If you’re at a global company, you likely understand the importance of translating email to make sure it’s relevant to a multicultural audience – and the challenges of creating multi-language email.

Even large enterprises with decently staffed teams struggle to work with resources across time zones, doing email translations, QAing multiple formats, changing imagery to resonate culturally, managing multiple approvers across regions, etc. 

The reality is that the effort of localization has a multiplier effect on teams that are already pushed to the brink – because email works and companies are always trying to get more from it. 

In a recent webinar, Elliot Ross, Email Evangelist at SparkPost, provided practical tips and real‑world examples to help you consider people who speak other languages and make email marketing work in multiple languages.

In this blog, we share some of the takeaways from the session on email translation and multi-language email, and you can check out the full recording anytime!

Nail email in one language first!

Multi-language email is the end of game boss for email marketers.

The levels before it include:

  • Creating an engaging message 
  • Being relevant
  • Doing segmentation
  • Considering accessibility 
  • Coding for mobile users
  • Getting your team working

Elliot says…

“I think the way that teams work in email is often overlooked, but it’s crucial. We hear a lot of stories about people who work 8 hours at a time. They come and do that job, and they’ve done 8 hours, and that’s that. 

And they haven’t had time to think strategically about anything. They’ve just been kind of fire-fighting for 8 hours every day. So making sure that your team is working effectively, I think, is underrated but super important. 

So, yeah – that said – we’re going to assume that a lot of this stuff is in place already. If there are challenges in getting one email out the door, they’re going to be amplified by doing it 15-20 times for different languages and regions and things like that.” 

Ensure your team is working effectively.

How is your global team structured?

  • Small Central: Perhaps two or three people all working in the same office – doing all of the work themselves and getting it out.
  • Wider Central: A central team that sets the direction, empowering people in local offices to implement campaigns in a way that works for individual local audiences.
  • Locally: Everything is done with complete autonomy by local teams, often using things like different ESPs and completely different templates. 

Share knowledge & learnings with everyone who works on email. Make sure everyone knows:

  • Brand standards
  • Your strategy
  • Types of campaigns
  • Standards of content
  • What success looks like

Elliot says…

“I think it’s very important that you share your knowledge and your learnings with everyone. So pre-pandemic time – especially if we’re all in the same office and they’re sitting at the same desk – it’s very easy to just, you know, shout over the desk, or go into the meeting room and share what’s going on. So working in multiple emails, especially across multiple offices or regions with different people in different countries, forces us to embrace that kind of remote working mentality. 

Over the last couple of years, maybe we’ve got a bit of a heads-up on being able to do this a bit better. You should have an email strategy, brand standards, things like that, and those things are communicated to everyone who is touching email in some way. So make sure that everyone is aware of your strategy, and the brand, making sure that people know what your campaigns are doing, and what the success of those campaigns looks like. What is a good standard of our content? Should things be informal? Should they be formal? What’s our tone of voice? All of that kind of stuff, making sure that that is fairly well documented and crucially communicated.” 

Email transcreation over email translation

Transcreation ensures the message makes sense for a local audience.

Aside from embarrassing translations, transcreation helps with more mundane issues, like word limits and sentence structure.

Localization also extends to imagery. Remember: people like to see themselves in marketing.

When considering more inclusive imagery, make sure to consider:

  • Age
  • Appearance
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender & sexuality
  • Health & disability
  • Religion
  • Socioeconomic status 

Elliot says…

“So transcreation: The idea is you take the message, and you turn that message into what it would be in a different language – and that might be completely different. Take a completely different sentence structure, it might be a different paragraph, it might be a completely different way of saying things, especially when you get into things like jokes or puns or turns of phrases, that kind of thing. Quite often, phrases don’t really translate into different languages, so you have to make them local. 

So translation is about being a lot more aware of what’s going on, and there’s tons of these examples. But when KFC first went to China… ‘finger-lickin’ good,’ they literally translated it. And unfortunately, the literal translation of that is ‘eat your own fingers off’ when you translate that into Chinese, into Mandarin. So obviously the local marketers were able to change that and understand what it should be, and then come up with something a bit more relevant. Quite often when things go wrong, it’s because it’s just been literally translated at face value. So yeah, never perfect.” 

Language is regional

An important thing to consider when you’re translating email is that language doesn’t equal region – especially when it comes to languages like French and Spanish. 

Your message and offer will likely change across regions, even within the same language. Plus details, such as URLs, attribution, and legal text may differ. 

Elliot says…

“So translating something into French is all good. But what you need to be aware of is not only are there different dialects in French, but also there are different countries that speak French. So there’s Belgian, Swiss, Canadian, Senegalese, and Seychelles, and also there are roughly 29 countries in the world that have French as their official language. So not only are there different styles of French, but also just from a production point of view, we’re talking to different markets at this point. So it might be that the links in your email need to be different for Belgian vs. French vs. Swiss. 

Understand the local market

Local markets behave differently, so you need to be aware of this when comparing your results and success.

Consider your local business:

  • How is support handled? 
  • What does the rest of the customer journey look like?
  • What products aren’t available?

In addition, there are also different local legal challenges to consider, such as CASL and GDPR. Even beyond email, it’s also important to be aware of things like local competition laws.

Elliot says…

“It gets quite complicated quickly. I mean, aside from literal translation, does the message change? Because our audience has changed as we talk to different regions. And with that, let’s have a look at more about the local markets. So one big challenge is that markets are different around the world, right? So we need to be aware of that. At the very least, when we’re comparing our success, we can’t just make a campaign and say, ‘Right, well, we sent this to every state in the U.S., and then we’re going to expect the exact same results when we send it to different countries around the world.’” 

Market globally, QA locally

To avoid mistakes in email translation, it’s important to have someone who speaks the local language help with QA.

If email isn’t their job, help them understand your goals, the email channel, and what type of help you need. The good news is, with remote working tools this has never been easier!

Elliot says…

“I think by far the best possible thing you can do to make sure that what you’re doing works in a local audience and language, is to have someone locally – ideally who natively speaks whatever language it is that you’re mailing to. There’s obviously stuff you can do – translating stuff back to English or whatever your language is in Google Translate – and there’s other stuff you can do. But having someone who natively, conceptually kind of understands all the nuances of what’s going on in a local region and language is invaluable. They don’t have to be people who work in email, but just someone who is on the ground or has a strong background is very useful.”

Other important points to consider during email translation

Understand your local audience’s devices: It’s important to find out what devices are popular regionally and to see which local email clients your audience is using.

“Not only does that affect how people engage with the overall journey, but we do need to consider specific rendering issues as well. There are some specific email coding challenges for when people are using Apple devices; when they’re using Samsung devices; or when they’re using some of the other devices.” 

Thai-pography: During email translation, it’s easy to break words in the wrong place, completely changing the meaning of a sentence. A local, fluent person can tell you where to break words. 

It’s also important to watch out for your computer’s language setting. An English language device can render text differently from a local one. Check that your typeface supports local characters and character set, such as UTF-8. 

“Having someone with that local knowledge in the local devices is going to be very important for you if you can possibly do that. If you can’t, then maybe grab some stuff out of a device lab and get hold of, you know, a simple smartphone or something like that and change the language so that it supports it – might be a way around that.”

Designing and coding for Right to Left (RTL)

RTL languages (including Arabic & Hebrew) are read from Right to Left. We should adapt our design, and code, accordingly.

Set the direction and language of your content in the HTML. You will likely use both directions for different character sets (in the same email).

<span dir=”rtl” lang=”ar”>مرحبًا</span>

<span dir=”ltr”>Hello</span>

Taxi for Email and multi-language email 

If all of this sounds a bit daunting to you, check out Taxi for Email. Working with Taxi helps makes implementing multi-language email a breeze for marketers. Your team can preview content live in the email design as you translate, making it easier to ensure expanded and translated content still works in the layout. 

Global enterprise brands use Taxi to produce email in over 35 languages, making campaigns that mail to millions of people across over 100 countries worldwide. Learn more about how you can empower your team to reach your full audience through multi-language email production.