Lifting the Lid on Translation and Localisation

It is likely that you have heard the terms ‘translation’ and ‘localisation’. They are fairly common terms, and they are often used interchangeably by brands wishing to expand their services overseas.

However, did you know that they actually refer to different services?

It is true that both wield the shared aim of adapting your brand’s content into a new language to reach a new audience. However, there is a fundamental difference between them:

With translation, it is the meaning of a text which gets transferred. With localisation, it is the experience.

In this blog, we’re going to delve further into the differences between translation and localisation. But if you’re still unsure on anything after reading, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Translation as the Starting Point

Translation is the process of rendering text from one language into another so that meaning is equivalent. It is often thought as the first step within localisation as it converts the written words from one language into another and thus enables a piece of text to be read by a new audience.

However, to be ‘read’ by a new audience is as far as translation gets. Although sentence structure and grammar are of course adjusted within translation, it is important for translators to stay true to the original text. This means that any cultural referents specific to the source country held within the source text will be translated faithfully with no adaptation.

Now, you may be thinking that such a fidelity is a good thing. And if you are, you wouldn’t be wrong! It is great to respect the author’s intentions, and in a literary or even technical text, we’re all for it!

The problem is that, within marketing texts, such a loyal translation may decrease engagement with your desired audience.

For example, if you’re selling a sports drink which claims to make you feel like Harry Kane, you have to ask yourself whether retaining the name Harry Kane in your Italian marketing campaign would have the same effect as it would in your English. After all, we’re not so sure Italian kids would want to feel like Harry Kane. Surely they would rather feel like Ciro Immobile?

Translation therefore has certain limitations. This is where localisation comes into play.

Delving Deeper with Localisation

Once a translation has been provided, localisation delves deeper. Addressing cultural and visual components as well as linguistic issues, localisation helps you relocate your product to a new country. In other words, it enables your desired audience to feel like your document is made for them.

But, how does this work in practice? Aside from cultural references such as football players, there are several elements which localisation can influence.

Numeric Differences.

When localising your text, you need to ensure that all measurements, dates and currencies conform to that which are used in your target market.

For example, if you’re targeting Spain, you’d need to use euros rather than pounds. This conversion of currency would be an example of localisation.

Visual Considerations.

Before commencing your overseas campaign, you need to ensure that all images work in the context of the target culture.

For example, whilst a bacon bap may be an enticing image for a British audience, this would unlikely be the case for an Arabic-speaking audience. This is because, in many Arab countries, pork is a forbidden food. Advertising including such an image therefore might be disrespectful. Localisation would consequently alter this image.

Formatting Differences.

If you are localising your text, you will also need to think about the layout of your content. If your advert were in Arabic for example, you would need to flip it so that both the writing and visual content read right to left.

Furthermore, if the language were to use a non-Roman script such as Japanese, it would probably be good for you to alter the font size and type. This will help your customer read it clearly. These little stylistic differences are all examples of localisation.

Why is Localisation Important?

In a nutshell, localisation is what makes your marketing campaign work. It is what adapts your brand to the cultural elements of your target audience. It is what makes your customers connect to a brand. Quite simply, if you wish to provide an equal experience for all, localisation is the way forward.


Have more questions about localisation that you’d like answering? Feel free to get in touch via our social media or drop us an email. We’re always more than happy to help!

Interested in learning more about the translation industry and its terminology? Why not check out our Lifting the Lid on Translation and Interpreting blog post?

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