Localization And Translation: What’s the Difference?

When you want to understand the difference between localization and translation, a useful exercise is to think of translation as football and localization as “sports” in general. Translation is one of the many activities that fall under the localization banner. There are many other tools in that workshop to take content and make it more effective for a new audience. Read on to more about localization and translation!

Understanding The Difference Between Localization And Translation

Localization and Translation: What is the Difference?

Translation really isn’t a tough concept to grasp. It’s simply the process of converting written words from language to another. Even when speaking strictly about adjusting written content, localization is a much broader activity. It implies examining the ideas within the content to make sure the full meaning of the communication comes through without unwanted changes. A good example is an ad that encourages readers to “make us your top draft pick.” For an American audience, this works just fine as a reference to the way NFL and NBA teams divvy up new players before the start of a season. The teams are picking their favorites first, and that’s what the ad encourages readers to do.

What happens when you try to re-use the ad in a country that doesn’t have any idea of what the word “draft” implies in this American context? An over-literal translation might mistakenly turn the ad into a confusing reference to a military draft. Localization would find a culturally-sensible way to make the same “choose us first” point as the American ad.

What is Image Adaptation?

Image adaptation is another significant part of localization. What if the hypothetical ad we’re talking about here also includes an image of a goalpost over the company’s door? If the copy’s been adjusted to remove the reference to an American sports draft, the imagery isn’t appropriate anymore. In fact, given that a goalpost for American football is going to be much less familiar in other countries, the image probably needs to be changed even if the copy still has something to do with sports.   Localization can also encompass layout adjustment. While English reads from left to right, there are several languages that do the opposite (e.g. Arabic, Hebrew, etc). Our American ad may need to be mirrored to present the same message to a foreign audience. If the message is being converted into a non-Roman script, the size and style of the type may need to be adjusted to keep the ad readable.

Even with languages that use the same alphabet may need additional space to convey the same message. Spanish and French, for instance, need an average of 30 percent more words than English, while Finnish needs 30-40 percent fewer.   Localization also covers a vast amount of detailed fact-checking to ensure that content is suited to its audience. Has the price been converted to the local currency properly? Are dates and measurements formatted in the correct local standards? These are just a few of the small but important details that fall outside the attention of translation but within the wider reach of localization.

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