GTE Localize

Translation vs. Localization – What’s the difference?

Posted by Tony Pham on November 22, 2019.

The world of language services might be very confusing when it comes to language terminology. We all know what translation is, but then there is another term called localization. What does it mean anyway? And what are the differences between translation and localization? Trust me, you are not the only confused one. These are the questions we receive from our clients all the time.

In this post, we will discuss the meaning of these two terms and how to tell the difference between them.

What is translation?

Translation is the process of converting words from one language to another. Translation does not make major changes in the content or images. In fact, it converts word-for-word and keeps the message and layout of the source file intact. It might sound simple, but to create a reliable translation, the involvement of professional highly qualified translators is essential.Translation Definition

There are 3 main levels of translation:

    • The basic level is Translation only (or TO) where your documents are translated and self-reviewed by one translator.
    • The most preferred level is Translation + Edit (or we would like to call it TE). Your contents will be translated by one translated and revised by a second editor.
    • Translation + Edit + Proofread (or TEP) is the highest level of translation. After being rendered and reviewed by a translator and an editor respectively, your documents will be under the proofreading process by a third proofreader.


What is localization?

Localization is one step further than translation. It is the process of adapting your content to the target country’s culture and social norms. The ultimate aim of localization is to ensure cultural acceptability and stronger engagement from foreign audiences. Therefore, it does not require an exact word-for-word translation. Translators can make changes regarding words, images, layouts, etc. as long as the meaning of the content remains the same as the source files.


What is localization


Besides translating words, the localization process includes converting the following factors:

(1) Layout and design

In most cases, the length of target language words is way too short or too long compared to those in the source language. The bad news is it can change the whole layout or design of your materials. Let’s take a look at the welcome screen of an app below. The first picture is the source design with attractive content and eye-catching font. Now, look at the second picture. “It’s swipe surge” is correctly translated into “Inilah lonjakan geser”.

Localization Fails

Unfortunately, a good translation is not enough sometimes. As you can see, the translated text is too long and unable to fit the screen, so some characters are missing. It’s even worse when it comes to the Korean version in the third picture. Both translation and design are far from OK. In general, the screens look messy and miss some information. Luckily, this is just a test version of the app. The producers then made changes regarding layout and design.

(2) Idioms and expressions

Idioms and expressions of each language show people’s unique conception of the world or sometimes their religious faith. Thus, the meaning of these peculiar phrases cannot be predicted by the literal definitions of the words it contains. “Oh my god”, for example, is a common phrase used in Western countries to emphasize how surprised, shocked, or angry you are. What will happen if you translate “God” literately into languages whose people are Buddhist or Muslim? Firstly, the translation will make no sense to your target audience. Secondly, it can be considered disrespectful since you do not understand the country’s religion.

(3) Colours

Cultures affect the way people perceive the meaning of colours. White can be a symbol of peace, purity, and elegance in Western countries. But in some Asian countries, white equals death, bad luck, and is usually worn at funerals.

(4) Units of measurement

The metric system of each country might be as different as chalk and cheese. The Americans, for instance, uses miles as the units for distance while Asian countries like Japan, China, or Vietnam use kilometres. If you keep the miles system in Asian language documents, it makes no sense to your target Asian audience.

(5) Currencies

Price is one of the most crucial factors that directly affect the purchasing decision of customers. Do you think your customers will take the time to deal with numbers to find out the real price by themselves? Or they can simply leave and find another local provider?

(6) Date formats

Does 12/06/2019 mean December 6 or June 12 to you? If you live in the United States, the latter does not ring a bell, right? But in countries like the UK, people use 12/06 to refer to June 12. Each country has its own date formats: Date/Month/Year, Month/Date/Year, or even Year/Month/Date. So don’t forget to localize even small details like the formats of date.

(7) Local regulations and legal requirements

Laws of the target country can completely change your business strategies, marketing materials, or the way you conduct your business. Take Japan as an example. There is a regulation in Japan stating that if a company describes themselves as “No.1” or “The best”, they need to carry a survey to prove it. Otherwise, your company is giving false facts and violate the advertisement laws in this country. So if your slogan currently says something like “We are the No.1 brand in X country”, make sure you do a well-integrated survey or modify the slogan before entering Japan market.

Japanese marketing law


Translation and localization – Not as different as you think

The gap between translation and localization is not as clear as black and white. Even the simplest translation requires a certain extent of localization. The unit of measurement, date formats, or idioms is adapted to fit the target language during the translation process. Meanwhile, translation is the first step of any localization project. An accurate translation creates a favourable condition for a smooth localization process in the next step.

To decide how much localization your project needs, do not hesitate to contact a professional translation and localization agency. Since translation and localization is the first step of your attempts to go global, make sure it is in the good hands of experts.



Infographic The differences between Translation vs localization