How we localize Slack

The cultural considerations and values that guide Slack’s global accessibility

Author: Anca Greve March 6th, 2018Illustration by Samantha Mash

The year 2017 was a whirlwind for Localization at Slack, as we expanded our supported languages from one to five. We now provide localized support in English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish for several key products, including the Help Center, main website, and of course, the Slack app itself. So as we gear up to work on how we’ll expand access to Slack even further, I wanted to talk about the considerations behind how we localize, touch on how different languages inform decisions on formality and voice, and describe how we try to uphold the core values of Slack as we expand globally.

Who we are

The localization team at Slack is composed of four in-house Linguists, one Project Manager and myself, the Localization Manager. We also work with a wonderful team of external linguists.

Why is localization important?

Localization builds trust with our customers in a language that they understand, with cultural references that are familiar to them.

To successfully localize, we knew we had to adapt the Slack voice to other cultures. And although much of localization is translation, there are other considerations, such as the fact that our global users have grown up with certain customs, and a certain world view. The witty remarks we make, the anecdotes we employ, the references to a familiar idiom — these are the kinds of things we are extra thoughtful about to build trust with our global users.

What guides our localization decisions?

Slack’s mission is to make working lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive. In order to truly live this mission, the localization team focuses on four core values — courtesy, craftsmanship, empathy and playfulness. These values continue to guide our decisions around developing the Slack voice, formality levels, and whether or not to translate everything or leave some English words in place.

Being courteous and empathetic in localization means we respect the cultural expectations and preferences of our users, no matter where they are located. In Japanese, it means that we respect others in the way we address them, but aren’t overly polite. We want our Japanese users to feel like they’re speaking to a helpful colleague when they use our products.

Japanese message

In Japanese, saying “Good job! Looking at the scenery is good for your fatigued eyes” is a reflection of being courteous but not overly polite.

In German, it might mean that we retain some English copy, as many English words have been embraced and are incorporated in everyday German vocabulary.

“Workspace-Management” is an example of non-translated English terminology in German.
“Workspace-Management” is an example of non-translated English terminology in German.

A key part of the Slack voice is the craft that goes into making the product appeal to users in a human way. We often do this through playfulness, which was the toughest element to localize. You might have noticed the wit in our loading messages, All Unreads section, or release notes. While loading Slack and seeing You look nice today is a nice sentiment in English, if we were to translate that literally into other languages, it would lose its playfulness and very likely send a different message.

French message

The English “You look nice today” becomes “We are here to help” in French.

Or take the message we show you when you’ve read everything in your All Unreads section, You’re all caught up. Here’s a pony. This copy works great in English but does not really make sense in Spanish or French. So in Spanish we say, Has leído todo. Aquí tienes un caramelo de regalo.

Spanish message


And in French we tell you to take it easy and show you the island emoji with the message Vous pouvez vous la couler douce !

The localization team holds dear Slack’s mission, as well as our company values, because they’ve helped us build the foundation for quality in localization and guide our decisions around formality, voice and tone, and inclusiveness. Much of our work still lies ahead of us, as we continue to scale, but we believe that a well-localized product means that it connects seamlessly with our users and their working lives, no matter where they might be located.

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