The words translation and localization are often used interchangeably although the meaning is not the same. The purpose of this post is to clarify the difference between the two so you can use it to your advantage when you translate or localize your website.
Words that might come up during your localization project: GILT + transcreation
When talking about translation and localization, some other jargon tends to come up. So let’s start from there:
- Globalization: umbrella term for the localization and internationalization process, the strategy behind launching a product or service in a new market, also abbreviated g10n.
- Internationalization: process of designing products and services marketable worldwide, also abbreviated i18n
- Localization: process of adapting a product to the linguistic and cultural specifications of a given region, also abbreviated l10n
- Translation: process of converting words from one language to another
- Transcreation: process of recreating a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context.
Why translate/localize at all
Only 1 out of 7 people in the global population speak English. Or, if you prefer, 6 out of 7 do not. Imagine you heard great things about a product but the website is in a language you do not understand or you are not fluent in. How long until you close the window?
To gain readers’ trust, addressing them in their native language is a must. If the reader cannot read it, s/he won’t buy.
It has become easier with the Internet to get your message across borders but users are also stricter than they used to be.
- It has become easier with the Internet to get your message across borders, you just need a website and (almost) anyone will be able to access it. Why limit to one language in an unlimited market?
- But readers are also stricter than they used to be: their attention span is shorter, information has to be easily findable and the content properly transmitted.
This makes your website’s translation/localization a difficult but necessary task.
Use your words wisely: When to translate only, when to also localize.
Now that it’s clear why we need to translate/localize, when should we do one or the other? Translating transforms words from the source language into the target language(s). Localizing is adapting your content to your audience’s culture. This encompasses text, images, audio, video, features, etc.
When addressing your reader, adding words and images they understand might not be enough. The most important piece of the puzzle will be to know your audience. You want to actually speak to them to get the full message across: you want to localize your content.
This said, localization is not needed for all your website’s content. I am thinking about customer reviews or social media posts. In these cases, even machine translation is enough.
What does localization look like?
Now that we have covered the theory, what would the differences in practice be between only translating your website and localizing it?
For your content to get through, it needs to be culture proof. Avoid sensitive topics and know what level of formality to use when addressing your reader.
French use the formal vous, but Spanish will generally use the informal tú to address users.
The cultural references will also be different: say you mention a pop star who is not known in the country you are targeting or translate an idiom word by word.
You do not have hairs on your tongue: a direct translation from the Spanish idiom “no tener pelos en la lengua”, which means to be straightforward.
Localization will also sometimes affect the design of your website: think of the difference in length between “next” and “siguiente” (next in Spanish) or if the target language is written left to right, like Arabic, Urdu or Hebrew or even vertically like some East Asian languages.
We have seen that translation and localization, although closely connected, do not have the same meaning. When you apply it to your website, although a difficult task, it can only mean you reach more customers. So why not do it?
i18n is the numeronym for Internationalization. In our i18n series, we will deliver every two weeks tips on how to make your localization project a lot easier than it sounds.
WOVN.io is a website localization service; it enables you to multilingualize your website in less than 5 minutes without the help of a developer. For inquiries or comments, please click here.