What is the difference between translation and localisation?

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What is the difference between translation and localisation?

November 2018
What is the difference between translation and localisation?

Localisation is translation taken a step further. Instead of just directly changing the words of one language to another, as is the case with translation, localisation uses local context to ensure translated content achieves the same objective no matter the culture. Typically, this is only possible with a bilingual copywriter or marketer.

Why is localisation important?

While translators change sentence structures and certain words, direct translation still often fails to bridge the gap between the source language (the language being translated from) and the target language (the language being translated to). Localisation removes this potential problem by addressing each objective with a specific country or culture in mind. The result is content and a strategy that is far more effective than simply shifting your language from source to target.

These errors are not limited to different languages; they also happen within the same one. Take ‘fag’ and ‘fanny’, for example. The former is harmless in British English and yet deeply offensive in American English, while the latter is an accessory in the States and likely to draw laughter if used in the same context in Britain. You, therefore, avoid localisation, or localization, at your peril.

Content localisation is so much more than getting the words in the right order

But the need for localisation extends beyond language differences. Although UK and America share a language, it will come as no great shock to find that these two countries, have huge cultural disparities and, as such, what works for one in a marketing sense won’t always work for the other.

This difference is most obvious when it comes to advertising. Americans don’t mind direct honesty in their ads (the clearest example of this is DollarShaveClub.com’s ‘Our Blades are F***ing Great’ campaign) whereas the British prefer reassuring smiles and empathetic looks, such as those found in any Bisto or McCain’s advert. Swapped between the two countries, the ads would make language sense, but only localisation can ensure that they make cultural sense and, therefore, have the greatest impact.

Certain subjects are not publicly discussed within certain cultures, such as health and safety in Japan, the assumption being that if you mention it, there must be a problem, leading to a loss of face! Practices that some cultures find routine are considered rude in others, for example, in Germany, it is rude to begin your first email to somebody with ‘Hi’ instead of ‘Dear Mr/Mrs.’ (‘Sehr geehrte/r Frau/Herr’.) These offence-causing blunders are avoided easily if you have a local market expert on the ground.

Design for localisation

Differing alphabets, writing systems and word formations also present challenges when taking content from source to target language. Arabic and Urdu are read from right-to-left; Chinese, Japanese and Korean are read from top-to-bottom; and German uses long compound nouns and verbs. All these affect the layout and design of content you want to produce, particularly physical materials like ad brochures, but are also swiftly overcome by using a local expert.

What are the benefits of localisation?

With Copestone offices in London and Melbourne servicing our domestic and the EMEA and APAC regions respectively, we understand the effectiveness of localisation and the need for our local specialist team members who manage it.

Our office in Melbourne leverages the expertise we have in Australia to launch companies into the APAC region, with our London office providing the same service for the EMEA region. For more information on how localisation can globalise your business, please contact us. You can also read our international marketing blog and relevant resources.

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