6 minute read
Translation vs. localization: What's the difference?
Updated on April 4, 2021 by Erica Sunarjo
Whether you’re an internationally-recognized car manufacturer or a mom-and-pop shop looking to expand, the internet has changed the reach and visibility of your brand forcing you to better know the audience you are marketing to worldwide.
Anybody, anywhere can hit the Google search bar and find information about your business. What they find will influence whether they become fans of your brand or write you off entirely.
You’re probably familiar with general brand strategy, but what happens if you are planning to market to countries or languages that you aren’t familiar with? Or what if you’re getting a barrage of social media posts and reviews in a language you don’t speak? You’ll need to invest in localization and translation services for your owned properties, like your website, and for reviews or social media posts that people are writing in different languages.
Here we go!
The difference between translation and localization
If you are planning to publish content in a language you don’t speak, your first instinct may be to run it through Google Translate and call it a day. But doing something like that could end up causing more damage to your brand than good. Machine translations offer basic, verbatim translations that are often riddled with errors. These errors can cause major damage to your reputation, and can make your content difficult to understand.
What is language translation?
Language translation converts words from one language to another language. Good translation is more than just about conversion, it's about context as well. For example, the type of Arabic spoken in one country can be totally different than in another. Knowing the difference is key to good translation.
What is language interpretation?
Language translation pertains to words that are written. Interpretation is different because it deals mainly with the spoken word. Interpretation is more nuanced because it takes cultural cues into account.
What is localization?
Localization is the process of adapting content to another market. For example, if you are selling baby food in the United States, the language and images you use might be different than what you might use in another country. One mythical example is that of a horrible localization guffaw in Africa.
The story goes like this:
A large multinational corporation once attempted to sell baby food in an African nation by using packaging designed for its home country market. The company’s regular label showed a picture of a baby with a caption describing the kind of baby food contained in the jar. African consumers took one look at the product, however, and were horrified. They interpreted the labels to mean that the jars contained ground-up babies!
The truth verification site Snopes says the tale above isn't true, but it makes a good case for what could go wrong if localization isn't taken into account.
Who provides translation and localization services?
Reputable translation services will employ real, native speakers to translate your content. A translator will take the style and purpose of your content into account, in order to produce a translation that retains the same essence of the original. Translation is the first step in reaching a wider global audience.
As mentioned above, Localization, on the other hand, goes beyond a simple translation to account for cultural and regional preferences. Localization extends beyond written content to include colors, images, societal codes, power, relationships, the list goes on.
There have been plenty of business successes and failures that have hinged on how well they handled the localization of their brand. For example, Coca-Cola, is called Kekoukele in China, which means "tasty fun."
Coca-Cola, is called Kekoukele in China, which means "tasty fun."
Translation and localization are both critical to expanding your brand into global markets.
Tips for localizing your branded content
- To find the best countries to start localizing or translating for, a good place to look is your Google Analytics "Visitors by Country".
- Use a professional localization and translation firm. Just do it.
- Make sure the people working on your campaign are from, or located in, the country you are targeting. French in Canada is different than French in Paris.
- If you will be localizing your website, see the WC3 recommendations here. and for a guide to doing it, look here. At Reputation X we find many mistakes with Hreflang tags. Learn about them before you start.
- Ask someone in the target location other than your translator to proof the work before it goes live.
Translation vs. Localization FAQs
What is the difference between translation and localization?
Translation simply converts words from one language to another. Localization truly adapts content to another market.
What is the problem with machine translations?
Machine translations offer basic, verbatim translations that are often riddled with errors. These errors can cause major damage to your reputation, and can make your content difficult to understand.
How do I localize my branded content for another market?
First, research whether you need to invest in localization, and which countries you should focus on by checking your Google Analytics. Use a professional localization and translation firm for the best results. Make sure the firm has native people from the location you are targeting. Ask someone in your target location to proof the work before it goes live.