What’s the difference between translation and localization?

In a nutshell, translation means transferring the meaning of a text as faithfully as possible from one language to another. As easy as that may seem, this process rarely means a straight line between two points that can be followed by looking up words in the dictionary and reconstructing the syntax and grammar of the original sentences. In addition to an excellent knowledge of the source language and total command of the target language, translators often need to have plenty of creativity and mental agility. And when it comes to promoting a company’s identity or products abroad, the translation process is riddled with challenges.

Cultural challenges. Cats in the English-speaking world have nine lives, while in Italy, Spain, and Germany, they only have seven. In Western countries, the color white represents purity, peace, and health, but in Asia it usually represents misfortune, death, and mourning. And although it’s pretty natural for Americans to make analogies using baseball, Europeans are more likely to use football. Idiomatic expressions, the emotions evoked by colors, and sports-related metaphors are just some examples of how much our culture influences how we express ourselves.

Technical challenges. What day is 01/07/12? It depends: In Italy, it was July 1st, 1912; in the USA, January 7th, 1912; and in Hungary, July 12th, 1901. And what time is 11:00? It would be pretty clear to a European, but an American would ask: “AM or PM?” Converting the hours of a telephone helpline, the temperature for storing a drink, or the cost of products on an e-commerce site to fit local standards means taking target readers into consideration: This way, they won’t have to worry about making mistakes and there won’t be any risk of confusion, either.

Legal challenges. Documents such as a software license agreement, a medication package insert, or a chemical safety data sheet can’t be translated freely: The terminology must be in line with the language used in local laws and European and international regulations. The minimum age for using an online video game or driving an electric scooter may vary from place to place, and as a result, the translation must be adapted. Likewise, if the name of a product isn’t registered all over the world, the registered trademark symbol must be used with caution.

Every commercial text presents different kinds of problems, and to tackle these problems it’s necessary to go beyond the fine lines that separate translation and localization – two very similar, yet, at the same time, very different activities.


What are the benefits of localization?

Localization is, by definition, the process of adapting products and services to the characteristics of the country where they’ll be sold. From a practical point of view, localization is an investment that enables content designed for a global market to feel local. A translation adapted to the target country culture enables marketing campaigns, press releases, and websites to sound natural and engaging. Respecting technical standards like local time and date formats and currency helps improve the customer’s experience and cement their trust in the brand. And adapting to statutory norms guarantees that all texts are relevant and accurate from a legal perspective, too.

Localization is a process that requires a high level of skill and experience. We’ve been doing it since 1997, and we can help you create a bridge between you and your customers all over the world.


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