Localisation vs Translation: What Is the Exact Difference

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Female writing in notebook with repeated "hello" images in different languages.

Think global, act local.”

This popular business quote captures the essence of why understanding the difference between localisation and translation is crucial for international businesses. In the 21st century, the world is interconnected like never before and for this reason the way content is adapted for different markets can significantly impact a company’s success. Despite this, localisation is still often underestimated and not-so-well understood.

So, what exactly differentiates localisation from translation, and how can localisation benefit your business? Let’s dive into these processes to uncover the best strategies for achieving international success.

Localisation and Translation Services: The Main Differences

Simply put, the key difference between these processes is that translation changes the language, while localisation is a comprehensive adaptation for natives.

Let’s explore all the elements that change between a website localisation and a translation.

Text, Layout & Formatting

In translation, the primary focus is on converting text from one language to another while maintaining accuracy and clarity. Localisation extends beyond mere translation by adapting the text to fit cultural references, idiomatic expressions, and regional variations.

Think about slogans, colloquial expressions and jokes: the way they are communicated in English can vary greatly in French. Also, the versions of your website adapted for your American, Australian, or British audience should differ in terms of spelling, vocabulary usage, and other linguistic aspects.

Additionally, localisation involves adjusting layout and formatting elements to accommodate linguistic differences and suit local aesthetic preferences.

Numbers & Data

While in translation, we don’t change the numerical values directly, when you localise a text, it’s necessary to adapt units of measurement, currency formats, and date/time conventions to align with local standards.

This ensures that numerical data remains meaningful and relevant to the target audience through different countries and regions.

Visuals & Colours

While translation typically does not alter images or graphics, localisation may involve changing visuals, also symbols and icons, to reflect local culture and nuances. This includes adapting colours to avoid cultural taboos and misunderstandings.

Let’s take an example with the colour white. In Europe and in the most Western World this colour refers to something pure and peaceful. While in Asia, white is mostly linked to death and sadness.

Finally, you have to ensure that images resonate with the target audience. Perhaps you have changed the text and consequently need to adjust the visual reference, or simply the images do not convey the same message to the target audience.

Girl reading an English dictionary.
Image by Наталия Когут from Pixabay

Translation vs Localisation vs Transcreation

Translation, localisation, and transcreation are strategies that aim to make content accessible in a language other than the one it was originally created in, but the processes and the results are quite different.

Translation is the process of converting text from one language into another while preserving its original meaning. This process focuses on linguistic accuracy, ensuring that the translated content is a faithful representation of the source text. 

Just translation is most appropriate for documents where the primary goal is to convey information clearly and accurately. Examples include legal documents, technical manuals, scientific research papers and standardised business communications.

Localisation goes further. It is the process of adapting content to fit the cultural, linguistic, and functional expectations of a specific target market. This involves not only translating the text but also adjusting other elements, and even the overall tone to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers. 

Translation can be considered part of the localisation process. However, you might need to take another step of localisation: transcreation. Transcreation conveys brand messages more accurately than a word-for-word translation.

It involves creatively adapting content while focusing on preserving the original message’s intent and emotion, by maintaining brand consistency. This process is particularly useful in marketing and advertising to ensure that the brand message resonates with different audiences.

Female teacher writing on a chalkboard.
Photo from Unsplash

Examples of Translation vs Localisation

Some examples of successful localisation efforts are:

  • Calzedonia, an Italian fashion retailer known for its stylish legwear and swimwear, effectively localises its marketing strategies to resonate with diverse cultural preferences across different markets. It ensures that its brand remains relevant and appealing to consumers worldwide, ultimately contributing to its success as a global fashion retailer.

  • WWF doesn’t just translate content but also creates the right content for the right users. An example of this is a post that focuses on two different topics: the declining monarch butterfly population in the US, while the Spanish page has a direct feature on Earth Hour.

  • Starbucks adjusts its menu offerings to suit local tastes and preferences in different regions. For example, in Japan, Starbucks offers seasonal beverages like the Sakura Blossom Frappuccino during cherry blossom season, catering to the country’s cultural affinity for seasonal foods and beverages. By introducing localised menu items, Starbucks enhances the customer experience and strengthens its brand presence in diverse markets.

Why is Localisation Crucial?

Many strong industries have fully understood the importance of localising content with the goal of global expansion. 

A great example of localisation can be seen in:

  • Software and tech industry: The leading 50 SaaS companies support 11 languages. 
  • Mobile app development: Localisation significantly impacts app downloads and revenue. Research from Distimo revealed that localising iPhone app text can boost downloads by 128% per country and increase revenue by 26% per added language.
  • Finance and banking: Top finance apps are multilingual, with 80% of the leading 20 apps supporting multiple languages. For instance, Revolut’s success is partly due to its early localisation efforts, making its services available in over 30 languages.
  • Gaming: Launching games globally requires meticulous localisation to ensure cultural relevance and engagement. 

And finally: e-commerce.

To enhance user engagement, e-commerce sites must localise product descriptions, sizing charts, promotions, payment options, and currency. Effective localisation ensures your e-commerce platform is not only translated but culturally adapted and efficient in target markets.

If your goal is to expand your digital storefront to reach a global audience, let’s discover how localisation becomes necessary for your website.

Why You Should Consider Localisation Services For Multilingual Websites

Imagine launching a marketing campaign that resonates deeply with consumers in one country but falls flat in another.

As businesses expand their reach to new markets, the ability to bridge linguistic and cultural gaps can significantly influence their success. It has become fundamental that natives in a particular region can easily identify with content. This is when localisation comes into play.

As reported by the Harvard Business Review, a Common Sense Advisory study says that 72.4% of consumers confirmed that they would be more likely to buy a product if the information is provided in their native language.

Simply put, localisation helps you maximise your return on investment (ROI)

Let’s see in detail how it happens: 

  • Enhanced user experience: A locally adapted website provides a familiar experience for users, leading to increased engagement and conversion rates.
  • Improved SEO performance: Localised content improves search engine visibility in local markets, driving organic traffic and improving website rankings through the keywords with the highest search volume in that particular language and region.
  • Brand awareness: Content that is locally targeted has more engagement than that designed for the global market.
  • Competitive advantage: A locally optimised website gives businesses a competitive edge by effectively reaching and engaging with diverse audiences in international markets.
Assorted flags from various countries displayed together in a colourful keyboard.
Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

Conclusion

Translation and localisation are two critical processes that, while closely related, have very distinct goals in global communication.

With fully localised content, brands can ensure that their experiences resonate with users, even if they speak an entirely different language. 

The work has been done well when the reader feels that the text has been written for him from the beginning, without any traces of translations, localisations, or transcreations.

Is international expansion on your agenda? Book a free consultation about how we can improve your website through localisation by creating valuable multilingual content.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best