The Difference Between Translation and Localization for Multilingual Website Projects [Definitions]

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The terms website translation and website localization are often used so interchangeably, it’s not uncommon for marketers and others to be unaware of the differences—or even know that there are any. While the terms and processes share similarities, understanding what sets them apart can do more than just benefit your knowledge of the industry—it can also help you (and your brand) globalize more efficiently and profitably.

To understand the difference between translation and localization, let’s start with some simple definitions:

  • Website translation is the process of changing an original (source) language version of web content such as text, multimedia, ebooks, or apps into a different (target) language by simply substituting words from one language to another—in context.
  • Website localization is a more specialized process of adapting your web content and applications for regional—or local—consumption. It goes beyond translation to modify the source language and other site elements to appeal to the customer’s cultural preferences in their own target language.

Bridging language barriers or adapting and refining messaging?

With translation, problems of intent and clarity often arise if the source language is left in a primitive, word-to-word state, as can be the case with machine translations that aren’t followed by a professional editing cycle. However, even if a website’s source language is translated by a highly trained linguist, it may still lack the level of cultural and technical nuance required to effectively resonate within a specific locale.Difference between translation and localization-translation-simple process of changing words from one language into another.Indeed, the quality and effectiveness of a global website doesn’t simply depend on language translation alone. To help ensure a quality customer experience, the top global brands employ a localization strategy to adapt their online content and deliverables for regional specificity. So if website translation is simply a utility for bridging language barriers, website localization is about refining your message and curating your brand to meet the cultural, functional, and language expectations of your global markets.Difference between translation and localization-localization-process of adapting web content and applications for regional or local consumption.

Meeting cultural and functional expectations

According to Dr. Nitish Singh, Associate Professor of International Business at Saint Louis University, to successfully compete in today’s global economy organizations must adapt—or localize—website and digital media content to clearly resonate with  their international audiences. “From a broad marketing perspective,” says Singh, “localization basically means adapting market offerings to best meet end-user expectations.” (Singh, 2015, pg. 7)*

Expectations may vary by region and industry but they can typically be broken down into two categories: cultural and functional.

Some examples of cultural content include:

  • Colors, shapes, sizes, styles
  • Images, icons, graphics
  • Societal codes; i.e. humor, etiquette, rituals, myths, symbols
  • Societal values, power, relationships, beliefs

Some examples of functional content include:

  • Date and time formats, telephone numbers, contact information
  • Weights, measurements, geographical references
  • Language and linguistic content; product descriptions, reviews

Taking a local idea global

Some localization experts not only adapt web content to cater to national or regional market preferences, but may also recreate or “transcreate” advertising and marketing campaign messaging to maximize cultural appeal—and avoid potentially embarrassing or offensive communications.

Share a Coke campaign-localization

A current example of transcreation is the “Share a Coke” campaign from Coca-Cola. Since its 2011 Australian launch that featured imprinting one of 150 popular first names on its products (and in promotions across media), it has become a global advertising success. However, it was necessary to modify the execution in some countries.

In China, for example, the campaign uses nicknames (i.e., “Classmate” and “Close Friend”) instead of first names. This approach maintains the campaign’s friendly nature, but avoids crossing an important cultural boundary by respecting the culture’s formal significance of first names.

Choosing translation and localization methods by content types

Finally, website translation and localization also differ on a tactical level. While simple translation may be appropriate for some content types in certain markets, localization is most often required for adapting highly emotive, creative marketing content so that it clearly resonates across locales.If website translation is simply a utility for bridging language barriers, website localization is about refining your message and curating your brand to meet the cultural, functional, and language expectations of your global markets.

Your website likely contains several content types—from marketing copy to legal and technical information and user-generated forum content. For reasons of efficiency and cost, it’s wise to map these content types to the most appropriate translation or localization methods.

It’s generally easier to select the best fit when you consider your audience(s) and the content’s nature and intent. Other parameters include volume, update cadence, lifespan, and budgetary considerations. Depending on your language service provider’s (LSP) capabilities, there are several methods from which to choose. When making these decisions, it’s best to consult an experienced professional translation company that offers a wide range of services.

Streamlining web translation—and localization

With sufficient planning, a focused website localization strategy—and an experienced LSP partner to help you execute on your strategy—our website translation services can deliver projects relatively seamlessly. But without proper preparation, they can become a time-consuming, expensive drag on your business.

Be sure to follow industry best practices to reduce complexity, speed time-to-market, control costs—and ensure quality localized content for all of your global markets. Download the new ebook, The Definitive Guide to Website Translation for helpful best practices and expert insights on the website localization process—from strategic planning to multisite go-live and beyond.

*From “Cultural Customization of Digital Media: An Imperative,” The Definitive Guide to Website Translation, Lionbridge Technologies. Originally published on BrandQuarterly.com.
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