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LOC 101: Translation vs. Localization

Aug 17, 2021

You’ve probably used the word translation when you really meant localization – or even interpretation. And that’s OK. We’ll forgive it. You may have even heard someone use the word localization and wonder if they meant to say translation. We’ll give you the benefit of the doubt here – you’re right, they’re wrong.

Given the similarities in the terms, they’re often used interchangeably but there are actually important ways in which translation and localization differ. Here’s our translation vs. localization primer to help you keep them straight:


Translation is the process of converting written text or spoken words into another language. The completed translation should be the most accurate rendition possible of the source material — a “mirror-image” of the material that has been translated, except in a different language. However, this does not mean literal, word-for-word translation. (That’s what Google Translate is for!) An accurate translation requires changes in word order or sentence structure, and it requires choosing the most appropriate word in the target language when there is more than one option, as there often is.


In localization, translation is just the beginning. Content is not only translated into a foreign language, it’s also adapted to fit a foreign culture. Whereas translation deals primarily with texts and words, localization deals with text, but also graphics, symbols, dates and times, currencies, imagery, regional idioms and references, and so on. Localization requires a keen eye toward local sensitivities and is best applied by linguists who know the local culture and the target audience. Even the best translator with a firm grasp of linguistic nuance in the target language is not necessarily equipped with the knowledge to localize product labels, instructions for use, or marketing materials for a foreign country.

It’s more than written content that requires localization. Materials like videos, software, websites, employee manuals, learning and training courses and marketing materials all require a carefully thought out localization strategy in order to avoid embarrassing gaffes, serious injuries or worse.

So that’s the 101 level translation vs. localization course. If you have any additional questions or if you simply want to learn more about how to translate or localize your materials or content, Morningside’s experienced project managers and subject matter experts are always available. Contact us today.

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