When it comes to user experience, there’s a world of difference between translating your site and localizing it so that customers feel it’s right for them.

You know about translation and may have got to grips with the term localization, but do you understand where a “locale” fits in?

When you enter a new market, you’ll need to localize your app to suit the audience’s needs. Language is a crucial factor in this process, but your translation efforts could be in vain if you don’t consider wider differences in culture, usage, and format.

If your business is branching out to a global market, read this blog to learn about this important concept.


What does locale mean?

Locale takes in the local language as well as the regional variations in the place where it is spoken.

Successful localization encompasses the culture, conventions, and preferences of users in a particular region. These are combined with language to provide one localized offering.

Take Spanish – the world’s second-biggest language, but it can vary greatly depending on your location. A customer in Madrid would have very different expectations to one in Mexico.

The Canadian marketplace is another example of a complicated linguistic landscape.

Canadian users generally understand France French translations, however some parts may jar culturally. In conversational French, there is a contrast between France French and the most widely-spoken variations in Canada; Quebec French and Montreal French.

Again, using the wrong variation can result in a negative experience for the customer and even impact their opinion of your business.

Beyond the obvious linguistic differences, thinking in terms of locales enables you to address important regional factors. These are the things that help a user feel like your product is made for them.

Consider these questions for each region:

  • How are dates and times handled?
  • What currency is used?
  • What measurements are used for weight and distance?
  • Are there any common words that are spelt or spoken differently?
  • Are there words or phrases that are relevant to your product or industry that are spelt or spoken differently?
  •  Are there any differences in how documents are formatted? For example, American and European letter sizes vary in size.

Addressing these issues at the outset will make sure customers have a more positive experience. The goal is to create a seamless experience where users automatically feel like it’s “right” for them.


Integrating locales into your SaaS product

You may have noticed that countries aren’t referred to in the context of a locale – instead, we refer to “regions”’. To help us define this for coding purposes, first look at the language and then the region.

For example, the code ‘en’ stands for English language. However, the English language varies according to the region, so a region code is added.

This means `en-US` is used for the USA and ‘en-GB’ for Britain – they share the same language (English) but are different locales because the regional identifier is different.

In Spanish, ‘es’ is used for the language – here are a few examples of the locale codes you may come across:

  • es-ES = Spanish (Spain)
  • es-419 = Spanish (Latin America)
  • es-MX = Spanish (Mexico)

Standard codes and subtags

The recommended format for locales is the BCP 47 standard. This takes standard codes that are used to indicate the language and combines them with subtags from other standards such as ISO 639, ISO 15924, ISO 3166-1, and UN M.49. These subtags help to distinguish language variants for countries, regions, writing systems, etc.

The tag structure has been standardized by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and is used within established programming systems such as HTTP, HTML, and XML.

It may be tempting to focus solely on language and translation as you globalize your business, but remember that this strategy runs the risk of alienating customers.

By embedding locales into your app you can create a seamless user experience that avoids any cultural problems and feels right for your target audience.