What is the difference between translation and localisation?

Are you planning to offer your products or services abroad? The right communication language is the key to success.

If your high-quality product is successful at home, why not try to use its potential abroad? Taking your business to foreign markets brings several benefits: new business opportunities and better knowledge of competitors and new technologies, all of which drives innovation and competitive advantage.

Before expanding internationally, it is important to know the local conditions so you can make sure your product or service suits the country as best it can. One key aspect is to adjust your communication language to that of your new potential customers. This is when you have to consider whether your texts need to be translated or localised.

Both translation and localisation mean transferring text from one language (the source language) to another (the target language). Nevertheless, each service entails a slightly different process. How to know when translation won’t do and your documents need to be localised?

The difference between translation and localisation

Let’s start by explaining translation and localisation and the difference between the two services.

Translation means transferring text from one language to another while conveying the original meaning of the text. This is by no means a word-for-word translation. The translator must master both the source and target language as well as respect the grammatical and stylistic rules of the target language. Specialised knowledge is yet another requirement for the translator, meaning they must be well versed in the field of the text to be translated. This minimises the risk of an incorrect translation as a single word can have different meanings in different fields of expertise.

Localisation means tailoring a product or a piece of work to the specific environment of a nation. It comprises several activities that result in the adaptation of a product or a service to the cultural, technical and business practices of the target country. It is obvious that localisation is a more complex process. Translation is just one of the steps in the localisation process. The translator must not only have a perfect understanding of the text, but must also keep track of the culture, legal system and other specific requirements of the given market. Note that when speaking of localisation, the focus is on the target country rather than on the target language. English itself is the most obvious example. When comparing British and American English, one can come across many differences. Not to mention the fact that different marketing tools will have to be used depending on whether you want to appeal to potential customers from the US or from the United Kingdom.

What elements of text need to be localised?

To put it simply, all elements that are specific to the country where you want to launch your localised website, advertising campaign or software. As mentioned before, during the process of localisation, it is important for the translation agency to know not only the language into which a text is to be translated, but also the country where it will be used. On the basis of all this information, the translator localising the text will tailor even the finest details, including number formats, dates, addresses, fonts, case studies, graphics, idioms and other elements.

To a large extent, localisation takes cultural particularities into account. Therefore, in some cases, it may even result in the change of a brand name or slogan.

Why is localisation worth it?

When reading a high-quality localisation piece, readers don’t realise that what they’re reading is a translation. This brings about a better user experience. In practice, this means that users will perceive your website as more natural and trustworthy, working with your software will be easier for them and your advertising campaigns will attract the right customers. Several studies have proven that customers are more open to buying a product or a service if there is information available in their native language. Thus, localisation increases the probability that visitors to your website will become paying customers.

When is localisation necessary?

Localisation is not needed in all circumstances. The choice between translation and localisation is mostly determined by the purpose of the text as well as its length, your budget and the frequency with which the text will be updated.

Nowadays, the term ‘localisation’ is especially used in relation to computer software. Software localisation, however, is not the only possibility. We recommend that you use localisation for marketing and presentation texts or in all cases where a product or a service has to be adapted to a different country or customer group. Therefore, if you are planning to expand to foreign markets, localise your websites, advertising campaigns, slogans, videos, subtitles, infographics, educational materials and other documents.

If you can’t decide whether translation or localisation suits the needs of your texts better, you can contact a professional translation agency that will be glad to help you choose the optimal solution.


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