ULG's Language Services Blog

Translation vs. Localization: What's The Difference?




In the language services world, the two concepts that are discussed most frequently are “translation” and “localization.”

Although the two have a lot in common and are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences between them that greatly affect how businesses communicate with their target audiences.

To put your best foot forward with international clients and determine which can best assist you in achieving your goals, here is a quick primer on the differences between translation and localization and how they work in tandem to foster communication with different cultural audiences.


What Is Translation?


Translation is defined as the process of transmitting content from one language into another. For most organizations seeking translation services, translation involves adapting a document or other text-based media (app, website, etc.) from an original language into a target language, using the grammar and vocabulary of the target language to best convey the meaning of the original document.

Translation is often performed by some combination of human linguists and Machine Translation (MT) to ensure the most accuracy, and the work is always checked by editors.

It is worth noting that although translation has a lot in common with interpreting, they are also not the same. While translation is written, interpreting is verbal and usually involves an interpreter bridging the gap between two or more people who speak different languages.

Interpreting services are usually conducted in the same room, over the phone, or over video conferencing to help with real-time, in-person communication.


What Is Localization?


Localization goes one step beyond translation and is defined as the process of adapting content more holistically for a new linguistic and cultural audience.

While translation might be more general -- an English to Spanish translation could be appropriate for an audience in Spain, Peru, or Mexico, for example -- localized content would be more specific for these three different regions and take their culture as well as their language into consideration.

In addition to changing the language, localization might incorporate different images, conversions to new measurement systems, time zones or currencies, and different layouts to accommodate language quirks (for example, if a language is read right to left, or if words in the target language tend to be longer than in the original language).

To use our Spain-Peru-Mexico example, a global e-commerce website trying to appeal to audiences here should include localized images that represent the population of each of these countries and should also update the currencies accordingly (euro for Spain, sol for Peru, peso for Mexico).

In short, translation is a word-for-word adaptation; localization goes one step further to account for cultural differences on top of translation.




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How Translation And Localization Work Together


With translation and localization, one is rarely used without the other. Substituting word for word with a translation dictionary, linguist, or MT might lead to technical proficiency, but it is often lacking the nuances or “spirit” of a text and how it is perceived by the target audience.

While translation may play a larger role by itself in simpler situations such as adapting a legal document or technical form, localization is particularly important with marketing campaigns or other communications that are meant to appeal to emotion or spur action as well as provide information.

Websites and other interactive online media rely extensively on both translation and localization to reach the broadest audiences, balancing the need for widespread appeal with the customized content that different regional and cultural groups might respond to best.

Project scopes and complexity vary and require different amounts of translation and localization. Working with an established Language Solutions Provider (LSP) can help you determine the best course of action for translating and localizing your content, while staying “on brand” and ensuring as much continuity as possible.