Translation vs. transliteration: Understanding the differences

As the demand for localization continues to rise, the choice between translation and transliteration is considered a pivotal decision in adapting content for new markets. But should you actually choose just one? While these two terms may sound, they are actually two different processes with distinct goals and outcomes. Read on as we explore the translation vs. transliteration in detail, with examples.


What is translation?

Translation is the process of rendering text or speech from one language into another while maintaining its meaning, tone, context, and intent as closely as possible. It involves not only converting words from one language to another but also capturing the nuances, cultural references, idiomatic expressions, and subtleties inherent in the original text.

Cambridge Dictionary defines translation as “the activity or process of changing the words of one language into the words in another language that have the same meaning.”

What is transliteration?

Transliteration is the process of converting text from one script to another. Unlike translation, which involves the conversion of the meaning of words or phrases from one language to another, transliteration focuses on representing the sounds or characters of one writing system using the characters of another system.

Cambridge Dictionary defines transliteration as “the act or process of writing words using a different alphabet.”

Translation vs. transliteration: Key differences


Translation focuses on meaning and communication whereas transliteration on character representation and script conversion.


Translation involves converting the meaning of words, phrases, or texts from one language to another. Transliteration, on the other hand, involves representing characters or symbols of one writing system using characters of another system.


The goal with translation is to capture the essence, context, and intended message of the original content while expressing it in a way that is natural and easily understood in the target language. With transliteration, one needs to accurately preserve the pronunciation or visual representation of words or phrases from one script into another, without focusing on the meaning of the content.


Translation is used in many fields, from translating books, articles, movies, and websites to marketing materials, contracts, government documents, legal papers, educational materials, among other.

Transliteration is typically used for names and personal identification, technical terms and jargon, as well as in online communication and accessibility, language learning and pronunciation, and for standardization.

Examples of translation and transliteration

Below are some examples to illustrate the differences between translation and transliteration. We’ll start with a common English greeting and its translation to Spanish:

English: “Good morning.”
Spanish translation: “Buenos días.”

But if we were to transliterate the same word from Russian to English it would look very different:

Russian: “Спасибо.”
English transliteration: “Spasibo” (representation in Latin characters, preserving the pronunciation in English).

Then we have the English phrase “Thank you very much,” which we will translate into Spanish and French:

Spanish: “Muchas gracias.”
French: “Merci beaucoup.”

Transliterating this phrase into other languages looks like:

Transliteration into Roman Characters: “Arigatou gozaimasu”
Transliteration into Cyrillic Characters: “Аригато годзаймасу” (for Russian speakers, representing the sounds in the Cyrillic script)
Transliteration into Arabic Script: “أريغاتو غوزايماسو” (representing the sounds in Arabic script)

In our examples, the translation conveys the meaning of a phrase in different languages, adapting it according to the respective linguistic and cultural nuances. Meanwhile, transliteration presents the sounds of the original phrase using characters from different scripts, aiding in pronunciation and representation for speakers of those languages or writing systems.

Translation vs. transliteration in localization

In the process of localization, both translation and transliteration play crucial roles in ensuring that content resonates with a specific culture or region. Effective localization requires a combination of translation and transliteration to adapt content to different languages and scripts while maintaining the accuracy, cultural relevance, and overall user experience.

Translation involves not just converting the text from one language to another but also adapting it culturally. In the localization of a software application, for example, translating the user interface involves not only language but also adapting images, text, and functionalities to suit the cultural preferences and behaviors of the target audience.

Transliteration can be utilized for specific elements. For instance, in the localization of software applications or video games, where specific terms or names might not have direct translations in the target language, transliteration can help maintain consistency and familiarity for users. It is also used for creating transliterated domain names and keywords for search engine optimization (SEO).

Translate and transliterate with POEditor

POEditor is a popular online translation management system and software localization platform that supports both translation and transliteration.

Out tool provides a user-friendly interface for translating your text. It supports collaborative translation/transliteration, allowing multiple translators to work on the same project simultaneously for increased efficacy. You can also use the Translation Memory feature and machine translation options to assist you.

POEditor provides tools for reviewing and approving translations, such as QA Checks and Proofreading. You can set up proofreading stages to ensure the quality of the translated and transliterated content and use glossaries for translation consistency.

Remember that effective translation and transliteration require a deep understanding of the target language and culture. Working with professional translators or native speakers can significantly improve the quality of your localized content. You can choose to order human translation services to ensure a higher quality of the translations, as compared to machine translation.

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