Basics: Translation vs. Localization


The language services industry loves making things complicated.

What’s transcreation? What about localization? Are they the same, and which service do I need for my business? To add to the confusion, these concepts are often abbreviated into numeronyms, or called something different by each provider. What fun.

Here are five of the industry’s most common concepts, explained:

1. Translation (or t8n)

Translation is the process of expressing text in another language. Text is expressed word for word, with attention to grammar and syntax. Depending upon the service/technology you choose to use, translation may or may not take into account cultural nuances and idioms in texts. “Easy as pie” in English, for example, could be translated literally and badly, as in “as straightforward as a baked dessert” or idiomatically and correctly, as in “it’s very simple”.

2. Localization (or L10n)

Localization involves translation, but its broader goal is to make content (or a product) feel as though it were created specifically for a specific target market.

For example, you can translate a website’s content from Japanese into English, but there are other considerations that won’t always be included in the translation process, like converting currency from Yen into the local currency, formatting addresses and dates, and adjusting the website’s layout itself according to cultural and technological preferences, changes in word/character counts and more.

3. Transcreation (no one actually calls this t11n. Yet. Phew!)

Transcreation, also known as “creative translation,” is a form of copywriting where the original content may be changed completely to align with the desired message. Relative to translation, it is far more expensive, but is one good way of preserving and perfecting messaging across different markets.

4. Globalization (or g11n)

When it comes to products and services, globalization is a broad, strategic process of which translation and localization are small parts. Globalization involves addressing all challenges a company encounters when expanding into new markets—from researching and selecting target markets to meeting local business requirements abroad.

5. Internationalization (or i18n)

Internationalization is the technical process of planning and preparing products and services for easy localization into target languages and markets. It should take place before translation and often involves updating existing infrastructure to adhere to international standards, support multiple scripts and more.

Once you get to know these terms, you’ll be ready to go global in no time!

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Emily Benson

The author

Emily Benson

Bostonian turned Tokyoite, Emily handles enterprise marketing at Gengo. Passionate about translation, she joined Gengo after working with Lionbridge, the world's largest language company. When she isn't adding stamps to her passport, she can be found learning all sorts of languages, from Hebrew and Japanese to Klingon (nuqneH!).

  • Suvarna Choudhary

    Very nicely written!
    Translation should be abbreviated as t9n I suppose ?!

  • Joe

    As someone who works in the localization and translation industry, I have come across countless businesses and individuals who did not differentiate between translation and localization. Your article does a great job at quickly and efficiently explaining the differences between localization and translation. I will be sending this article to future inquirers .


  • BIts India

    You make a great point—thanks for sharing! I think this is a software internationalization challenge that arises when language sentence structure differs greatly from English.

  • Crockley BizComms

    Great article!

    What do you think of the new Skype Translator? Does it work? Is it a threat to the translation industry? We’ve written a blog on the topic and we’d love to hear your comments!

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