Localization and Translation

What’s the Difference Between Localization and Translation?

By Hagen Weiss

If we had to compile a list of frequently asked questions, this would be top of the list.

The terms “translation” and “localization” are often used interchangeably but, while similar, do not have the same meaning.

Localization and Translation


Translation is the act of transforming a text that has been written in a certain language into a new, target language to reach a certain audience.

It is what we could refer to as a more literal, word-for-word process than localization. While translators obviously have their own style and way of writing, their goal is generally to translate the text into a new language as-is, keeping the same layout, meaning, tone of voice and company-specific terms intact.


Localization, on the other hand, is a process that is more in-depth than translation, and that is completed by having a specific target market in mind.

As a client, you could request that your text be translated into English, plain and simple. However, your customers could be physically located in the United Kingdom, in which case, rather than simply translating the document, we should also ensure that we localize it for the English (UK) market.

This doesn’t just mean using local expressions and lingo, but also the right formatting and units of measurement – such as currencies, time, numbers, distance (miles vs. kilometers), dates (format, but also local holidays), etc.

It also implies understanding that what might be funny in one country could be considered offensive in another. Moreover, it also means using cultural references that are appropriate for your target market; there is no point in referring to French (from France) celebrities if your target audience is located in Quebec (French-Canadian).

Localization is essential when translating marketing materials, websites and product descriptions, as the keywords used could make all the difference when it comes to how your business ranks in search engines and, ultimately, how many new customers and sales you will get in a new country. This is what we call search engine optimization (SEO) localization.

And it can go as far as ensuring that the layout, icons and images used in your content are appropriate and make sense to your target customers; this is especially important when localizing a website, an application, a software or a video game.

Shouldn’t Translations Always Be Localized?

Not necessarily.

If the text to be translated is fairly standard, such as a birth certificate, a driver’s license or any other government-issued document, then a simple translation is likely sufficient.

Moreover, a good translator, when given the proper instructions, will always, to some extent, localize the text that they are translating.

However, not all translators are completely familiar with specific markets and the dialect used in the target region or country, which is why it is primordial that you communicate with an experienced translation agency that understands your needs if you want your content to be localized for a certain country or audience.

If that’s the case, we will make sure that the translator and editor  that will be working on your project are native and specialists in your target market and language so that your content comes across as intended. This can make the difference between successfully expanding your business into a new country and damaging your corporate reputation.

What If My Customers All Speak the Same Language but Are Located in Different Countries?


You do not necessarily have to get your website or application localized for each one of your audiences if you are working with a limited budget or simply want to quickly reach as many potential customers as possible.

If you tell us that your customers speak Spanish, but are located as much in South America as they are in Spain, we could use what we refer to as “neutral” Spanish, more on that here . If, later on, you realize that most of your customers are actually located in Spain, then you could retain the services of a localization expert to review your content and better connect with that specific audience.

Conclusion of Localization and Translation

To put it simply, the difference between translation and localization can be compared to a situation in which two individuals, one from the United States and the other from Australia, were to meet and have a conversation.

While they would obviously understand what the other is saying as they do speak the same language, some local expressions could cause misunderstandings. For example, did you know that what is commonly referred to as a “bell pepper” in America is called a “capsicum” in Australia?

We hope to have clarified the important differences between the two processes!

Do not hesitate to contact us so that we can discuss your needs and advise on what we think is needed to best connect and engage with your new audience.


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