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Translation vs. Localization

March 10, 2010

Translation and Localization. You have probably heard these terms used before in various contexts and wondered if they mean the same thing. In many cases the answer is yes. But there are also important ways in which translation and localization differ.

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. This does not mean literal, word-for-word translation. (That’s what Google Translate and BabelFish are for!) An accurate translation requires changes in word order and sentence structure, and 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. Materials are not only translated into a foreign language but also adapted to fit a foreign culture. Translation deals primarily with texts and words; localization deals not only with words but also with graphics, proper forms for dates, adoption of local currencies, and even rethinking the size or physical structure of a product so it better suits the target audience. Localization requires recognizing local sensitivities and using translators and consultants who know the local culture and the local market. 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 or safety instructions for a foreign country.

Materials that usually require not only translation but also localization include: videos, commercials, software, websites, employee manuals, and marketing materials.

Morningside’s experienced project managers and localization consultants are always available to answer any questions about localizing your product, contact us to learn more.