Translation Versus Localization

People that understand a bit of translation know that world localization exists, but most tend to mix its meaning or do not even know the difference between the two.

If you are not aware of the concept of localization or if you do not know the word, do not fret it. After reading this article, you will be able to clearly understand the differences.

This word is quickly becoming a common word in the workplace for big companies, since it is a total must when it comes to distributing products all over the world. We are going to take a look at some practical examples, but first let’s see what these two words mean.

What is translation?

The simplest way to define the word translation is by comparing it to the word transfer. In fact, that is exactly what a translator does, he/she transfers the knowledge/information from one language to another. A more modern way of defining translation is taking source material (a document for example) and replacing it with the equivalent target language, as in from English (source) to Portuguese (target).

This is what translation is in simple terms. Sure, there are a lot more peculiarities and variables that professional translators need to consider, but we don’t care about that!

What is localization?

On the other hand, we have this new term named localization. At its core, localization is considered to be a translation but that is not quite right. In fact, this word was created because there was a need to differentiate translation from this type of service.

Now, even professional translators confuse both meanings and use these words interchangeably, which is why it is important to highlight their differences to make them easier to understand.

Localization is a more specialized type of translation, more commonly used by big companies and marketing agencies. You see, when a file is translated, we need to transfer the source’s content to the target language very carefully, without changing its meaning, tone and register. We try to make it as close as possible to the source text.

However, localization takes into account the target language culture, idiomatic expressions, register, puns, all that. When we are localizing, the focus of the translation is not in the source anymore. Yes, we do have to follow the source’s content, but we have to adapt it to the target language environment. The main objective is trying to make the source’s content resonate with the target language audience.

Let’s take a look at some examples to better understand the difference.

Translation versus Localization: Examples

portuguese localizationA simple example is a currency. Look at this sentence: “This service costs $100”. Now, if we were to simply translate this sentence to Portuguese, we would say: “Este serviço custa 100$”. What if we were localizing? We would say: “Este serviço custa 100€”. See the difference?

When we are translating, we translate the information without considering the target language environment. Now, if we localize it, we now have to adapt the sentence to the culture of the other language. In Portugal, the currency used is euros and not dollars. If we had left the $ sign, it would be extremely confusing for Portuguese consumers.

How important is localization?

Big marketing agencies always need to localize products to better target other countries. Brands like Coca-cola or McDonald’s have different strategies, languages and cultural expressions depending on the country.

Did you know that many countries translate movie titles? And those titles are not created by professional translators, but rather marketing teams that understand the concept of localization. They totally change the title to make it more relatable to people in a specific country. McDonald’s advertising changes a lot from country to country.

If these international companies decided to skip this step, people in other countries would not be able to connect with them. English puns or slogans based on cultural aspects make no sense in other languages. Have you tried to translate sayings from other languages? They become silly and make no sense at all.

Companies with big marketing budgets are taking this one step further now. Instead of localizing their campaigns from country to country, they are now investing in big cities and tailoring their ads to specific cultural trends in specific cities.

Final thoughts

Localization is becoming increasingly more important in this global world. Brands need to connect with consumers all around the world and cannot continue to only focus on their country.

There will always be a place for a simple translation, but as we are constantly evolving, these old practices also need to evolve. As brands keep going more global, their brand identities will narrow down and change depending on their target audience, as in, ads for the English audience and different ads for the Spanish audience. In short, localization is new but it is here to stay.