Localization vs. Translation – The Differences Between the Two

The world is becoming interconnected more than it ever was in history. Businesses want to sell outside their traditional boundaries. They also want to entice the world to become consumers of services and products. As they seek their adventures out there, they encounter several problems.

Top on the list of challenges is two items.

  • A culture shock
  • A language barrier

Companies use translation and localization services to overcome the two problems.

What are the major differences?


  • It is an act of rendering a source text into another language. A typical translation involves changing a Chinese document to English.
  • It is generally the starting point.
  • It targets the language as the byproduct.
  • It assumes a neutral position.
  • It responds well to technical subjects that keep jargon as a core part.

Translation focuses on the following items:

  • The breadth of the content word for word
  • Images and layouts stay intact
  • It preserves the branding language.
  • The translator uses the source language to impose the essence of the content.


  • It involves incorporating meaning into local content. A typical localization task ensures that the Chinese content complies with the culture of English speakers in a particular region such as the US.
  • It follows translation. It looks for those things that can bring controversy.
  • It goes deeper into dialects and regions. For example, it will look for those specific instances where though the language is the same, the meaning may be lost.
  • It takes a specific position based on the target audience.
  • It helps you to respond to the emotional subjects.

Localization focuses on the following items:

  • The physical characteristics of content and presentation such as color, shape, and size
  • Societal and regional values such as religious and cultural beliefs
  • Visual nuances such as images and graphics
  • Social codes eked in humor and symbolism
  • It also responds well to practical content such as designs, metrics and such things.
  • If you want to understand the differences deeply, here is an exposition of each difference.

Language vs. culture

Every global marketer must understand the implication of grammar as is and culture-responsive language. Over 100 countries use the English language. However, the language differs from one region to the other. Pronunciations, spellings, and word use differ.

Translating text to English will be the easy part. You have to customize the translated text. There will be New Zealanders, Jamaicans, and others interested in the writing. They want the content to respond to specific language nuances that reflect their society. Those cultural and societal codes will be different everywhere despite the language being universal.

Some common universal languages that translation can help with are English, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and others. With localization, you will see texts responsive to French Canadians, British English, Spanish Argentina, and so on.

That is not all; you have to respond to specific language contexts that go along with the various dialects. You have to be sensitive while at it. Translating idioms and jokes is quite tricky. Unfortunately, once you embark on global expansion, you have no option.

Word to word vs. functional content

People have a problem understanding content when it contains imported metrics. For example, currency, weights, sizes, and such things give people problems with conversions. Even a simple figure such as £1 million will give an American audience challenges.

People want to feel things in their local languages. Since the person is looking for information, he will look for the simplest and most helpful. If your content is difficult to read, people will pass it on. If you have figures that are not readily digestible, expect the target to look for alternatives.

If someone is shopping for a garment, he will want to see particular sizes that she is accustomed to in his local area. For example, people are accustomed to sizes and not measurements. Elsewhere, the sizes are different. Others use measurements instead. To make any content easy to understand, you have to localize it.

Technical vs. emotional content

There are places where people appreciate black cloths during funerals only. Even in households, those people don’t buy black items because they attach negative connotations to the color. If your company colors have black as the dominant color, how do you get into such a market? Although this is a theoretical case, companies face such kind of dilemmas when going global.

They have to translate all technical stuff. Compliance with local laws goes beyond translation. You have to localize contracts, privacy policy, terms and conditions, product descriptions, and sometimes even the service and products themselves. Medical reports, technical and scientific material, patents, copyrights, and such content may not need localization.

Marketing is an emotional endeavor. You have to target all rhetorical appeals to be effective. You have to show empathy, ethics, and authority. When selling to a cross-cultural community, you have to responds to cultural diversity. You can use symbols to overcome any possible backlash.

Localization will help you identify potential pitfalls with your marketing materials. If there are images that can bring conflict, you may need to substitute them. A good example is an eagle celebration among Albanian-Kosovar crowds. In most parts of the world, you can use it for marketing copies. In Belgrade, Serbia, that will be courting political undertones.

Complimentary nature of translation and localization

As noted, translation is always the starting point. A copy can be successful in one part of the world. Though history tells us that the chances of it being successful elsewhere are high, the modalities of the application determine its success. You have to translate the content first. It is only after doing so that you will spot the small details that can hurt your campaign.

It is at that point that you will look for ways to make sense or convey the intended message. You will have to remove anything controversial. You have to replace it with something that the locals appreciate.

Keeping a marketing copy that has images of women with exposed legs in any Arabic country will give you serious problems. In such places, they only accept women in hijabs. Localization services Singapore for marketing copies can feature ‘Singlish’—a Singaporean English dialect, instead of mainstream English.

Typically, a company has to translate its:

  • Website
  • Web content
  • Applications and software
  • Videos
  • Information graphics
  • Audio material
  • Customer feedback
  • Internal company communication
  • Privacy policy
  • Terms and conditions
  • Books
  • Texts
  • Multimedia


Translation and localization are necessary steps towards your internationalization and globalization efforts. In case you are not convinced about going an extra mile after translation, read the stories behind Honda Fit, HSBC’s ‘Assume Nothing Slogan,’ Chevy Nova, or KFC’s ‘Finger-Lickin’ Good’ slogan.

For all localization services Singapore, you can contact us at Letter Crafts. We understand the common pitfalls that companies encounter when entering this market.