Any company that wants to enter international markets knows that the first step is to translate its content and documentation into the language of the target audience to be able to communicate with them. In some cases, however, a translation might not suffice to create genuine connections with the target audience. That is where localisation comes into play. The terms “translation” and “localisation” are often mistakenly interchanged when referring to the translation of content.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines translation as the process of changing words from one language into another, and localisation as the process of making a product or service more suitable for a particular country, area, etc.
From these definitions, it is clear that the two concern different things, but there can be some overlap. While translation focuses on the linguistic dimension, localisation focuses on the adaptation of the product as a whole to a particular locale (the combination of language, geographic area and the cultural aspects associated with these) and includes visual and technical aspects.
The ultimate goal of both translation and localisation is to communicate with an audience from another country or culture. But there are some differences.
Translation is one of the steps of the localisation process in which a text is converted from one language into another, respecting grammar and spelling rules and accurately conveying the meaning of the original text. Translation remains more faithful to the original text, i.e. the content is the same as the original content. In simple terms, it bridges the language barrier. This is important because in order to communicate and start building rapport with your (potential) clients, they need to understand your message. People tend to prefer to read content in their own language.
Translation is used for content where the focus is on specific terminology which has to be converted from language A to language B, such as technical, medical and legal documentation.
It should be kept in mind, however, that local specifics are also part of the translation process. Could you really translate a text without taking any cultural aspects into consideration? To a certain degree, you always have to consider such aspects, some times more than others depending on the type of text.
Localisation is a more complex process that includes translating a text but also adapting a piece of content, product, website, application, software, etc. for consumption within a specific market in order to maximise its impact, taking into consideration not only linguistic differences, but also cultural practices, religion, beliefs, non-textual components, etc. so that the audience feels like the product was created specifically for them and feels a deeper connection to your brand. In short, it helps you bridge the cultural barrier.
Aside from translation, localisation requires modifying functional and cultural aspects. The former include things like time and date formats, units of measure (e.g. imperial system to metric system), phone numbers, etc. Cultural elements that might need to be adapted include graphics, images, beliefs, symbols, humour, currencies, colours, etc.
It also includes some technical aspects such as layout. For example, when localising a website, the layout would have to be adapted to right-to-left writing in Arabic, including the location of the menu, or be flexible to accommodate languages that require more space, e.g. Spanish texts tend to be longer than English texts.
Localisation is widely used for website content, mobile apps, software and video games.
Regarding language localisation or adaptation, the meaning stays the same, but the content is adapted to local conventions, i.e. the meaning is translated to make it more culturally appropriate. Localisation can even help you avoid potentially embarrassing or offensive messages and requires a higher level of cross-cultural expertise.
Localisation can also be done differently for different regions that speak the same language. If, for example, you need to create marketing materials for Mexico and Spain, these materials will differ even though Spanish is an official language in both countries.
If you would like to go even further, transcreation might be the right option for you. In transcreation (creative translation), the translation is “inspired” by the original text and then created again for the local audience rather than being faithful to the original, while maintaining its intent, style and tone. This process results in new content created in the local language, which is different from the original content but evokes the same emotions.
Transcreation is primarily used for marketing and advertising material, which aims at eliciting the same emotional response in the target language as it does in the source language in order to move customers to make purchasing decisions.
Choosing What Is Best for You
Any business which aims to expand into new markets will eventually face two major problems: the language barrier and the cultural barrier. Translating your content will help you tackle the former. Localisation will help you address the cultural barrier and can help generate customer trust because when brands use localised content they appear authentic and can connect with their customers at a cultural level.
Depending on the content, region-neutral translations can be effective, but in some cases they might not be enough to reach your target market. Given that localisation adapts to the language, culture and traditions of your target audience, it can be more authentic and persuasive and boost the engagement of your customers. Before they buy your product, people must understand and identify with your message according to their needs and wants. Localisation helps not only to make a product easier to use by international consumers but also to ensure that they want to use the product.
To figure out whether translation, localisation or transcreation best fits your needs, you should consider your target audience and the nature and intent of the content.
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