Translation vs Localization: The Important Differences

Before you dive into any type of translation or localization project, it will benefit you greatly to understand the difference between these two terms. While both are closely related at first glance, translation and localization have some key differences between them that are worth knowing. In order to compete in an increasingly global economy, it is important that brands utilize translation and localization services properly and to their advantage. 

What is Translation?

The term translation, also known as tl8n (or #xl8), refers to the process of changing text from one language to another in order to achieve an equivalent meaning. Doing so allows the overall meaning of the text to remain identical, while being expressed in a different language from the original text. 

Translation is not a word-for-word conversion, but the goal is to maintain the original meaning through both vocabulary choices and idiomatic choices. A translator will convert your content into the target language while respecting syntax and grammar rules. As translators strive to maintain the complete original meaning of a text, translation is a process often used for important documentation where it is vital that the original meaning remains the same. Localization on the other hand, blends linguistic equivalence with cultural accommodations. 

Translation is often used to rewrite:

  • Training manuals
  • Scientific journals

What is Localization?

Localization, which is also referred to as #l10n, focuses on making text both linguistically and culturally accurate to whichever region it will be distributed in. The process of localization acknowledges that a direct translation is not enough to connect with an audience. 

Localization is also utilized when you don’t need to translate text into another language, but need to cater to cultural differences. American and British English are a perfect example of this scenario. While an American or British English speaker will be able to understand either type of text, there are major cultural differences between the regions these two languages are spoken in. For example, Americans use the term “bathroom” or “restroom” whereas Brits use the term “loo” when referring to the exact same thing. 

To sum things up, localization ensures culturally connotative terms are used, as localization is not solely focused on a direct translation. A few main areas of concern in the localization process are:

  • Spelling
  • Expressions
  • Idioms
  • Vocabulary
  • Cultural references
  • Imperial vs. metric measurements
  • Currency units
  • Date formats

The Main Differences of Translation vs Localization

The main difference between translation and localization is that localization takes the process a step further by accounting for cultural differences. Localization can help aid in meeting cultural expectations, which can be especially important for making entertainment content, products, or an ad campaign succeed in a new market.

Very direct translation services are more often used for very serious texts where it is of the utmost importance to retain an original meaning, such as with a medical text. Both processes play an important role in increasing the reach of language, but knowing how to use each process to their advantage is key.

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One thought on “Translation vs Localization: The Important Differences

  • It was great sharing.
    That was very useful information. Translators don’t always pay attention to the difference between translation and localization. They’d utilize Localization in a text that need direct translation. And as for Localization, I think translators that are native of the target language can do it better.

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