Localisation and translation are two slightly different translation services. Often, translation is chosen where localisation would be a much better fit for the material. What are the differences between these two services and when should you prefer one over the other?


What is translation?

Translation is the process of recreating a text in another language. The language from which the text is translated is called the source language, and the language into which it is translated is called the target language. The aim of translation is to convey the message of the text in the target language. This requires the translator to find an equivalent to everything in the source text, including idioms, figures of speech, and words for which there is not direct match in the target language. When translating, the translator must retain the style and tone of the source text, take into account its context, and, of course, make sure that the translation serves its purpose.

What is localisation?

Localisation is the adaptation of a text to the target market. The target market may be a country, area, or region where the translation will be used. In addition to translating, localisation involves adapting the text to the linguistic, cultural, and other norms of the target market. Localisation is often talked about in connection with the translation of website texts, marketing texts, advertising, and certain user manuals.

When is translation enough and when is localisation a better option?

Localisation is generally more suitable if the material to be translated meets the following two conditions:

  1. The material serves a specific purpose. This means that the purpose of the material is to convey information, provide instructions on how to do something, etc.
  2. The material will be used in a strictly delimited target market or target markets.

This means that if you wish to translate your website into English simply so that it would be understandable to all English speakers, localisation may be unnecessary. However, if your intention is to translate an online store, for example, into English in order to allow people in specific foreign countries to use it, you should localise it for all target markets where it will be used. To illustrate, if a company operating in Lithuania is planning to have their website translated into Russian so that native Russian speakers living in Lithuania could find information from the website, localisation is not strictly necessary. However, if the purpose of the Russian translation is to provide information to people living in Russia, it should also be localised for the Russian market.

How does localisation work?

Localisation may require changes to:

  • number, date, and time formats;
  • monetary units;
  • units of measurement and divisions;
  • logos;
  • symbols, fonts, icons, and colours;
  • examples, photographs, and graphics that may be misunderstood in the other cultural space;
  • the content of the text pursuant to the requirements or legislation in force in the target market;
  • and much more.

The greater the differences in the target market, the greater the need for changes during localisation. In some cases it may even be necessary to change the structure of or logic behind the entire website. For example, localising a website for the Japanese market can sometimes involve a significant number of changes, which you can read more about in our blog post on translating websites into Japanese.

How to create an easy-to-localise website?

In the case of an international brand, the need for localisation should be taken into account already during the creation of the website, as you already know it will also be used in other markets. Making allowances for localisation early helps ensure that the process goes as quickly and smoothly as possible. If the need for localisation is not given thought until later, it may end up posing more of a challenge and consuming more of your time than the preparation of the source material. Here are some simple localisation tips for designers and developers:

  • Make allowances for localisation in the design and development choices for the website. For instance, if the website will need to be localised for all European markets, make sure the fonts you choose also have Greek and Cyrillic character sets available in addition to Latin script.
  • Try to anticipate which features you will only need once you start localising the website – and adopt them right away! This can include, for example, support for languages written from right to left, if the website will eventually need to be localised for, say, the Arabic market.
  • Ensure that the code also supports the cultural preferences of your target markets. In addition to the aspects listed above (dates, currencies, etc.), these may include, for example, the use of name or address fields adapted to the target market in forms and the like.
  • Make localisation fast and convenient. Separate all elements that will need to be localised from the source code or content in a way that allows them to be exported and imported or selected for localisation based on the target market.

For more resources on how to create an easy-to-localise website, see here.

Recommendations on how to guarantee the success of your localisation project

  1. Your best bet is to use the services of a translation agency that has experience in translating and localising marketing materials, user manuals, advertisements, or websites for the specific market for which you want to localise your materials.
  2. When ordering a localisation service from a translation agency, ask that the translators and editors be natives of or living in the target market. For example, even Estonians for whom Russian is their first language will speak the language slightly differently from translators living in Russia.
  3. Make sure that the ordered service includes editing. Localised texts should always be double-checked, as errors can prove very costly indeed. Materials created through the collaboration of multiple professionals who know the target market inside and out, meanwhile, will sound as natural as anything originally created in the target market – this will help establish trust with your target audience and ensure that the materials serve their purpose.

Good luck with your localisation!


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