What is the Difference Between Translation and Localization?

Translation and localization are often used interchangeably, but there are some big differences:

  • Translation is the conversion of text from one language to another.
  • Localization takes translation one step further to make a product or message resonate with a specific target culture—as if it were created there in the first place.

A successful localization approach requires close attention to cultural differences that go beyond words. Join us to explore translation and localization, and find out how they can both help you break into global markets.


Translation vs Localization: What’s the Difference?

While translation is about the words you use, localization is more about how well your product resonates with people in a different culture.

Think of it this way: translation breaks language barriers. Localization breaks cultural barriers.

When and Why You Should Translate Your Content

Did you know that most of the internet is written exclusively in English? According to estimates, 63% of all websites use English. English is a common world language, but not as common as you’d think.

Research shows that only 25% of people worldwide can speak and read English. What about the other 75%? They speak Chinese, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, and many other languages. And they need website translations. As internet connections and mobile networks grow stronger around the globe, there’s a huge gap in the market for translated websites.

Researchers believe that in the next few years, English will lose its importance as the default worldwide language of the internet. The demand for different languages is growing strong. Translating your site can grow your online presence and help new international customers find you. If you’re not sure where to start, read about the top 10 best languages for website translation.

When translating different languages, it’s important to hire a skilled professional translation agency or LSP (language service provider) with expertise in the native language of your target audience. Literal, word-for-word translations and free machine translations are often full of mistakes.

To avoid mistranslations, it’s important to have machine-translated content professionally post-edited. However, even if a qualified linguist reviews your content, it may still be lacking in the cultural awareness that is necessary to effectively resonate with a specific locale. That’s where localization can help.

When and Why You Should Localize Your Content

Language translation is only one piece of the localization puzzle. Successful localization helps your new global audience feel that your product was designed specifically for them.

Apple Computers is a great example of localization done right. In the early 2000s, Apple battled Microsoft for market share in the US. In a series of “Get a Mac” TV ads, Apple bashed Microsoft’s stuffy corporate image and highlighted the sleek appeal of Mac computers. For American audiences, the Mac vs PC message worked; it led to a 39% sales increase for Mac.

As Apple expanded into new markets like Japan, they could have easily done a word-for-word translation of the American ad spots. But they didn’t. Why? Because they knew how to localize.

Apple understood that in some cultures (Japan, Germany, and more), locals hated harsh competitor put-downs in advertising. Instead of translation, Apple used transcreation to craft a friendlier marketing message for the Japanese markets. In this case, Apple hired two local comedians to show how fun and unique Apple products could be.

Beyond making clever ad campaigns to get new international customers, you should also focus on localizing your websites, apps, e-comm sites, and digital products. It’s important to localize the entire customer experience. From signup forms to checkout pages, think about the international customer’s needs, from their perspective. Do some research and testing to find out what people in a specific region want from you.

Need some localization inspiration? You can localize almost anything: web content, mobile apps, software, applications, and files. To see a few examples of effective localization in multiple industries, check out our Localization Guide.


Meeting Cultural Expectations with Localization

To successfully compete in today’s international economy, companies must localize their online content. It’s the best way to connect with international audiences and exceed their expectations. Consumer expectations may vary by industry and region, but they can typically be divided into two categories: functional and cultural.

Here are some examples:

Functional Content:

  • Language, including product descriptions and reviews.
  • Date formats, time formats, contact information, and telephone numbers.
  • E-commerce site UX (user experience), including elements like checkout and payment flows.
  • Units of measurement, weights, geographical references, and currencies.
  • International SEO content like keywords, hreflang tags, title tags, and meta descriptions.

Cultural Content:

  • Shapes, sizes, styles, and colors.
  • Visuals, graphics, images, and icons.
  • Text direction and appearance.
  • Cultural differences– etiquette, humor, myths, rituals, symbols, and cultural references.
  • Social values –beliefs, relationships, power structures, and local history.
  • Unique local flavor—idioms, slang, and local references.

Conclusion: Choosing the Right TMS for Localization

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a tech giant like Apple, localization and translation can help you grow your audience in different countries. Localized content can boost your bottom line, too. Companies of all sizes can gain new customers and stay competitive when they translate their content for new global markets.

Website localization is an investment, but when it’s done thoughtfully, it’s one of the smartest growth moves you can make. Before you launch into new markets, it pays to invest in a trusted translation management system (TMS) that integrates with skilled translators and LSPs. A good TMS makes it easy to build localization into your marketing strategy.

Localize is a full-service TMS with high-quality, accurate translation in dozens of language pairs. We combine machine translation with human post-editing to ensure you get fantastic results every time. Plus, our tools automate your workflows to keep all your international content effortlessly up-to-date.

To learn more about how we help hundreds of top brands like Cisco and Microsoft reach their global audience, contact us anytime!

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