We are sure you have heard the term “translation” and know more or less what it means and entails. But what about localization? This term may sound more related to geography and you’re not entirely wrong. Localization does have to do with geography to some extent, but it is also related to translation.

In this article, we’ll look into what both terms mean and focus more thoroughly on localization. Finally, we’ll also cover the difference between translation and localization.

Generally speaking, translation is the action of transferring written content from one language (called “source language”) into another (called “target language”).

This means a translator will have expert knowledge of both the source and target languages, as well as the cultures of both countries or regions. Cultural knowledge gives translators the tools to understand the nuances of the text so they can properly convey its meaning and intent.

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Although English is spoken by over one billion people across the globe, this still leaves out quite a big chunk of the population. Translation allows you to reach a large target audience and expand your business.

Whether you require translation for your website, legal documents, or a letter in a different language, having them properly translated is extremely important. A suitable translation should be accurate, clear and follow the requirements of the specific area or field, if any. This is essential to ensure the target text fulfills its purpose and meets your business goals. It is also why you should always hire professional translators for these tasks.

Localization goes beyond translation. You are not just translating a text from one language to another, you are transferring a whole product from one culture into another. Localization does not cover just the text, but everything that meets the eye (or the ear) in products such as websites or mobile apps.

The purpose of localization is to successfully enter new markets. This could include a different language or it could be two countries or regions that speak the same language but have cultural differences, such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

“Locale” is a term you’ll often hear in the context of localization. Locale includes both the language and the country or region in which it is spoken.

As you might know, Spanish is spoken in quite a few countries around the globe. Specific terminology and cultural aspects vary depending on the country or region. Therefore, it is important to know in which target market the product will be used when it comes to localizing it.

The success of a website or mobile app does not depend only on the written content. Its general design, color scheme, and graphics, among other features, also play a role. If you have an e-commerce business, localization means you will reflect local holidays and celebrations on your site or app and consider them when planning special promotions.

Moreover, sometimes the content does not need to be just translated, but completely adapted by removing or adding sections, making it shorter or longer, or adapting to meet legal regulations. You may also need to edit content so it adapts to the cultural differences and local preferences of another country that speaks the same language; this includes spelling and vocabulary differences.

These are all reasons why localization matters. Users want products that feel familiar and authentic. They will be more drawn to your product or service if they are localized as it will provide a better user experience.

Including localization in your marketing strategy will give you a competitive edge, increase customer satisfaction and increase brand loyalty, not to mention it will increase your revenue as a consequence.

To make sure the concept of localization is clear, here are some examples of what items require localization.

  • Language and linguistic content
  • Date and time formats
  • Currency
  • Units of measurement
  • Geographical references
  • SEO content (keywords, meta descriptions, etc.)
  • Contact information
  • Colors, shapes and sizes
  • Icons, images and graphics
  • Humor, myths, symbols and cultural references
  • Societal values when it comes to beliefs, relationships and power structures, etc.
  • Text direction (for example, right to left in Arabic)
  • Idioms, slang and local references

You might be wondering what localization looks like. Well, here are three examples of localized products so you can see the work behind them.

There is no doubt that Coca-Cola is an extremely successful global brand. One of the reasons for its international success is its commitment to localization.

You can see this in its website localization results. Take a look at the differences between this global version for North America, its Japanese version, and the Uganda version.

Moreover, Coca-Cola also invests in localizing its marketing strategies. You might remember its “Share a Coke” campaign. Well, names were adapted for each country or region. In China, where it is disrespectful to use first names to refer to people, they replaced this with words such as “classmate” or “close friend”. This is a great example of successful localization.

Another example of website localization is The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) website. The WWF uses localization to help create awareness of endangered species.

The WWF does not only translate its content, but also adapts it depending on its readers. You will easily spot this if you visit the English and Spanish sites that prioritize different species.

Netflix is another international giant that knows how to reach its target audience. The company goes to great lengths to deliver the proper content in each country, also including subtitles and dubbing to make sure users can make the best of the platform. This makes for an excellent user experience.

Even Netflix’s original creations span the globe. There is Queen Sono, an African TV series; the South Korean Squid Game; and Colombian telenovela Queen of Flow.

The main difference between translation and localization is that translation focuses on adapting a message, while localization revolves around adapting an entire experience.

As we’ve already mentioned, translation is a part of localization, but the latter extends way beyond translation. It can include any number of aspects, such as language and regionalism, ease of navigation, communication elements, cultural elements, and transactional elements.

Whether you should get translation or localization services will depend on the purpose of your original text or product. Do you want the information to just be available in another language or do you want to leverage your content to grow your business?

Translation is perfect when it comes to documentation or text in general (contracts, emails, tax returns, literary texts, diplomas, etc.). Meanwhile, localization is the best fit when more than just text is involved, such as when dealing with digital products. Examples of this are software, mobile apps, websites, video games, and e-commerce, fintech, and healthcare services and products.

Both translation and localization are important and useful. To know if you just need translation or if you need the more comprehensive service of localization you can ask yourself “Am I just rendering a message or a cultural experience?”

You can also refer back to the list of functional and cultural content elements to see if any are included in your product or service.

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There is another word that might cross your path when it comes to translation and localization: transcreation.

Sometimes adapting a text is not enough; you need to completely transform your message. This is where transcreation comes in.

A clear example of this are car model names, company slogans and marketing campaigns. We saw Coca Cola’s Share a Coke example above, where the company changed names into words or terms that reflected types of relationships. Chevrolet released the Chevy Nova in the 1960s, but did not consider the fact that “No va” translates to “no go” in Spanish. Transcreation would definitely have been a better choice in this case.

As we’ve seen, translation is under the umbrella of localization. So when we're thinking about translation vs localization, the main difference lies in all of the other things localization covers.

You should always consider what you wish to transform from one language to another and with what purpose, before deciding on translation or localization services.

We hope this article has made the differences between translation and localization clear and choosing between them easier.

Updated August 1, 2022 in Translation