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Emoji Translation – Is It Possible and Necessary in Business Communication?

Posted by Anne Q. on November 08, 2021.

Emoji has become an indispensable part of internet-based communication. In fact, it is estimated that

Emojis in Businesses

How Goldman Sachs – a well-known investment bank used emojis in their tweet

With these impressive figures, it is not exaggerating to say that emojis have become a common language of the 21st century on electronic communication channels and an efficient tool for business communication.

One big question is that even though emojis are of great popularity all around the world, are they universal? Do they have the same meanings or are they used exactly the same everywhere in the world? Or to put it in other words is it possible to translate emojis and is it worth doing so?

In this post, let’s talk about emojis and whether you should think about emoji translation for your business’s marketing campaigns and communication.

What are Emojis?

Emoji is a Japanese word, literally meaning “picture characters”. “E” is for pictures and “Moji” is for characters. It is widely recognized that the 176 emojis by Shigetaka Kurita in 1999 was the first set of emojis in the world. The truth is, SoftBank released a set of 90 emoji characters on the 1st of November 1997, making it the first emoji set in the world.

First emoji set in the world - Emoji Translation

However, it was not until 2012 that emojis gained popularity on the Internet, following the release of Apple’s iOS 6 and the emoji keyboard. And now, emojis have become a texting accessory that many people cannot live without. As of September 2021, there are in total of 3,633 emojis in the Unicode Standard.

Besides adding emotions to your texts and contents, emojis play an important role in

    • Conveying what words can’t
    • Boosting audience engagement
    • Giving your brand a personality


Are Emojis Universal?

Unfortunately, emojis are not universal. They can have different meanings in different countries and cultures. Let’s take some examples:

    • A smiling emoji 🙂 can be used to express incredulity or distrust in some Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, etc.
    • Peace sign emoji ✌️ is one of the most commonly used emoji in the world. However, in the UK, it means “The F-word” or “Screw off”.
    • The OK emoji 👌 is insulting in Brazil as it is equivalent to giving someone the middle finger. Meanwhile, tt can be used for number 0 in France, a coin in Japan, or number 9 in American Sign Language (ASL).
    • Waving hand emoji👋 is commonly understood as hello or goodbye but on WeChat in China, it means “I don’t want this friendship anymore”.
    • Thumbs up emoji 👍 indicates approval but is considered insulting in Australia. In Japan, it means five and in Germany, it means one.
    • There are also several emojis that cause so much controversy that they have to be removed.

Even when some emojis have the same meanings in different countries, this can happen:


On July 7 – World Chocolate Day, the beloved children’s entertainer Cookie Monster tweeted “IT #WORLDCHOCOLATEDAY!!! Me celebrating with lots of chocolate chip COOOOOKIES! 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪”. However, the chocolate-chip emoji (right) on the tweet turned out to be cracker emoji on Samsung Galaxy phones (left) which confused a lot of Samsung users.

In short, not emojis mean the same things around the world, not to mention their variations on different operating systems. Thus, emoji translation should be a part of international businesses’ marketing strategies to help avoid cultural misunderstanding on internet-based communication.

If you still doubt if emoji translation is real or not, meet Keith Broni who beat 500 applicants to become the first emoji translator in the world. “Emojis allow us to imbue digital messages with the non-verbal cues inherent in face-to-face interaction: they allow us to signify the emotional context of a statement which would normally be conveyed in vocal tone, pose or gesture, rather than just the words themselves,” said Broni.


Must-Know Tips for Emoji Translation

#1. Don’t Make Assumptions

Doing research is the first crucial step to help you understand the way the locals use emojis on the Internet. You should find out which types of emojis your target audiences prefer using and which emojis have negative expressions that you should avoid using.

These insights should be acquired from proper research from reliable resources. You shouldn’t make assumptions solely based on your own culture preference for emojis or random emoji explanation on the Internet. If you are not sure about the meaning of emojis while you need to use them a lot for your marketing campaigns, consider using professional emoji translation services and/or getting consultancy from localization experts.

emoji translation

Here are some interesting facts about how emojis are used around the world, which will help you plan a better emoji translation strategy:

    • Face with tears of joy 😂 emoji is the world’s most popular emoji, followed by Thumbs up👍 and Red heart ❤️ emojis.
    • French people love using emojis with heart.
    • Romantic emojis like heart eyes or kisses are preferred by the Russians.
    • Arabic countries like flowers and plants emojis.

#2. Take Context into Account

While some people are expert at emoji meanings, many people don’t actually learn the meanings behind an emoji. Instead, they read the content and figure the accompanied emojis must have similar meanings to support the content. Therefore, if your content is translated accurately, it is likely that your target audiences will understand the emojis easier. In return, emojis enhance your messages and boost engagement from the target audiences.

#3. Use an Emoji Glossary

We have emphasized a lot about how important it is to have a translation glossary for your document translation project in our previous post. When it comes to emoji translation, having an emoji glossary is also high recommended. An emoji glossary contains a list of emojis that need translating and their meanings or context in the source languages. Thanks to this list, translators can find the equivalent emojis in the target languages easier and more precisely.

An emoji glossary can also add value to your marketing campaigns by:

    • Keeping your translation consistent and culturally-appropriate
    • Harmonizing your brand identity
    • Giving your brand a personality

#4. Work with Professionals

Although emoji might only take a small proportion of your content, the benefits it bring is undeniable. Cutting all emojis out of your translated content can reduce emoji translation costs and the risks of cultural unsuitability but at the same time, it significantly affects the performance of your marketing campaigns. Thus, this approach is not a smart choice.

What you should do is to let professional emoji translators help you handle your emojis. Although professional emoji translation services add some more costs to your project, its benefits definitely outweigh the money you pay for.

Emoji translation services

Work with emoji translation experts at GTE Localize to boost your marketing campaign performance in global markets. Drop us a line and receive free consultancy today!