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The Difference Between Translation and Localisation

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

What’s the difference between translation and localisation, anyway?

If you’re dipping your toes into the world of cross-border trade or international e-commerce, you’ve probably heard those words thrown around quite a bit. And you might think they’re interchangeable. But they aren’t.

Here’s the difference, in a nutshell: Translation applies to content, localization applies to everything else.

Want a website that can be read and understood in multiple languages? Translation will get you there. Want a website that converts customers from around the world? Translation isn’t enough- you need to localise!

With that in mind, here are 6 ways to use localisation to will improve your customer experience and strengthen your relationship with your diverse audience.

Leveraging the Difference Between Translation and Localisation in Language

Translation is the first step in localisation, ensuring that your content is accurately rendered into your target language.

However, to truly localise your content, you may need to take it a step further by taking local language variations into account.

Translation vs. Localisation in Marketing

Will your marketing strategy evoke the same emotional response in your target audience as it did in your original audience? Not necessarily.  Marketing depends on imagery and emotional cues that can be culturally-specific. As a result, localising marketing materials and advertisements is often more effective than simply translating them.

Sometimes, a few tweaks will do. However, some campaigns need to be reimagined from the ground up. We call this process transcreation. It’s the key to international marketing that converts. Transcreated campaigns produce the same emotional impact as the original, using culturally-specific imagery and content.

Currencies, Dates and Times, and Units of Measurement

Only the most enthusiastic math enthusiasts enjoy having to convert currencies while they shop online. Most people are not math enthusiasts. Do your customers have to get out their calculators to figure out how much your products or services cost or how much they’re getting for their money? Then expect them to shop somewhere else instead.

The bottom line? Not localising these elements creates friction. And friction reduces sales, directly impacting your bottom line.

Contracts, Agreements and Terms of Service

Localising contracts, agreements and terms of service to comply with local regulations is absolutely essential. Failure to do so is a compliance issue and can result in expensive fines and penalties, and possibly lawsuits as well.

Use a specialist to localise these elements of your website to ensure your organisation remains in compliance with all relevant laws.

FAQs and Help Centre

Localising your FAQs and the help centre portion of your site gives international customers the confidence they need to hit the “Buy” button. It can also help your organisation avoid negative reviews online and improves your overall reputation.

Remember, we want to do more than translate. We want to localise. So, tailor your help pages to include specific concerns for customers in your target market. For example, explore topics like international shipping, customs and compliance questions, if applicable.

Imagery and Design

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what are the images on your international site saying to your target audiences? Customise your imagery and design to make foreign visitors to feel at home. This can mean taking into account how people in your target audience typically look and dress, but also other aspects of culture, like family and household structure. For example, in some markets, having grandparents, aunts and others around a dinner table usually indicates a holiday or special occasion. A “normal” dinner would just be parents and kids.  However, in cultures where extended family live together, a nuclear family gathered around a dinner might seem lonely. And an extended family meal wouldn’t necessarily be read as a special occasion.

In some cases, localising imagery is also necessary to avoid causing offence. Different cultures have different standards of dress and behaviour. What’s normal in one country (two-piece swimsuits, public displays of affection) might be scandalous in another.

As a result, it’s important to evaluate the imagery on your site and make adjustments as necessary.


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