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Translation vs. Localization: What are the differences?

Introduction #

Does it ever occur to you why people use the word “localization” rather than “translation” when it comes to website localization, app localization, product localization, software localization or game localization? Why aren’t these tasks called “website translation” or “app translation” when it seems like it’s really just a translation task? Is “localization” a fancy word for “translation” to entice clients to pay more?

This post is going to shed some light on these matters.

Before that, I will answer those three questions for you: You probably did. We will get to the reasons soon. No, it’s not a sophisticated word to trick you into buying something equal value with more money.

Definitions and key distinctions #

Let’s start off with a short definition for each word first.

Translation: Transferring the meaning of the source language into target language to render the original text into its equivalents as faithfully and accurately as possible.

Localization: Translating and customizing the original meaning from source language into target language in order to make the content native and local in character for the intended market.

Too many words? See the table below.

AspectTranslationLocalization
DefinitionTransferring the meaning of the source language into target languageTranslating and customizing the original meaning from source language into target language
AimConvert the original text into its equivalents as faithfully and accurately as possible
Transform the source content into target content that reads, looks, sounds and feels native and local in character for the intended market
Process(es) involvedThe linguist will have to translate the source content directly into target language.Not only does the linguist need to translate, the linguist also has to customize the source content into target language.
Types of translators neededNative or proficient professional translators who are certified to translate into target languageNative and professional translators who are familiar with local and sociocultural nuances
The need for cultural sensitivitiesLow – MediumHigh
Elements to be rendered into target contentIn most cases, just texts.In almost every case, texts, images, colours, icons, logos, photos, slogans, jokes, puns, et cetera.

In short, “localization” is a bigger idea that includes “translation”.

When you ask for a localization service, you are actually asking for a combined service of Translation + Adaptation of source content into culturally responsive target content.

Examples #

We believe that any complicated concept can be as clear as crystal when it comes with a few examples.

Depending on your choice, the target text can be quite different for Translation and Localization.

Source text (English):
This is my favorite cookie. It costs about $2. It expires on 12-31-2019.
Translation (Malay):
Inilah biskut kegemaran saya. Ia berharga lebih kurang $2. Tarikh luputnya ialah 12-31-2019.
Localization (Malay):
Inilah biskut kegemaran saya. Ia berharga lebih kurang RM8. Tarikh luputnya ialah 31-12-2019.

Can you spot the differences?

For translation, the currency and date format didn’t change. They remain as “$” and “MM-DD-YYYY”.

For localization, the currency and date format have been changed to “RM” and “DD-MM-YYY” in order to suit the cultural context of Malaysia.

Here are other examples:

Source TextTranslationLocalization
English (United States)
My favorite pants cost about $15 in that shopping mall.
English (United Kingdom)
My favourite pants cost about $15 in that shopping mall.
English (United Kingdom)
My favourite trousers cost about £10 in that shopping centre.
English (United States)
I was late but I lucked out. My neighbor gave me a free ride to the theater.
English (United Kingdom)
I was late but I lucked out. My neighbour gave me a free ride to the theatre.
English (United Kingdom)
I was late but I was lucky. My neighbour gave me a free ride to the theatre.

Unlike American English, “lucked out” means “unfortunate” in British English, therefore this phrasal verb should be changed and localized accordingly.
Chinese (Simplified, PRC)
请打开文件。
Meaning: Please open the file.
Chinese (Traditional, Taiwan)
請打開文件。
Chinese (Traditional, Taiwan)
請開啟檔案。

Unlike Simplified Chinese, “文件” means “document” instead of “file” in Traditional Chinese, therefore this noun should be changed and localized accordingly.

Conclusion #

When compared to translation, localization is clearly a more complex process because the target content not only has to be accurate but also culturally competent.

If you strategize your brands, websites, apps or games with good, if not excellent localization, you will be able to develop a really deep emotional connection with your target audience, bringing them one step closer to your products. Because high-quality localization impresses and attracts people.

When making a localization decision, it’s very important you choose an experienced language service provider that is adept at localization. Bad localization costs you more money, extra energy and additional time to take down the jerry-built content and replace it with a new one. Most importantly, your brand’s well-established good public image could be jeopardized critically if this one process was handled poorly or inappropriately.

Talk with an expert first before you decide anything. It’s completely free, no strings attached.

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