What is the Difference Between Localization and Translation?

What Are the Differences Between Localization and Translation?

Translation and localization are important parts of working in multiple international markets. While they both make sure things like a product, website, or software are accessible to a different international market, they are not the same thing.  

Find out more about the difference between translation and localization including examples of how both translation and localization work.  


Person on computer researching the difference between translation and localization

Translation Focuses on Words 

Translation is exclusively focused on words. It takes written and spoken content and translates it from one language to the next.  

Translation, at its most basic level, is a word-for-word explanation. For example, you start with the word “dog” in English and then translate it to “chien” in French. 

Direct word-for-word translation works if languages have similar grammar structures, but can cause serious issues when translating between some languages. For example, in English a simple sentence is subject-verb-object. However, in Japanese, sentence structure is subject-object-verb. This can lead to sentences that have the right words, but in the wrong order like “I sushi eat”.  

Translation should take these grammatical issues into account when translating between languages to ensure that the translation is grammatically correct in the new language.  

The most difficult part of translation is translating words or phrases that do not exist in the new language. For example, translation runs into a problem with the Tagalog word “gigil” because there is no single word in English that equates to it. “Gigil” is an adjective that describes an extremely cute situation that is almost overwhelming. A baby kitten sprawled out asleep in a single ray of sunshine is “gigil”. The best translation tries to match those untranslatable words to their new language.  


Stack of word tiles

Localization Focuses on Culture and Function 

Translation is a part of localization, but localization as a whole focuses on much more than just updating the language used. The goal of localization is to ensure that the final content, including images, layout, and formatting matches the societal codes and values of the targeted area.  

Images used can emphasize and target specific audiences, and localization focuses on updating images to better represent the new audience. For example, an American advertisement will use certain models to promote a product in America, and different models for the same advertisement in India, South Korea, or Nigeria.  

Netflix is one of the best examples of leveraging localization in each global market. Depending on where you are located, Netflix creates a unique list of shows that match your area’s interests and culture. For example, in India, Netflix focuses on advertising shows like Sacred Games. This is a series saturated in Mumbai’s culture that speaks directly to Indian viewers. Meanwhile, in the Korean localization, Netflix advertises dramas like Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha which is placed in a mix of urban and rural South Korean culture. 

How a language is formatted can change how information is best shared. In English, we read from left to right, top to bottom. The layout of content, in an English market, is best designed with that in mind. You can see this in simple things like before and after photographs. The before picture is always seen on the left, and the after picture is always seen on the right. But what happens with languages that don’t follow English’s structure, like Arabic or Hebrew? When localizing for those markets, the design is inverted to be better understood.  


People walking down a street with colorful umbrellas in the sky


Additionally, societal codes are considered in localization. Societal values like humor, myths, and etiquette are not universal and have to be considered when dealing with international markets. What may be appropriate in some parts of the world may be offensive in others.  

For example, it’s perfectly normal to point with your hand to what you are referring to in most countries. However, in Thailand, it is not appropriate; pointing at a person with your finger is extremely offensive. Localization takes these cultural codes and considers them within the content to make sure it isn’t culturally offensive.  

Localization also focuses on the details of a translation to make sure they match the accepted structures of the new market. This can include changing the format of: 

  • Date and time 
  • Telephone numbers 
  • Weights 
  • Measurements 

Streamline Translation and Localization with SYSTRAN 

SYSTRAN helps in both translation and localization projects for businesses of any size, especially businesses who are global or working on going global. We offer neural translation software that provides the best technology to meet your needs with both translation and localization. Schedule a demo to find out more about SYSTRAN solutions.  

CJ Pagharion