We live in a world where the key to survival in business is global relevance.
According to Forrester research, 64% of buyers said they valued localized content when making technology purchases. As such, most large-scale enterprises have been prioritizing localization for years—even hiring localization or translation managers whose main function is to improve content on a global scale. These companies already understand how to take translation to the next level. In other words, they have probably already navigated the logistical and linguistic mistakes and hang-ups that many companies face when beginning to localize.
Many mid-size corporations that are still getting off the ground with localization depend on a decentralized approach to contracting, whereby each team in the organization or each regional outpost contracts with whatever supply chain they prefer. And with no centralized approach to asset management, there is no single repository of approved bilingual terminology, language-specific style guides, and translation memory databases. By making the switch to a comprehensive localization platform, however, they’re able to significantly improve their logistical strategy and their translation results while keeping costs low.
If your company is on the cusp of going global, you’re making big decisions about how to transcreate content across regional and language barriers. Knowing the difference between localization vs. translation may help you prepare to scale efficiently.
Defining Localization vs. Translation
Translation and localization are quite similar in concept. It’s easy to understand how teams might miss the nuance, ending up with sub-par content that doesn’t capture the attention of their global audience.
So, what does this comparison mean for your company as it aims to go global?
Translation is taking words from one language and conveying the same idea in another target language. Whether the translation is done word-for-word by a machine translation (MT) service or completed idiomatically by a skilled linguist, the simplest process doesn’t take into account all the other elements of living in a digital world. Document translation touches only words on a page. It can’t encompass the many dimensions of software, app, or web content.
Localization is transforming content of all kinds into assets that feel natural and local for users around the world. It takes into account technical details such as currency and calendar date formatting, as well as cultural norms and expectations that make your content relevant to international audiences. Localization includes translation, but it goes much further in an effort to make your content feel organically home-grown in target markets across the globe.
The Benefits of Full-Scale Localization
Basic translation approaches may work for small companies that intend to expand very slowly and in very limited markets. But for expanding corporations maintaining extensive content operations in multiple languages, localization is the only way forward.
Localization goes further, deeper, and broader than translation alone. This strategy allows you to:
Target Locales, Not Languages
Spanish is spoken all around the world. Translating an app’s user interface into Spanish may make the text readable to users who speak the language, but the app still comes across differently to users in Buenos Aires, Havana, and Madrid. That’s because translation only converts the words on the screen. It doesn’t address the differing sociolinguistic expectations of global users.
Localization allows you to go deeper by specifying which locale you’re targeting versus which language you’re translating to. Localized content transforms user experience in ways that make it more linguistically, culturally, and functionally relevant. Content layout, currencies, imagery, and idioms may change—all in an effort to make your content feel like it was created from scratch in the target language, specifically for individuals in the target area.
Maintain Digital Functionality
When translating content from a website or app in a word-for-word manner, you’re bound to run into difficulties. English text translated into German can expand anywhere from 50–100% in character length, which could seriously impact the clean design and readability of your fixed-size homepage. Or, if you’re entering an Arabic-speaking market, you’d need to invest in additional internationalization efforts to make your interface toggle smoothly to a right-to-left reading style.
Localization is far more sensitive to the digital functionality of translated content than simple translation is. Through complex file parsing and a comprehensive approach to the digital elements of translation, you maintain full functionality of your assets—no matter which country they’re displaying in.
Transform Entire Content Ecosystems
Most translation providers tackle projects on a quote-by-quote basis. You ship out a document or .xml file, they charge you a standard per-word rate, and you receive a deliverable for each target language. Then, you take that content to in-market reviewers and have your developers implement the updates in production. Of course, it’s rarely that simple due to variables in digital functionality, manual file transfers, translation consistency, and collaborators’ schedules.
With full-scale localization services, you’ll pay to have the entirety of your content (website, app, marketing collateral, media) localized for every one of your target locales on an ongoing basis—for the life of your company. You need your content to evolve continuously. The best localization firms do this automatically, pulling content via API integration as soon as you make changes and replacing it with newly localized, quality-assured content.
Making the Switch to Content Localization
You may already be working with SLVs and project managers to translate individual projects for your corporation. But if on a monthly basis, you are managing more than 5 translation projects or moving more than 5,000 words through your pipeline, it’s time to consider a higher-powered alternative that encompasses all elements of your content—not just the words.
The quality of your content will differ greatly when it’s adapted through the lens of localization vs translation. It’s true that you may hear the terms used interchangeably by some. But, in effect, after you experience the opportunities possible with locale-specific content and a far more efficient localization process, you’ll never want to go back to simple word-for-word conversions.
Ditch the spreadsheets, the email wrangling, and the behind-the-curtain translation services. Get into localization the right way with a company that can help align your people and processes into one transparent workflow.
Bureau Works’ intuitive software platform provides end-to-end automated localization solutions for international corporations. Through powerful CLI/API integration and groundbreaking QA technology, we put our clients in the driver’s seat for ongoing localization of all their assets. Contact our team to learn more about how localization (and translation) can help your company influence a global audience.
Written by Aaron Schliem
Aaron is the chief marketing officer for Bureau Works. He also loves to tickle the ivories and is a wiz at designing cocktails.