What’s the Difference Between Localization & Translation?

The difference between localization and translation is subtle, and while all good translation should have an element of localization, they are not entirely the same.

This question is made even more difficult because the industry’s (tech) interpretation of localization has morphed into something quite different.


Localization (l10n)

Localization is the process of both translating and adapting a product from one language to another. The adapting part is key.

A simple example: if you have an app talking about famous soft drink brands, localization would not only involve translation but also changing the soft drink brands so they match the target language country. To this extent, you can localize something even within the same language, e.g. UK vs USA.



Translation is the process of taking a source language and converting it to a target language. Trained translators never translate word-for-word, but instead take the meaning of each sentence and translate it into something a native of their own language would understand.

That’s why there is an element of localization within translation: there’s no point translating a British joke in the Spanish market. So a good translator will find an equivalent Spanish joke.

However, with just translation the product will still have the same content, the same soft drinks brands, to use the example from above.


App localization

The lines are further blurred in the tech industry. We’ve adopted the word localization even though most developers rarely would change the content of an app entirely for a certain country.

For this reason, app localization is essentially app translation. Good translators will always try and adapt what they can, but will not be able to adapt the app programmatically, with local products or local services (for example, perhaps your target language doesn’t use Facebook. A translator cannot physically change the app to use their local, most-popular social network. They can only translate what they are given).

If you do want to localize is the truest sense of the word, then you will need to invest some time (and probably money) in researching your target market, deciding what elements of your app need to be changed.

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CEO & Founder of Applingua.com

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