The differences between translation and localization and why you can’t have one without the other

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The differences between translation and localization

Website translation, it’s more than just words, right? And if you’re in the early stages of translating your website, chances are you’ll have come across two directions, translation or localization, not to mention transcreation (but we’ve saved that for another article).

Both concepts involve adapting your messaging and content to appeal to global markets by targeting different languages, but the approaches differ and will ultimately alter your translation project.

So, translation vs localization, what’s the difference? Luckily you’re in the right place. Can you really have one without the other and ultimately, how can either (or hint both) ensure your global marketing strategy drives real results.

From globalization to “glocalization”

Globalization=localization. Sound like a paradox? Stricto sensu, it is: globalization implies increased connectivity and exchanges between people in geographically disparate locations—exchanges of goods, cultures, languages, and everything in between, right down to memes

Localization refers to keeping in touch with the smallest units of a community around you. For scale, if Amazon represents the acme of “globalized” commerce, your local mom-and-pop bookstore is the “localized” equivalent.

There are magnitudes of differences between Amazon and your local bookstore, to start with the fact that, for example, Amazon sells books in pretty much every language that’s spoken on Earth—whereas your local bookstore most likely only sells books in the local language(s) of your country or region.

So what’s glocalization? Pretty logical: it’s a compromise between globalization and localization—a sort of in-between. 

Let’s take our Amazon-bookstore scenario: we can see glocalization in action on Amazon’s behalf in the ways that the ecommerce megalith differentiates its site for each country in which it is present.

Not only are Amazon’s international sites automatically set to each country’s official language, but they also offer country-specific content and offers.

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The Amazon France, USA, and Brazil sites have the same basic structure and Amazon branding—but their content is country-adapted. This is a prime (no pun intended) example of glocalization online—which Amazon is able to back up with an offline glocalization component, offering faster delivery of items ordered from within one’s own country.

But, what’s translation got to do with it?

Basically, translation falls under the umbrella of localization. It plays a big role in the overall localization process, since—logically—adapting your site to different countries implies taking into account the local language

Translation is what bridges the language barrier – it gives the exact possible meaning to the reader and allows them to actually understand your messaging. However, translation is neutral to cultural differences. 

So whilst it gives you a way to speak to new markets…localization focuses on words, colors, clothing, cultural symbols, and everything else that will make your brand fit in with your diverse new customer base. 

Let’s take a look at the main processes that lead to successful localization, and which steps require translation.

Translation vs localization

1. Translate your website for your local audience

‘Locale’ is a term used to describe a combination of both language and the place where it’s spoken. It essentially goes even further than localizing as it considers how some languages are spoken in many places around the world, for example, Spanish. 

In that case, localized content for Colombia would be different than content created for Spain etc. If you choose to translate your website from English into Spanish but you’re targeting a specific country in the LATAM market, then fine-tuning your translations to meet certain language nuances will make you stand out and speak to your audience in a better and more localized way. 

We’re pretty big advocates of localization here at Weglot. We love the speed machine translation can bring, coupled with how a professional translator can enhance and localize those translations with just a few tweaks. 

It might even stretch further than nuances. Think about cultural differences such as humor and idioms. What might be considered funny in one country can certainly not be in another. And, things get even more confusing when you start doing direct translations of local idioms, you could get yourself in all sorts of trouble especially as these tend to include cultural references associated with the specific country in question.

This is a classic example of website localization. And in this instance, you may want to enlist the help of translation agencies to help localize your web content further.

2. Localizing your SEO

SEO plays an important part in the visibility of your brand. Without an SEO strategy, you’re unlikely to appear top in global search engines and therefore limit your chances of increasing your market share.

It’s likely you’ll already have a solid SEO strategy, but what about for your translated website? Much like editing direct translations of your source content, the same goes for your keywords, particularly within your metadata. Keyword translation is another level of localizing your translations.

3. Localizing your images

It’s not just the content of your website that plays a role in your localization strategy. Changing images or even videos for your different chosen markets is an essential part of localization. 

This can be both culturally and contextually. You’ll need to research what is culturally appropriate for each new target market and also take into consideration different seasonal differences e.g. Christmas in Europe will usually mean images of snow but that wouldn’t make sense if you’re targeting the Australian market.

Your target audience is unlikely to resonate with your website if the imagery shown is not familiar to them. Visuals play a big part in how a brand is perceived especially when the first impression is likely your website.

4. Using machine translation

It’s common practice to use machine translation in some parts of your translation project. Speed, increased accuracy and giving you something to work from are just many of the benefits associated to using it in your translation workflow.

But one area to look out for is ensuring you’re targeting the right language. As mentioned above, Spanish is spoken differently in Europe vs Latin America (e.g. Mexico), the same goes for Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese.

Using a website translation software that allows you to select these types of custom languages will mean you’ll be able to reduce some of the more manual aspects of your localization project.

5. Calculating currency and processing payments

In a way, converting currency constitutes a form of translation: moving content from one cultural context for another. This is, evidently, mostly only an issue if your site is commercial in nature.

Think of it this way: if your international customers don’t know how much they’ll be paying, in their own currency, for what you’re trying to sell them…they’re unlikely to hit “Add to cart.”

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Weglot client Crabtree & Evelyn edited their language switcher to include the currency of the country you’re buying in.

No matter what site-building platform you use, there are plenty of third-party apps—and plugins, if you’re on WordPress/WooCommerce—that make currency conversion a breeze. 

6. Design for languages

We’ve written a whole article all about designing for multi-language websites, so we won’t go into full detail here, but instead, just briefly touch on where this fits in with the translation vs localization debate.

Designing for right-to-left languages such as Arabic requires more than a direct translation. You’ll need to ensure your website can accommodate such content otherwise it will make little sense to the local market.

You can also consider date formats in the “design” of your website. For example, these English languages display dates differently, in the US the date format is month-day-year, while the UK style is day-month-year. Or the differences between units of measurement are different across the world.

Translate but always localize

The differences between translation and localization are clear. And, what’s certain is that you can’t have one without the other if you wish to truly personalize your customer experience per market. Actioning the steps above will ensure your localization project is foolproof and enhance the user experience of your new target markets.

Let’s quickly recap:

  • Language is neutral to cultural differences – using professional translators to fine-tune your automated translations gives you clearer messaging 
  • Getting multilingual SEO right so your keywords are localized is key
  • It’s not just words – translate your images for even better localization 
  • Use machine translation with the right target language from the off, such as French Canadian rather than French
  • If you’re selling online adapting your site to show the right currency per country will lead to a higher conversion rate
  • Design for languages, including right-to-left languages and the right date formats

Also, make sure to check our video for a quick sum-up!

Interested in how Weglot can give you the tools to both translating and localizing your website? Try our 10-day free trial!

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