The difference between Localization and Translation

There is a fine line between localization and translation, but according to the definitions, these two activities are different. Translation consists in transposing a text in an original language into another language, the target language. On the other hand, localization requires further work. It goes beyond mere translation by adding a cultural aspect in order to adapt the product to the local needs in the best way possible.


Localization is often mistaken with translation. The difference between the 2 concepts is hard to grasp for some people and therefore the importance of the processes of localization is often underestimated, like adapting the non-textual components of a product or a service. For instance, let’s take the adaptation of graphs, the adoption of local currencies, the use of specific date formats, addresses or phone numbers, the choice of colors and many other details. These modifications can lead to the complete physical restructuration of a project. The purpose of all these changes is to avoid any misunderstanding with the local culture and customs and also adapt to the specific needs and desires of a population when entering a foreign market.

The localization service is a direct consequence of the increasing internationalization of global trade. That’s why many translation agencies are hired to localize products. They will mostly be asked to localize computer products, like translating software and its documentation, as well as websites or more “traditional” documents such as leaflets, packaging, pictures, etc.

Localization is a process in which the culture of the target audience is taken into consideration. The translator knows about the characteristics of the target language and is thus able to perceive its nuances. This requires a thorough understanding of the rules that govern both the original and the target culture. In that sense, it may be said that the process of localization simply is a more advanced and complete version of translation.

But be careful, translation is a vital step that remains at the heart of the process of localization.

Written by Anne-Laure ZAMARRENO

Translated by Nathan HERMANCE

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