Tone of voice in translation

Your tone of voice introduces your brand’s personality in new markets, but cultural norms and varying vocabularies make transposing a tone of voice complex.

Just think – what level of formality is seen as polite by the general population of England, Spain, and China? As many brands who have begun the journey to expand into new markets will know, the difference can feel worlds apart.

Tone of voice is a set of guiding principles your brand uses to appeal to specific users. A great tone of voice document will also ensure your content is consistent, no matter how many authors are working on your content.

Tone of voice guidelines can cover types of content, preferred vocabulary and grammatical styles, imagery and more. Critically, tone of voice should factor in special cases and exemptions for each communication channel and territory or market you operate in.

Why is tone of voice important in translation?

It’s important to preserve and adapt your tone of voice when translating content for two main reasons:

  1. Translating your content with the local culture in mind will ensure you a greater chance of adoption in the local market
  2. Adapting your tone of voice will protect you from accidentally misrepresenting yourself due to different cultural expectations.

Just as an organisation’s chosen colours and logo represent who they are, your tone of voice tells your audience about your personality and values. When a brand enters a new territory, it’s common to evaluate the local business culture and consumer expectations to understand how the local audience will receive them. Colours have different connotations across countries, just as certain phrases and idioms do. These differences show the importance of tone of voice in communication across cultures. Considering the connotations of your content, not just the direct translation, is known as localisation.

Translating your content without considering localisation can cause you to lose your tone of voice entirely – or maintain it to the detriment of your brand.

What if the tone of voice changes between markets?

When extending your offering to new markets, you might discover local customs require you to change your tone of voice. 

Here’s how our lead translator, Lucy, approaches tone of voice style when translating content for new markets:

Tone of voice often changes between markets. It may be quite normal for a company to use fairly informal language in the UK, for example, whereas in some languages using the informal pronoun (e.g. du in German, tu in French) would feel out of place in a business context.

Experienced professional translators have a natural sense of this when translating into their own language. For languages where there is a different pronoun for the different register, it is often a case of making a recommendation to the client based on our expertise as a translation company.

The key thing is always to produce a text that would be received in the same way by the market in question as the source text is in the original market. There really is no shortcut for this: you need professional translation expertise and an in-depth knowledge of both languages and cultures.

Lucy Pembayun, Founder of LEaF Translations

How do translators keep to a brand’s tone of voice?

Translators can keep a brand’s tone of voice by combining an innate understanding of local culture with an intense study of a brand’s tone of voice. Translators need a degree of freedom to manipulate existing guidelines into a version that suits their speciality culture – we believe this is best done by creating an open and collaborative relationship between themselves and the client.

But that’s not all; there are many ways an in-house translator or translation agency can excel in maintaining a tone of voice during translation.

3 LEaF Translations

Key steps to maintain your tone of voice during translation

Create a localisation brief

Prepare for your translation project by mapping out the core content required by a translation professional or agency. If you have a large volume of content, prioritise translating your essential text, such as a dedicated landing page, contact details, and FAQs. Any non-critical content you can earmark for ‘phase 2’ once you’re happy with your new tone of voice. Remember to include details on the target audience, language, and context the translation team may need.

Share your tone of voice guide and style guide with the translation company

It’s easy to negate your existing documentation as you focus on a new culture and market, but your tone of voice or style guide is the guiding light for any translation team. Share your existing documentation, so your translator can understand why your content is structured the way it is and maintains the essential tone of voice indicators.

Create new localised guidelines

Build a strong relationship and communication loop with your translation team to develop tailored guides such as:

  • A localised tone of voice glossary, e.g. local slang, preferred terminology.
  • Localised channel guidelines, e.g. guidelines for e-commerce channels that don’t exist in current markets.
  • This vs that examples, e.g. as we show in this table…
Not That…Say This…
Commonly used adjectives that do not align with the brandSynonyms for adjectives which better align with the brand
Fantastic, awesomeInspiring, moving
Grammatically correct translation but not right for the brandA better suited phrasing according to brand
Improve your processing time and cut costsFrom factory to shop floor in half the time and half the cost

Create a tight feedback loop throughout your translation process

Finally, begin the bulk of your translations in tandem with a clear approval process.

With your localised tone of voice at the ready, your translation team can work efficiently, preparing content according to their expert process and regularly sharing examples for your team to give feedback.

Maintaining tone of voice through translations: what to do next

Investing in your tone of voice for new markets will help you to attract the right customers. If you’re ready to start, begin by curating your brand guide documents and ensuring they are up-to-date. At this stage you’re ready to find a translation team that understands your brand and the intricacies of your tone.

At LEaF, we put as much understanding into the purpose of translations as we do the grammatical accuracy. From SEO keyword research to slogans, to business and marketing documentation, we’d be delighted to start understanding your brand and exploring if we’d be a match. Explore our marketing translation service here.

Kitty LEaF blog 2021

About the Author


Kitty Trewhitt is a translation project manager at LEaF Translations. She oversees each phase of the translation project and keeps in contact with both the client and linguists throughout the process. Besides managing our projects, Kitty also translates and proofreads texts from French and Italian into English, as well as creating LEaF’s monthly newsletter and managing the company social media accounts.