Translation vs. Localization: Is there a difference?

Translation vs. Localization: Is there a difference?

A company that provides translation and localization services, is often asked what is the difference between translation and localization? These terms are often used interchangeably and there is quite a bit of overlap between them, but there are also important differences.

What is Translation?

Translation is the word-for-word translations of source text from one language say for e.g. English to Italian. Translation is fairly exact science. The source and target language text should employ the same words and terminology and essentially be mirror images of each other.

Translation is very relevant for literal content like manuals, compliance, legal or other regulatory documents, technical publications, medical and scientific information etc. In such context, a precise translation is all that is needed. Translation is usually billed per word.

How is localization different?

Localization is a step ahead of translation. It involves ‘adapting’ language content to into a meaningful message that is understood in the foreign markets culture. Thus localized content is not a literal, word-for-word translation but a broader message that conveys the essence and relates to the experience and sentiments of the culture.

To reflect right concept and idea, many times the words and phrases need to be adapted. For example, “mystere et boules de gomme” is French sentence literal translation would be “mystery and gumballs.” But this neither makes sense nor conveys the right message. The proper translation of the expression would be “that’s a puzzler” or “the plot thickens” depending on the context.Hence it becomes critical that a person doing such work not only is fluent in the foreign language but also understands the nuances of its culture.

“In essence, translation looks to break the language barrier, while localization takes it a step further by understanding and adapting to target audience and break the cultural barrier.”

Localization service providers look at functional aspects like ensuring right date, time, measurement, geographical references as well as more cultural aspects like adapting symbols, icons, graphics, societal codes, and even changing the color schemes of a product or website to suit what works best in the target culture.  A great example of transcending the cultural barriers was “Share a Coke” campaign by Coca Cola that launched a global campaign of imprinting one of 150 popular first names of people on its bottles. However, in China, they only used nicknames like ‘classmate’ or ‘close friend’ to maintain the campaigns friendly nature but respecting the culture’s formal significance of first names.

Localization services are commonly used for marketing materials, websites, social media, gaming and other content that is trying to reach specific target groups in own or foreign country.

A good translator ensures that they understand local culture and idioms, uses not only fluent language but also adapts graphics, icons and even color schemes to suit what works best in a target culture group. For example in Germany yellow symbolizes jealousy while in Japanese culture, yellow represents bravery!

Today companies, irrespective of their size, are looking to go global either to reach out to new markets or strengthen their supply chains. Thus the ability to understand and communicate in different languages and cultures becomes increasingly important.

While need for professional translators with in-depth knowledge of languages will continue to exist, for any B2C business looking to cater to international markets, the relevance of localization services by a professional team cannot be understated.

Our team of experienced professionals offers translation and localization services. In case you have any questions feel free to contact us.



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