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Translation and Localisation: What’s the difference?


If you’re planning to successfully push your brand’s content into new markets across the globe, you need to adapt the content for your target audience.

Depending on your goal, you will need both translation and localization to a certain degree.

It may be unclear what the difference is, so we’re here to help you get clued-up on the difference between translation and localization.

What is translation?

Basically, translation is the process of transferring written text from one language to another.

Accurate translations are conducted by an expert linguist who has extensive knowledge of both the source and target languages. They need to not only consider the difference in words, but also grammar and syntax.

Such translation generally means that any cultural differences between the texts or idioms in the text are not really considered – only on a superficial level.

What is localization?

Localisation involves thinking globally but acting locally.

It means adapting your content for your target audience within different cultures, considering cultural nuances and different consumer preferences. It can involve everything from changing color and images on marketing material to altering the fonts on your flyers and the layout of your website.

Localisation is an art as translators must understand their respective nation’s cultural quirks, traditions, and superstitions.

For example, in China, the number ‘8’ is considered very lucky and could grab your audience’s attention.

However, the number ‘4’ is very unlucky as it sounds like ‘death’. So, if you were pushing a campaign in China, you’d want to leave this number behind!

Can I just use translation, or do I need localization too?

Most documents will need both translation and localization.

The level of localization necessary will vary from text to text. Some content, such as technical manuals and instructional documents, is read literally,  so don’t need to be localized to the same level as a website.

However, technical documents still often include elements which are specific to a culture. For example, units such as miles may need converting to kilometers, depending on which unit is the standard for that country.

Likewise, numbers are styled differently in different countries. In the UK, we use commas to separate digits (1,000), but in France, they use a space rather than a comma (1 000).

In these situations, localization should only be needed in its most basic form, but still necessary. So, the degree to which localization will be needed depends on whether your content needs to be translated for functional reasons or to appeal to a specific culture.

Examples of when translation and localization work together

The difference between cultures across the world means that copy and artwork will usually need localization so that the messages correspond to the cultural expectations of the audience. Research shows that localized content can increase engagement by between 50% and 100%.

Localisation is absolutely vital to websites, product descriptions, brochures, and other more general marketing materials. The most powerful and engaging content will appeal to your audience’s emotions.

The perfect example of a brand which localizes its website and marketing campaigns well is Nike. The pages within are specific to a region across the world, in terms of both language and targeted marketing content.

The Nike US website invites its audience to “rep your team’’, promoting its American football fan gear. The brand is aware of the popularity of the sport in America and so has localized its website accordingly.