What are the differences between localization and translation?

Today, corporate networks connected to dozens of computers, fast internet access, electronic libraries, dictionaries accessible simultaneously by several users, databases and computer-aided translation tools, project management tools that provide an overview of current projects being carried out, demonstrate task delegations, and generate project cost calculations; quality control specialists, business managers and marketing managers, in short the whole work that makes a professional translation company what it is, are things taken for granted in the localization business. Indeed, traditional office spaces with desks scattered here and there, typewriters, correction fluids, cardboard files, dictionaries, notes scribbled and inserted between pages of dictionaries to point towards alternative definitions, piles of paper, telephones, fax machines, account books are still fresh in our memories.

That comparison in itself helps one put into perspective the sheer size of the progress made by the industry over the years. And for sure, the essential differences between localization and translation, which we intend to address in this article, are in a way an inevitable consequence of that progress.

Even though localization and translation may appear too tightly intertwined to be neatly separated from one another, nobody would oppose if one ventured out and said localization is basically about adapting the source text to the target text; or tailoring the source text according to the intended audience. Unlike translation, localization involves a raft of complicated processes like using and managing different software and translation memory tools, translating documents, performing desktop editing and typesetting, multilingual project management, converting translated documents into different formats and functional testing of localized products.


Particularly, large technology companies recognize the importance of an optimal workflow for localization activities and so, taking into account the fact that the source text will be translated into dozens of different languages, avoid complex sentences and create a common terminology when creating source texts for their products. Translators and project managers collaborate on localization projects. For localization projects, translators are expected to have knowledge of the subject matter; have a professional approach towards timing, work scheduling, and budgeting; have knowledge of terminology management and demonstrate the ability to use advanced computer and memory support tools, not to mention exceptional linguistic skills. On that basis, it would not be abstruse to argue that translation is only one of the many processes involved in localization; incorporating different disciplines such as software engineering, project management, testing and desktop publishing.


If a text contains idioms, proverbs, interjections, or exclamations, they are also localized. Also, within this framework, one can deliver customized localization of a translated text or a website, for that matter, taking into account the client’s specific requirements. And that inevitably entails divergences, syntactically, from the source text. For example, the saying “A leopard can’t change its spots” only makes sense when translated in Turkish as “Huylu huyundan vazgeçmez” or “Can çıkar huy çıkmaz”, and not in its strictest literal sense. Going for the literal meaning through a word-for-word translation would inevitably cause the message to get lost in translation. Hence, localization aims at achieving a semantical coherence between the source and the target text even though in most cases a word-for-word translation simply does not work.

Localization is most often required in relation to advertisement texts, brand promotions, websites, marketing campaigns etc. where the intent is to appeal to the consumer directly including marketing campaigns, brand positioning services, game localization, film or TV series translations. Correspondingly, considered an alternative to translation, companies must make room for localization services in their budgets. A key ingredient of marketing activities, localization plays a key role in superior positioning of the concerned product, service or brand in the target market and gaining customer loyalty. Another aspect that should not be forgotten when purchasing a localization service is that much more is needed to provide effective localization services to win over your target audience, than the linguistic competency of the translator. Let’s consider for instance a localization project for a computer game. The translator put in charge of the project must not only have a good command of both languages, but must also be a player of computer games and have experience in this area; adequately well-versed in the intricacies and peculiarities of the language used by gamers to communicate with one another and the game’s jargon, if any. Regardless of the product being localized, or the specialty field, a linguist must always have that special kind of experience needed to successfully carry out the project.

In short, each specialty field requires a different approach to localization, which is what makes it so challenging. If you are looking to promote your products or services and do not want authentic content to get lost in translation, contact Transistent now to discuss the best solution for your project requirements, and get a quick return on your marketing investments.

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