What is the difference between translation and localization?
In brief, translation is the process of faithfully rendering a text written in one language into another, whereas localization is the process of adapting a message about products or services to have an equivalent impact in the intended country and culture. Let's look at the two concepts in greater depth.
As simple as it may seem from the outside, translation rarely means directly replacing words in one language with those from another. If this were the case, anyone with a bilingual dictionary could do it. To produce a professional translation, a linguist needs to have excellent knowledge of the source language and complete mastery of the target language, as well as being creative and able to think outside the box. When it comes to promoting a company's brand image or products abroad, yet another layer of complexity is added to the translation process.
Cultural challenges. In the English-speaking world, we say cats have nine lives, but in Italy, Spain and Germany, they only have seven. In Western culture, the color white represents purity, peace, and health. In many Asian cultures, it is the complete opposite—representing bad luck, death, or mourning. Americans appreciate American football metaphors, whilst Europeans draw parallels with the sport that Americans call “soccer”, or “football” as it is known in many other English-speaking countries. Idiomatic expressions, emotional associations with colors, and sports metaphors are just some examples of how our surroundings influence the way we communicate.
Technical challenges. What date is 01/07/12? It depends! In Italy, it is the 1st of July, 1912, but in the USA, it would be the 7th of January, 1912, and in Hungary, it would be the 12th of July, 1901. And what time is 11:00? A European probably wouldn't be confused, but an American might ask: “AM or PM?” Converting everything for the local market will avoid frustrating or confusing your readers, whether that's a customer service telephone line's opening hours, food storage temperatures, or product prices listed on an eCommerce platform.
Legal challenges. Many documents, such as software licenses, drug package inserts, or safety information for a chemical substance, cannot be freely translated because specific terminology must be used depending on national, European, or international regulations. Regulations can change from country to country, for example a video game's age rating or the legal age to ride an e-scooter, so the translation of these must also be adapted. Similarly, if a product name isn't registered worldwide, then the copyright symbol must be used with caution.
Each marketing text presents different kinds of problems. To overcome them, a linguist must have one foot on either side of the fine line that separates translation and localization—two very similar yet very different activities.
What are the benefits of localization?
From a practical point of view, localization is an investment that transforms global campaigns into local campaigns. Marketing campaigns, press releases, and websites that have been translated and specifically adapted for the culture of the target country will sound natural and engaging. Ensuring that local dates, times, and currencies are used will improve the customer experience and strengthen brand trust. Providing texts that are accurate from a legal and regulatory standpoint is also of utmost importance.
Localization requires high levels of skill and experience.
With the wealth of experience we have gained from working in localization since 1997, we can help you reach your clients in any part of the world.
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