarios that require a little bit more of that wink, that localization flavor to it. So what we will do is something that was done before both myself and Juan arrived on the team. The writers will work on the content. We do the research and we try to make sure that it's as authentic as possible. We are a big company. So even if we don't have UX writers for all of those markets, we have more people in the team that do belong to those markets. You know, the content might not be their specialty, but the culture is. So in that sense, they can give you more feedback, like, "Oh yeah, that's perfect," or, " That kind of sounds a little bit out of line". Or "Oh, this is something I would say in Colombian slang, definitely, but I don't think that's how the company sounds like. So we do have the resources in that sense. We have the people who have, like, the cultural background.
Michal: Does the copy perform differently in those markets that you're not directly localizing for?
Monica: Yeah, I think that they do perform differently and they work even better once you start localizing like it just feels closer. It's, it's part of the nature of like, you know, either UX, SEO, copywriting. If it feels closer to you as a user, as an audience, then you will just be more drawn to it. So yeah, I think localizing is key for as much as you can, not just between languages, but like between variants.
Michal: When you do the default variant of Spanish, the neutral variant, is it more formal or kind of strict or stiff than the cultural variants that you use?
Monica: I wouldn't say it's that formal. Because that's not aligned with brand voice. We're very much a more casual brand. But yes, definitely. I keep calling it neutral because it might not be formal, but it's a little bit more neutral in some of the cases. However, Latin American Spanish does share a lot of expressions that reflect closeness. So I wouldn't say it's completely formal. But it does refrain from some of the cultural nuances for sure. You can just get so much closer once you start bringing in those references and expressions from the country.
Michal: It's a challenge that is shared, by the way, by every kind of standard variant language, because, you know, because casual language grows from the surface, it grows from people.
And so it grows within the different variants. Once you use a standard variant, by default, you lose some of that casualness and that closeness and that engagement. And I think there's no way around that, unfortunately. So it can explain some of the differences in performance that you see in the localized variants
Monica: For sure. Yeah. I'm a geek. So for me, it's just so exciting to see all of that unfold in front of my eyes. When I was studying more languages, we would study social linguistics and like, understand registers. And now that I'm working in localization, I understand the big influence that localization has in language registers. Because there are specific expressions that maybe for a Mexican, you're being too direct. Because we Mexicans like to just talk in circles a little bit. So, it's the exact same phrase and you understand it, but the cultural connotation makes it go up a register or down a register. That's what makes it so interesting to go digging into different variants.
Michal: Yeah. Isn't this fascinating? I completely relate to what you said about geeking out about this because I feel that sometimes you look at a language and you can see the culture through it.
And it's, it's really so fascinating to see. It happens even in languages that have one variant, Hebrew, in my case.
Michal: You can definitely see the culture through it, and through the expressions, even the expressions that kind of develop these days, the new expressions that come up.
And you can see the way that our culture changed in the last two decades and how it influenced language. I think it's fascinating.
Monica: Well, to that point that you just mentioned, sometimes it's got to do with generational differences of like expression. So maybe I cannot use this expression in Mexican Spanish because it's just way too casual. And sometimes I will go into these conversations again with Juan, with my partner, and he would be like, I think that sounds like my uncle talking to me, you know. How do we work around so that it feels like it addresses our main audience, based on the ages that access our platform? Language is so complex, but beautiful. And so the more you go into it, I think it becomes more human and more real, the interaction that you have with the company.
Michal: Yeah, definitely. Okay. I'm going to take us back a little bit, and I'm curious to know when you do localization into those markets, how do you do it practically? Like, how do you document the changes? Do you use a localization platform? Do you all access the CMS? Like what kind of process do you use?
Monica: So like I mentioned, once we're doing the complex localization, we get a ticket and then it'll get to me or Juan.
So we ask the team to be as detailed as possible so that we understand what was the intention behind the message or where in the flow is this screen's going to show up. It's very manual in that sense still, but we will be given either a Figma to see how the screen is looking or how many characters can we fit in. It's not changing one language to another, but if I want to use a different expression in Mexican Spanish, it might be longer. So it might not fit into the screen or not fit into the button. So then I have to rethink. We analyze the content and then we give it back either in the Figma or a Google Sheets or whatever, kind of type of document that was requested.
And on my end, you would say like, that's it. Sometimes we go back and forth with the UX writers.
But overall it's just like, I'll give it back to the UX writers and they'll just take over and go back to make sure like it's uploaded or deliver it to the IT team.
Michal: When you say you have access to Figma, do you have actual edit access to Figma and you can change the copy in the file ?
Michal: And if you change a version in Mexican Spanish, do you have like a different board for Mexican Spanish and a different board for other kind of variants?
Monica: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. We keep reference of those. It would be the UX writer who assigns the content and they will give us a space specifically for the Mexican version. So that way you can see the original version versus the Mexican version.
Michal: And who copies that into the final production file? So who's in charge of that?
Monica: Yeah. It'll depend. Sometimes the UX writer is in charge of uploading the content or has access to the different back-office platforms where you upload the content. Sometimes if it's something that's been developed by IT then you give it to IT. Soc...
Michal: Okay. So I want to ask you a hard question. Another hard question.
Monica: Another one.
Michal: Another one. So let's say that your bosses come to you tomorrow and they tell you, we want to add another language. We want to add, I don't know, Chinese. How would you adapt the process when there's someone who's working on the copy, who is maybe not an in-house UX writer, and who's an external freelancer, or new to the process. So how would you adapt that process to make it more scalable for that?
Monica: Yeah. Again, good question, hard question. If it's a market need, they would do something similar to what did with me. It's like, okay, we need a UX writer or content strategist and it has to be someone from that country.
Monica: So I'm guessing we would add someone to be the language lead if you may, for that. But I do think if it's a completely new language, we would follow the process that we already have for Portuguese to Spanish. I think we already have like a good background to have someone join in. However, we are always, always testing and challenging the way we do things.
So it's probably going to be like, oh, maybe if we're going to start translating for Chinese, we're going to need an extra step because the characters alone are going to change.
Michal: Yeah, that's true. I think it's really, it's really fresh what you're doing, because I feel that in many ways, the correct way to do a localization these days for digital products is just by hiring UX writers in different languages. But once you scale it up, it becomes maybe too complicated or too expensive for companies. And then someone says, okay, we have to find a way to make this more affordable. And that's when things start to break apart, if they even landed on the UX Writer solution to begin with, and not just went to an agency and that agency said, sure, we're going to do that for you and just send it over to whoever.
So I, I do love that you're just taking this in a very slow and focused way, actually reviewing the copy, actually reviewing the flow and the experience, and not just saying, I just need that text in one, two, three languages.
Monica: Exactly. No, we do try to be as detailed as possible with that. We're still in the process of figuring out that I think ourselves, I think we're on a good path. We're still figuring that out.
Michal: Yeah, definitely a good path though. I agree. What are your plans to further optimize or improve this process in the future?
Monica: Right now, we're on version one. We're just observing, understanding what's going on. We're constantly analyzing what is working. Maybe the process is not clear enough for some of the UX writers or details are not being turned in. We start documenting it and just understanding how to make it better, but also documenting the content, the concepts and all of the insights that we're getting. We're documenting them so that we can later on try to train the team, so we can make it easier or empower our other Spanish-speaking UX writers, and give them the tools so that they can do more of the localization, technical aspects, or certain expressions. I think that's going to help us optimize the process a little bit more.
And from there, we're just going to take the next steps. I think in the future we're looking forward to putting these workshops together, and just keep learning more and like... So far it's going well, but you know, there's so much more that we can work on for sure.
Michal: You mentioned that you came on as a content designer, as a UX writer. And then you sort of stumbled into a localization role, right?
Monica: Yeah. It wasn't brought in as the localization expert, more like, I guess, the cultural experts. I didn't have the official title of localizator. Can we say localizators? I think we can say localizators.
Michal: I think maybe we should. Because localizers are the people who are translating. So localizators could be the people who are facilitating the process. I think we need to use it. I think it's, it's here.
Monica: OK. Let's throw it out there. Let's see if it sticks. And if people start using it, then we can coin the term.
Michal: Definitely. Take credit.
Monica: Sure. But yeah, I didn't come in as the localization expert for sure. It was the goal from the start: you're Mexican, you have the skillsets and you're going to help us curate, create, and just work on the content that's specifically for the Mexican market.
Monica: But I wasn't officially.
Michal: Yeah. Well, it's something that I've been hearing a lot from people. A person comes to the company as a UX writer, as a content designer, or as a UI designer sometimes, and they really care about the localized content for some reason.
Maybe they were in a localization role in the past. Maybe they speak another language. And so they kind of take that flag and they start to run with it and they become the localization advocate in the company. And it's, it's a story that I've been hearing repeated because I think a lot of the time companies don't know that they need a localization expert or a localization manager until someone says, "Whoa, something is not going right here. And you need someone to, to kind of constantly watch over this. And I'm willing to be that person".
Monica: For sure. Exactly. I think if companies can't name it right away, they're like, we know something's up. Maybe we should pay more attention. Before I landed in Despegar, that would also be my experience with clients.
You'd be like, "Hey, but who's your audience?" and they would say, " Oh, they're from 18 to 25" or whatever. Like, yeah, but, what's your market? So that I can translate and I can adapt to it. Then they were, like, "Oh, just do Spanish. And I'm like, no, it's not just Spanish.
Michal: " Just do Spanish".
Monica: "Just do Spanish." And I'm like, okay, fine. But if most of your audience is Mexico, and if your brand voice is quirky, I have to bring in those aspects that this variant has.
So yeah. I do think companies are more and more learning that this is key. But I do think that even you mentioned it at some point, that localization has been around for a while, but it hasn't really been popular for a while. Right?
Michal: Yeah. Not in experience teams.
Monica: Exactly. Exactly. So hopefully that will change in the future. And now they'll go for it or localizers... No, not localizers. Localizators.
Michal: It works.
Monica: It works. Just, just put it on your LinkedIn and start like...
Michal: Maybe that's just the name we need as UX localizers. It's just going to be localizators.
Monica: Yes! Oh, I loved it. I love that. I think you already mentioned UX localizers. I was like, I'm going to keep that.
Michal: Yes! It's really a problem because translators have been, like you said for a long time, have been existing and doing their thing. And they used to have like little pieces of paper where they wrote the texts in different languages. And then this is such a different industry than what that used to be. It's such different work.
Michal: And the only similarity is that we're both writing something in different languages, but that's it. That's the only similarity. And so companies come into this and they say, "Oh, translation is translation, right? So just make it Spanish", but...
Monica: "Just do it in Spanish".
Michal: "Just do it in Spanish!" But... no, it doesn't work this way, right? It's part of the digital experience. You have to design the copy in Spanish, right? Because you're a content designer, you're doing it in a different language, but you are still a content designer.
Monica: Of course.
Michal: So that's one of the one of the main challenges. And that's why I think we should have a different title, maybe UX localizers, maybe something else, but something that is more relevant to the industry, I think.
Monica: Yeah, I agree. Well, I mean, thank you so much for creating this podcast, too. And creating all of this content that's now online. That's something that's one of my personal goals. To just start being an advocate for localization, maybe like Latin American markets, just so that more people are joining in and understanding that it's not just language to language, but they're between varieties and what are the challenges?
And I think it's important for us to just put that content out there. So that people are more aware and we start making better processes in companies in general. So thank you so much, too, for creating these spaces.
Michal: Yes, do it. Do it. Take the flag and run with it.
Monica: Yeah, I'll try. I'll do my best. I promise. It was just a pleasure talking to you. Again, I don't have that many people, like, in the localization business that I can talk to directly.
Michal: Are you on the Slack group for UX localizers?
Monica: No, I'm not. Can you send me the link?
Michal: Yeah, you said a space. There is a space, an actual Slack space. Yes. So I'm going to send you the link, and feel free to join. It's a place To ask questions and consult and whatever and send memes about localization.
Monica: Yeah, I heard that on the first podcast, but I was like, "What are they talking about? Can I Join that? "
Michal: "What is the secret Slack group?" You have to wear the sorting hat.
Michal: All right, thank you so, so much for being here.
Thank you for sharing your process. Thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate it. And it has been fascinating. And also, I think really enlightening for me at least to hear about how you adapt copy in one language, because I've never, this is not something that I've been obviously doing because Hebrew only has one variant.
And so I've never really taken a minute to think about how this is done and if this is even done sometimes by companies. And so it's really interesting. So thank you so much.
Monica: It's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, really. I guess I'll talk to you soon.
Michal: Yeah, you too. Bye!
Monica: See you. Bye!
Michal: For those of you who got this far, thank you for being here and learning about another localization process with us. I hope you enjoyed this conversation, and I hope you learned something new. And if you want to get notified about new episodes from the Localization Process Pod, make sure that you follow this podcast on Spotify or subscribe to emails from Localization Station. And I promise to only send you the good kind of emails.
Until the next one, I was Michal Kessel Shitrit, and this was the Localization Process Pod. Have a great day!
p.s. Did you know we have a Slack community for UX localization? Join right here – and don't forget to join the relevant language-specific channels, too. Can't wait to see you there!
Same-language variant localization with Monica Martín del Campo from Despegar
What does localization look like when you localize into the same language? That's exactly what we tried to discover.