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By Fabiano Cid
August 27, 2014

Portuguese: The Localization Triple-Edged Sword

Managing Brazilian, European and African Portuguese Translations

Companies of all sizes and across many industries strive to increase their market share using a variety of tactics, and sports marketing ranks high among them. Global events such as the World Cup and the Olympics provide terrific opportunities to reach into markets that would otherwise get little attention in the boardroom. If your company is expanding to Latin America and Africa, where so much growth is taking place, you know that localization and translation are critical elements of the plan. But are you planning those efforts recognizing the diversity of the languages you want to use and the uniqueness of those regional cultures?

As the sixth most spoken language in the world and with 260 million potential buyers, it is only natural that Portuguese peaks your company’s interest. But succeeding in the Portuguese-speaking market requires a solid understanding of its history, geopolitical developments and the evolution of popular culture. More important, it requires acknowledgement that there are more than one Portuguese variant, both spoken and written.

Similar to its cousin English, politics, geography and socio-economic changes over the course of time are largely the catalyst for these various dialects today. A few centuries ago, Portugal reigned as one of the great world powers with many colonies in the New World, including Brazil. The influence of the motherland started to wane in 1808 when the capital of the Portuguese empire, then under the siege of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, moved from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. Brazil’s leadership, and linguistic separation, only increased over the years with Brazil finally declaring independence in 1822.

Yet full independence from the Portuguese influence was only achieved in 1889, with the Proclamation of the Republic, for until then the Brazilian Empire still had strong family ties with Portugal. The US influence increased dramatically throughout these years, and the cultural and geopolitical changes in North and South America strongly influenced the evolution of Portuguese on this side of the Atlantic.

Today, while the people from Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé and Príncipe officially speak the same language, variants spoken in each continent – South America, Europe and Africa – are separated by strikingly different lexicons and pronunciations. For this reason, a company that fails to understand its Portuguese market can, and most likely will, choose the wrong dialect. The negative brand repercussions of a poorly researched decision are often worse than if the company chose to not localize at all.

Among the biggest grammatical differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese are the use of gerunds as opposed to the infinitive, and the second person pronoun. For example, the preferred form for the address pronoun in Brazil is “você” (informal) and “o senhor” (formal), while in Portugal this opposition is expressed by “tu” (informal) and no-pronoun/name of the person/honorific title (formal). In the lexicon, the rapid evolution of technology and the speed needed for languages to adapt have exacerbated the differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese, with vastly different terms for “screen,” “mouse,” “computer,” and “file.”

If your texts have a literary or academic nature, your marketing and product development teams are in luck. For literary works, adaptation between the two forms of written Portuguese is not necessary, and that often applies to broader editorial purposes. Content such as technical publications and textbooks published in one variant of Portuguese can be sold on both sides of the Atlantic. But, if content is geared toward consumer goods, with connections to popular culture, technology developments or social media, be prepared as the product localization may require two or even three content tracks.

The localization complexity increases even more when the focus is the African markets. While the written forms of African and Iberian Portuguese are virtually identical, the spoken languages are quite different. So if plans call for expanding into African markets, such as Angola and Mozambique, and there is audio or video content involved, you should budget for additional translation and recording efforts.

Not unlike other global expansion initiatives, reaching your Portuguese target market in the right dialect with the right message is heavily dependent on the product or service, marketing strategy, business objectives, and target consumers. All global marketing initiatives are challenging and risky, which is why the rewards are so great. It is true that many companies not part of the Commonwealth and the United States have already addressed the challenges of adapting to US English or UK English. But with more than spelling differences and some idioms to manage, the two variants of written Portuguese present significantly more complex challenges.

Should you choose to go into foreign markets alone, you do so at your own peril. Instead we encourage you to plan your translation effort accordingly by first taking the time to understand the target market and by working with translation providers that only employ native speakers of all three. By working within the principle of “knowing your audience,” and always having a local guide, your localization will certainly score a goal for both your company and your new customers.

Given the size and growing influence of Latin American middle classes, the emergence of African opportunities, and the well-established (and thriving) European market, investing to reach Brazilian, European, and African Portuguese prospects makes good business sense, which if done smartly can provide an excellent ROI for your efforts. And what better news could you send to the boardroom?

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