Translating Emojis: 6 Tips for Emoji Localization

by | Oct 12, 2020

People love adding an emoji to their online comments. Emojis (or emoticons) might seem to be straightforward and just a bit of fun. However, these small symbols can mean different things to people in other countries. They aren’t as universal as most people believe. If you are an international business, you need to understand that a smiley face or a thumbs up may not be appropriate for all audiences. This is why you need to pay attention to translating emojis.

translating emojis

The Challenge of Translating Emojis

You are probably already aware of how hard it is to surmount cultural barriers, particularly when the sourced and targeted languages are very different. And, translating emojis adds another layer of cultural difficulty and complexity. Emojis were initially created just for mobile devices, but now they have populated all kinds of internet content and have proliferated to express so many different emotions. If you translate and localize web content, apps, or social media messages, you can’t ignore emojis. The following are six useful tips to help you translate emojis for international audiences. 

  1. Do Some Emoji Research

It’s a good idea to carry out some localized social media research to see which emojis the locals are using to express their feelings in different circumstances. Besides happy faces and hearts, there are multiple ways to use emojis in your content, depending on each targeted culture. One study found that different populations have distinct preferences when using symbols like emojis on social media. Here are some examples:

  • Russians like romantic symbols, e.g., emojis with heart eyes or kisses or depicting loving couples.
  • The French use emojis with hearts much more than any other nation.
  • Users in Arabian countries prefer messages that include flowers and plants.
  • Canadians seem to engage more with emojis that have something to with money. 
  • Americans are quite happy to use LGBT emojis, including ones involving rainbows and same-sex couples.

2. Don’t Make Assumptions

Even though emojis have taken over the internet, it’s not always easy to understand what they mean to your target audience. When translating emojis, you should make sure you know the meaning of every one that you plan to use to enrich your content. Fortunately, you can use resources like Emoji Meanings or Emojipedia to learn more about what emotion or situation each emoji represents. However, keep in mind that some symbols can have more than one meaning and could easily be misconstrued. You need to fully understand the purpose of an emoji within the context in order to keep your translation accurate and keep the meaning of the original message intact.

3. Recognize That Images Alone May Not Be Enough

Emojis are non-verbal symbols that can add emotional value to translated content when used wisely. These little icons can be an effective way for your brand to form an emotional connection with your local audiences. However, the line between inducing an emotion and creating confusion can sometimes be somewhat fuzzy.

  • Example: In 2015, Chevrolet wrote a press release using only emojis to announce its 2016 Chevrolet Cruze. To this date, communication professionals are still undecided about whether this emoji-over-the-top message had any value at all for prospective customers. The company had to decode its message soon after the release as too many emojis didn’t facilitate an understanding of its message.

If your source content uses emojis that don’t make sense to people in other countries, it’s best to remove or substitute them. 

4. Understand That an Emoji Can Have Several Different Meanings

Using icons to communicate may seem to be straightforward and efficient, but out in the world of different cultures things can quickly become quite complicated. Individuals from various cultures associate emotions with different concepts. Think about universal feelings, like love, anger, or fear. The way people relate and react to them is influenced by social norms that vary widely within every language and culture. Even within the same culture, an emoji can send different signals depending on the person’s social background or the way the emoji is used on a product or service.

  • Example: A study revealed that even the popular emoji depicting a smiley face with an open mouth and tightly closed eyes can elicit both a positive and negative reaction. This is because people relate to faces and how they express emotions differently. 
  • Example: Emojis are different on Android and iOS. This means that what you write on your smartphone app may be seen differently by a user with another type of mobile device. 

5. Always Take Context Into Account

Emojis were meant to be a universal language that could be easily understood by anyone. However, most people never learn the meaning behind any particular emoji. Generally, they just give the emoji the sense they think is appropriate to the context. So, when translating emojis, you need to understand what they mean to your target audience in the context of your whole text. When emojis are correctly aligned with your text, they will enhance your content and generate higher engagement.

6. Use an Emoji Glossary

Emojis are altogether too popular to be banished from your content. However, if you misuse them, you risk sending the wrong message to your target customers. Before translating emojis, make sure you understand their purpose in the original content. This way, you can localize your content and use the right emojis to generate and enhance engagement. The right way to think about emojis is to regard them as a non-verbal dialect. Setting up an emoji glossary for every language you are working with can help you translate these little symbols accurately and in less time.

Let Localize Help You With Emojis

Localize’s translation management platform allows you to create a translation glossary to help you translate your industry-specific terms correctly and consistently. The glossary helps to ensure that your translated content delivers the same message and carries the same tone and voice and as your original content. Talk to us about setting up your glossary to make translating and localizing your brand easier. Book a conversation with Localize to learn more.