The majority of people don’t know the difference between localization and translation services, even though many likely benefit from both in their daily lives. This isn’t surprising, as those who aren’t very familiar with the translation and localization industries will often assume that any change from one language to another automatically falls under the definition of translation.
However, this article will explain why that’s not always true.
Many business owners don’t know what differentiates the two processes, making it more difficult for them to find the right service when they need it. This is why we will take a deep dive into what experts mean when they talk about translation and localization.
Keep reading to learn about the key differences between translation and localization services and for some useful examples that can provide you with a better understanding of the subject.
What Is Translation?
Translation services are used to translate any kind of content from one language to another. Many people’s minds first wander to translation services that are used to translate books and publish them in other languages, but there are many other kinds of content that need to be translated, including:
- Marketing and sales materials
- Website copy
- Customer service and support materials
- Product descriptions
- Instruction manuals
- Information pamphlets
- Video subtitles
- Video game subtitles and dialogue
Of course, this list is far from complete. There are many different kinds of documents and pieces of content one can translate. Nowadays, most companies are in need of some kind of translation service, regardless of what their business is all about. This is mainly due to the globalized society we all live in.
This online world without borders has led to the need for customer experiences to be translated into different languages—think software products, all kinds of games, marketing apps, web apps, and much more. According to metrics from CSA Research, 65% of consumers prefer content in their own language, even if it’s not high-quality, and 40% of people won’t buy a product at all if they can’t read about it in their language.
Keep in mind that translation—simply converting text or speech from one language to another—is often not enough for companies that are serious about their international growth and want to build strong relationships with clients all over the world. These companies need to invest in a localization service.
What Is Localization?
When you focus on localization, you’re looking to provide the end reader/user with a completely cohesive experience. You can look at translation as the starting point for localization, as the very first and most basic thing you need to do to localize is translating. Moving forward with the localization process takes you a step further.
The main idea of doing localization is to adapt your app, website, or any other kind of platform or content to the preferences of each particular market. Localizers do this by taking into account not only the language but also things such as:
- Units/systems of measurement
- Date formats
- Cultural specifics
- Legal regulations
- Technological standards
For example, a localization service won’t simply translate a web page from American English to Brazilian Portuguese. Instead, it will transform it from an experience for the American market into an experience for the Brazilian market.
The Primary Differences Between Translation and Localization
Let’s take things a step further and discuss the main differences between these two services in more detail.
The main idea behind translation is to take a text or piece of media and transform it into a different language while keeping the same meaning and implications. On the other hand, localization aims to adapt an entire experience from one language and culture to another. In many ways, localization can be thought of as “adaptation.”
Of course, translation remains a vital part of the entire localization process—a huge part of adapting content to appeal to a different locale is about ensuring the language is correct. However, from that point on, more work must be done for the content to become relevant and consumable for a particular location.
Here are some processes and situations that are usually unique to localization:
- Paying attention to symbolic meanings of things and their specific connotations in different places. For example, a localization service would have to keep in mind the sacred associations that certain cultures have with pigs and cows.
- Legal requirements regarding things like authentication and disclosures.
- Focus on formatting and design. Some sentences may be longer than others in a different language, which is a problem that must be solved when it affects the content’s formatting negatively.
- Differences in writing and reading direction. Both must be taken into account when localizing content, and you may need to change the layout of a page or a document.
- Utilizing testimonials and reviews from local consumers. As a customer, it’s more impactful to see positive feedback—or any kind of social proof—from those you can relate to.
Here are some processes and situations that you might expect to see in both localization and translation services:
- Changing numbers and units when needed, including date and time format, currency, and so on.
- Paying attention to the intricacies of a language, including slang, dialect, and more.
- Making changes for certain cultural practices. For example, the restaurant tipping culture in America is different than many other places.
- Diving deeper into the context of a piece of content and understanding why it was written, how it will be displayed, and who will read it.
Examples of Translation
The most basic forms of translation are done by most translation services on the internet. Take, for example, Google Translate or DeepL. These tools take whatever text you provide them with and translate it word-for-word to another language of your preference. There’s no consideration of context, preferences, or use case—it’s just a straight-up transition from one language to the other.
This kind of tool is often used in conversations between people. It’s also useful for social media, as it allows people from different parts of the world to quickly translate what someone wrote into a language they understand.
You can see this clearly on platforms like Twitter, where people often talk with one another using tweets in different languages and translate the messages using the app’s built-in translator. While this kind of translation doesn’t take into account slang, specifics about the country, and other important details, it still has its uses.
Translating books is similar, although most good translators make sure to explain the cultural differences, context, etc., in footnotes under the main text or in a glossary. For example, if an American author wrote about the use of checks for payment, the translator would translate the text word for word. However, it would be a good idea for them to go on and explain what the author meant with that reference so all readers can understand the context (using checks isn’t commonplace in many locations).
The same can be said for words or phrases that should not be translated. For example, Russian literature is filled with nicknames that one cannot understand if they aren’t familiar with the language. That’s why many Russian books translated to a non-Slavic language have a glossary that explains each nickname and the meaning behind it. This allows readers to understand what’s going on without being taken out of the experience while reading.
Examples of Localization
When localization is done well, it’s likely that you won’t even notice it. A properly localized website or piece of content doesn’t draw attention to itself at all, as site visitors should feel completely at ease and at home while viewing it. Let’s now take a look at a few apps and websites that do a great job of localizing.
Apple is a global company in every way. It’s essential that their content is accessible, readable, and enticing for their different audiences. Consider some of the differences between the American English and French versions of Apple’s website.
Currently (at the time of this post), Apple.com/fr is promoting a deal on its front page that allows students to save money on a Mac or an iPad until October 17th (“17/10”). This deal is not promoted on the American English version of the site. Apple is accounting for the different university schedules and some other differences between locales.
Additionally, some of the web copy in the French promotions is entirely changed from the American English version. For example, the American English version includes a pun when referencing a new earbud model: “Built from the sound up.” This can’t directly translate into French while maintaining the same connotation and humor, so Apple changed it to “Le son. Nouvelle définition,” which directly translates to “Sound. New definition.”
This is yet another example of how localization goes beyond direct translation. It’s about recreating and adapting content so it truly meshes with a different audience.
Spotify is one of the most popular music platforms globally and has the localization to show for it. Of course, they start by translating important text into the user’s chosen language.
Additionally, they take into consideration the cultural content that’s uploaded on the platform and try to highlight it according to the specific country and region. Recently, Spotify has taken steps to create an even more immersive experience by changing the recommendation engine so that it chooses more local music.
They also use localization in their marketing approach. Their ads are created to be unique for each country and made in a way that’s supposed to catch the eye of people who would potentially be interested in joining Spotify within that geographic region.
When to Look for a Translation Service vs. a Localization Service
Translation services are useful for a wide range of people, including those who have a straightforward piece of content that needs translating, and those who need a little more nuance in the finished project. Still, translation may be fitting when your main concern is getting information out to a different audience. With that said, even the most basic translation service companies should consider context while translating.
There are some situations where you should undoubtedly turn to a localization service. Optimally, any kind of digital service, mobile application, website, etc., that will have a global audience should be fully localized. Localization is what tailors the users’ experiences and makes them enjoyable. Two examples of industries that should have good localization strategies include Saas (software as a service) companies and finance/banking technology.
When Is Localization Really Necessary?
In some instances, it’s difficult to decide whether you need in-depth localization or whether you can get away with less. However, there are some situations in which localization is truly needed. Let’s look at two major examples:
- If you have a large global audience and clientele from all around the world. Localization is a must to provide the best experience possible to users and readers.
- If your business is trying to go international and you need to start expanding your marketing and sales strategies.
Additionally, there are some industries where localization services are needed more frequently than others. Some of these industries include:
- Finance and banking
- Mobile apps
If your company operates in any of these niches, you should likely consider your localization strategy and whether it’s sufficient for your current circumstances.
There are several differences between translation and localization services, and you should now have a better understanding of when you need one or the other.
It’s important to remember that localization would not be complete without translation. Translation is one of the most vital steps of the entire localization process. This is why many companies that offer translation services also offer localization services and vice versa.
If you’ve already decided to start some localization projects or if you need more help determining what the best option is for your needs, the experts at Traduality are ready to talk! Book a free consultation today to learn about how we can tailor your translation and localization services to your specific needs.