Localization vs translation: Beyond words

While translation is the bedrock of multilingual communication, it’s often only the first step in a much broader journey towards cultural adaptation. Localization takes the essence of translation and amplifies it, ensuring that content or products resonate with their intended audience on a deeper, more contextual level.

Read on as we discuss the fundamental distinctions between two pivotal processes that facilitate cross-cultural dialogue: localization vs translation.


What is translation?

Translation is the process of converting text or content from one language into another while preserving its meaning, context, and intent. It involves the careful interpretation of the source language (the language of the original text) and the accurate expression of that meaning in the target language (the language into which the text is being translated).

Every language is a world. Without translation, we would inhabit parishes bordering on silence. (George Steiner)

Translators can work in various fields, including literature, business, legal, medical, technical, and more. They may specialize in particular languages or subject areas to provide accurate and contextually appropriate translations.

Machine translation tools and software such as Google Translate have also become widely used for basic translation tasks, but they may not always produce nuanced or culturally sensitive translations and may require human review and editing.

What is localization?

Localization is the process of adapting a product or content to make it suitable and culturally relevant for a specific target audience or market in a different region or country. This can apply to various forms of content, including software applications, websites, video games, marketing materials, and more.

Localization involves more than just translating text from one language to another; it encompasses a range of adjustments to ensure that the product or content feels natural and relatable to the local audience.

Some of the key aspects of localization include adjusting date and time formats, adapting currency symbols and formats, or modifying the layout, design, and functionality of software or websites to accommodate linguistic and cultural differences.

Localization vs translation: The differences

Localization and translation are related but distinct processes when it comes to adapting content for different languages and cultures. Here’s where they differ:


Translation primarily involves converting text or content from one language into another while preserving the original meaning and context. It focuses on linguistic accuracy and ensuring that the information is accurately conveyed in the target language. Translation may or may not address cultural adaptation.

Localization, on the other hand, is a broader process that goes beyond translation. It involves adapting content or a product to make it culturally and contextually relevant to a specific target audience in a different region or country.

Localization encompasses translation as one of its components but also includes adjustments related to cultural sensitivity, date and time formats, measurement units, currency, legal compliance, user experience, and more.


The primary goal of translation is to bridge the language barrier and allow speakers of different languages to access information or content in their native language. It focuses on linguistic accuracy and maintaining the integrity of the source text.

The main purpose of localization is to create a seamless and culturally relevant user experience for a specific audience. It aims to go beyond language and adapt content or products in a way that resonates with the local culture, customs, and preferences. Localization aims to enhance user acceptance and engagement in a new market.


Translation primarily involves language conversion and linguistic considerations. It deals with text and may not address other elements like design, layout, or cultural references.

Localization encompasses a wider range of elements, including language translation, cultural adaptation, design and layout adjustments, formatting, legal compliance, and user interface modifications. It takes into account the entire user experience.

Examples of localization vs translation

Translating the menus, buttons, and user interface of a software application from English to French is quite easy. For example, changing “File” to “Fichier” and “Save” to “Enregistrer.” When it comes to localization, adapting the same software application for the Japanese market takes more time and work. This involves not only translating the text but also adjusting the layout to accommodate the use of vertical text, incorporating Japanese date and time formats, and ensuring that cultural symbols are appropriate and meaningful in the Japanese context.

Translating the content of a website’s blog articles from Spanish to English so that English-speaking visitors can read the articles in their native language is something that we can now do at the press or tap of a button. Localizing the same website for the Arab market is a harder one. It includes translating the content into Arabic, but it also involves ensuring that the website’s layout is right-to-left (as Arabic script is), adapting the design to be culturally sensitive (e.g., using appropriate images and colors), and incorporating Islamic holidays and customs into the content and calendar.

Translate and localize with POEditor

POEditor is a versatile platform that can be a valuable asset for businesses and organizations looking to streamline their translation and localization processes. It provides an intuitive and user-friendly interface for managing the localization process. This makes it easier for both translators and project managers to collaborate effectively.

The platform includes a translation memory feature, which stores previously translated segments, and a glossary feature that’s especially useful for maintaining consistency in terminology and ensuring that translators use approved and preferred translations for specific terms or phrases.

Translators can also be provided with context, which allows them to see where the translated content will be used in the actual product or application. This contextual information helps translators better understand how their translations fit into the overall user experience.

POEditor can integrate with popular machine translation services like Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, and DeepL, which can speed up the initial translation process. Human translation via Gengo and TextMaster is also available.

In conclusion

While translation is a component of localization, localization is a more comprehensive process that involves adapting content or products for a specific culture and market, taking into account linguistic, cultural, and contextual aspects to create a user experience that feels native to the target audience.

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