To compete in today’s global economy, organizations must adapt website and digital media content to resonate with international audiences. And yet, many companies, big and small, do not understand the important differences between translation and localization. In this article, Dr. Nitish Singh tackles translation versus localization and explains why the two complementary processes are important, but in different ways.

Translation versus Localization: What’s the Difference?

The terms localization and translation are often used interchangeably. And yet, while the terms and processes share similarities and purpose, the outcome is quite different.

To understand the differences, let’s start with some simple definitions:

What is Translation?

Translation is a word-for-word conversion, or a language conversion. If you want to make sure purchasers know how to effectively use your product, it is important that the source and target-language text match up precisely. The goal of translation is to achieve meaning equivalence by ensuring idiomatic, vocabulary, and conceptual equivalence.

What is Localization?

Localization (also referred to as l10n) involves taking a product and making it linguistically and culturally appropriate to the region where it will be used and sold. These changes are visible to the purchaser of the product or service and related in culturally connotative terms.

Meaning equivalence and linguistically and culturally appropriate are the key phrases to compare here. Both seem like processes or activities that are very involved, or complicated. Yet, knowing the difference between what is equal versus what is appropriate can be very important to the success of your globalization efforts.


Image: Translation
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The Importance of Translation and Localization

Translation constitutes a subset of activities performed during the linguistic localization of a product or service. This is important because a majority of web users prefer to read web content in their local language. They feel more at ease and inclined to stay on a site that is written in their native language.

Localization itself is also a subset of activities performed during the globalization of a product. The word “locale” is used here instead of “country” because a country may have more than one set of language and cultural requirements. For example, in Canada, companies need to localize websites and/or social media accounts for French or English-speaking end-users.

Translation versus Localization: Where the Differences Come Into Play

With translation, problems of intent and clarity can arise if the source language is left in a word-to-word equivalence, as can be the case with machine translations that aren’t followed by a professional editing cycle. Even if a source language is translated by a highly trained linguist, it may still lack the level of cultural and technical nuance required to effectively resonate within the target audience.

While simple translation may be appropriate for some content types in certain markets, localization is most often needed for adapting highly-emotive, creative marketing content so that it creates the desired impact across all locales.

Localization is also used for the content that drives customer action and interaction with your brand. Because of this, translation and localization differ on a tactical level.

We can see this best when localizing a website to a specific country or culture. Special attention needs to be paid to local conventions, time and date, currency and number formats, units of measure, addresses and phone numbers, layout and orientation, icons and symbols, language and verbal style, colors, and aesthetics. For example: Yahoo has web sites for almost 24 countries in 12 languages, and employs localization teams physically based in target countries in order to develop and maintain the country specific web sites.


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Translation versus Localization: Turning Visitors into Customers

According to Forrester Research, localization leads to better usability and satisfaction of target consumers, and turns visitors into customers. In addition, a well-rounded and executed globalization process can improve efficiencies across all aspects of the business. Dell Computer Corporation which sells to businesses and consumers online in 170 countries and 34 languages, is running all e-commerce properties on the same custom-built platform with the internationalization (i18n) process, making large site upgrades, small tweaks or new functionality changes more quickly, more cheaply and in ways that don’t impact the end-user’s shopping experience.  As a result, Dell expects international sales to account for 32 percent of this quarter’s revenues.

As we view these processes as they truly are: subsets of the overall activity of globalization, we can better understand not only how they complement each other, but also identify when a company should deploy the two. The end result will help you move from strategic planning to implementation and beyond.

Learn from the Experts

If you need to learn more about global content strategy, consider attending the 2016 Brand2Global Conference, September 28-29 in Silicon Valley. Brand2Global is an annual conference jam-packed with real-world examples direct from leading global brand marketers.