What is the difference between translation and localization?

The main difference between translation and localization is that translation only transforms the text, but localization focuses on the whole product experience.

8 May, 2022

6 min read

If you are in software development, or in translation services, the difference between translation and localization (l10n) is quite clear to you.

However, if you are not a part of localization and translation industries, you might not be clear on what the difference actually is. It's not uncommon for the two to get mixed up and often, they're used as synonyms. And even through they are quite similar, they are not the same.

What is the main difference between translation and localization?

Both translation and localization refer to the process of adapting a product for use in the international market.

However, translation only converts the message from one language to the other, while following grammar rules and syntax. By translating your product, your customers won't have to consult Google Translate each time they want to perform an action.

Localization takes the process of adapting the product one step further, and you can actually think of translation as a part of localization.

Instead of only focusing on translating the text, localization also takes the technological, cultural and visual aspects into consideration as well. Localization requires making certain design and UX changes to the software, in order for it to feel natural to the target audience.

For example, if you are based in the United States, and your content is in English, you do not have to translate it for your audience in Australia and Canada because they will understand it. But, you do have to localize it.

Each of these countries have different currencies, units of measurement, date sequence and other things you should be mindful of.

Translation VS Localization: An example

The best way to show you the difference between translation and localization is through an example.

Let's take United States and Australia for the first example.

In American English, we'd say “Jane will lend me 10 USD on 12/6/2022.” but in Australia, we'd say “Jane will lend me 10 AUD on 6/12/2022.”

Can you spot the difference?

  • Even through we didn't have to translate the sentence, we did localize it so it feels natural to the Australian audience. Instead of saying 'USD' which is the currency code for the American dollar, we're saying 'AUD' and that's the currency code for the Australian dollar.

  • We have also changed the sequence in the date. In Australia, the sequence is day, month, year. In the United States, it's month, day, year.

These small differences have a great impact when communicating with your target audience in a different country.

Localizing American English to Spanish as the second example.

To explain the process even better, let's bring translation into equasion as well, and localize this sentence for our customers in Mexico.

In American English, it's “Jane will lend me 10 USD on 12/6/2022.”

In Spanish, it's “Jane me prestará 10 USD el 6/12/2022.” This is translation.

“Jane me prestará 201.02 MXN el 12/6/2022.” - This is localization.

We've now changed the 'USD' to 'MXN' which stands for Mexican Peso, and the sequence when writing the date has also been changed to match how it's written in Mexico.

When we translate the sentence, our customers in Mexico can understand it.

But, they do not use USD in their country, so it doesn't feel natural.

That's why localization matters.

It's the only way to give your audience the quality they deserve.

Successful localization strategy

The example with the sentences above is good for basic understanding of what the difference between translation and localization is. But now, let's take it a step further.

💡 Did you know that in 2010 Netflix was only available in the United States?

Even through the majority of their customers are still based in the United States with around 67 million subscribers, they have customers around the world. Brazil is their second largest market with around 18 million subscribers, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany and France.

They are now a world-known streaming platform, and it's all thanks to their localization strategy.

Even though translation is only a part of localization, it's still a crucial part. Netflix managed to not only adapt their platform to the international market, but they also made sure to have high-quality subtitles for all the languages they support.

At first they had an in-house team that managed their translation. However, quickly they realized that this is a complex and time-consuming project, so they switched to a third-party service to help them manage their translations.

And this was obviously the right move for them, as they were able to reach new audiences outside of the United States fast. However, once they introduced new languages, other problems emerged.

One of the most famous problems they faced was the problem in UI. When translated into other languages, the text was taking too much space, up to 40% more than the English version.

For example, in English it's 'I'll miss you.' but in German it's “Ich werde dich vermissen.”

This meant that the translated text couldn't fit in their CTA fields, and was going off screen and wasn't visible. Movie titles were getting in the way of other visual elements, and it was hard to navigate.

To fix this, Netflix came up with “pseudo localization”. This solution allowed the designers to see how the translated text would appear and it was easier to create a design that worked in other languages as well.

With the help of their successful localization strategy, Netflix is now the leading streaming platform in the world.

When should you consider localization?

If you have a product that's ready to go global, regardless of the industry - it's time to start thinking about localization.

According to the 2014 Common Sense Advisory Report, 75% of customers said they were more likely to purchase service in their native language. Imagine the impact localization could have on your business.

  • You'd be able to reach a whole new market of potential customers.

  • You'd form long-term relationships with those customers.

  • Your revenue would significantly increase.

  • You'd gain a huge competitive advantage.

  • You'd improve brand integrity and loyalty.

Both localization and translation will help you reach new markets, however, translation can only get you so far. If you’re planning to expand and gain long-term customers, localization is probably the best choice for you.


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