Translation VS Localization in Today’s Global Market

Content writing has become a pivotal factor in marketing new products and services on the global market. With so many brands and seemingly endless array of choices on the market, customers have a hard time choosing what’s best for them.

When it comes to the marketing side of things, companies usually have two choices at their disposal – translation and localization. Taking into consideration that 90% of Europeans rarely browse pages in languages other than their own (or even make purchases), it’s easy to see the appeal of pushing into a global market.

Choosing one or the other can cause an avalanche of new customers to flock around your brand or for you to lose tremendous amounts of resources and revenue. What exactly is the difference and importance of choice between translation and localization in today’s global and digital market?

What’s the difference?

  • Translation

We are all familiar with the term “translation” by now. In short, translation represents direct interpretation of information in one language and transforming it into another.

There is no room for improvisation, missed information or any additions in translation writing. The writers are not allowed to make any changes, cut any corners or basically “think” while they work on their projects.

This type of writing is viable for technical documentation, legal documents, medical files, engineering sheets, etc. Some niches have particular lingo, phrases and terminology that others don’t and have to be followed through to the letter.

  • Localization

On the other side of the spectrum we have localization – and this is where things get complicated (and interesting). Localization represents a type of interpretation of the original writing without having to translate text word for word.

This means that the writers are able to be more creative and take liberties with their writing (on the condition that they are familiar with the target language’s specific culture). Localization takes local culture, beliefs, moral code and civil history into consideration.

It is a very viable type of translation when it comes to blogs, non-scientific writing, film media subtitling and other non-academic writing forms. Choosing one or the other can have far-reaching consequences on the perception of your business in that specific language.

Which one do you need?

  • Type of content

Before anything else, make sure that you are clear on the type of content you are about to market internationally. If you are translating your company website into other languages, don’t localize anything. If you are pushing through to new markets with your products and expect sales and revenue streams – localize your content.

As you can see, the type of content you are about to push forward directly dictates the type of writing you will have to employ. Use logic and reason as well as the advice of your translation expert or marketing team before making the final call.

  • Specific international regions

No two regions are alike when it comes to the choice of translation VS localization. For example, China has a large demographic with very different set of content expectations in the North as opposed to the South. Japanese people have a very different culture and ideology as opposed to Vietnamese, Korean or Australian audiences.

Don’t generalize regions based on their continents and vicinity of each country to one another. Take cultural factors into consideration as it is often smarter to opt for localization in these circumstances. That way you will ensure that no party is offended or threatened by your product, service or web content due to cultural differences.

  • Target demographic

Translating or localizing your content for youth and millennials isn’t the same as creating content for industry professionals. As you can see, the factors that should be taken into consideration always come back to your own content and what it is you are actually translating or localizing.

Younger generations are far more lenient towards localization mistakes or translation misunderstandings than their older counterparts. If you mistranslate important web content which can cost you clients and support in a certain region, you will have effectively failed in that market.

The bottom line

The choice between translation and localization isn’t an easy one. This is mostly due to the fact that any mistakes usually end up going viral on the internet which can hurt your reputation and standing in the industry.

Pay close attention to your competitors’ choices in this matter and do proper research about the countries you are preparing content for. Rushing into a marketing campaign blindly will likely result in a negative outcome. Choose your content optimization option wisely.

Localization and internationalization in a nutshell

Interview with a project manager

Launching this new category, we interviewed Izabel Arruda to get some insights into the role of an essential player in many translation projects. Izabel is a localization project manager and she kindly shared some of the experience she has gathered along her journey dealing with both clients and translators.

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TCZ – Izabel, as a project manager, you are the human component of the liaison between a translator and the end client. You (and your agency) are seen by translators as their client, but at the same time you work directly with end clients. How could you explain this position to those who are not familiar with this side of the translation industry?

Izabel Arruda – It’s an interesting position. We intermediate the process, but our job is a lot more complex than it seems. We send and receive files from translators, but that doesn’t represent the core of our profession. We are responsible for negotiating deadlines and budgets with our clients, developing the translation or localization project strategy, training translators, introducing them to our online translation platform, and making sure they are comfortable working on it. We also get feedback from reviewers on the work of new translators, so we can rate them in our database. We must check every file to make sure the job was done according to our client’s expectations. And, finally, we take care of many administrative tasks, such as issuing purchase orders and invoices, creating job numbers, and making sure all numbers match.

Translators and editors are the most important part of the process, without a doubt, but we are responsible for every step of that process. If a translator delivers a poor text, it could be because s/he is not good at the job, but our client doesn’t know the translators and didn’t choose the resources. We did. So it’s our responsibility.

TCZ – And if a client is happy with a project, can s/he request that the same team of translator and editor do the job every single time?

IA – Yes, that happens very often. It’s great if we can get good translators to commit with our important projects. I work with a particular client who likes to interview the translators himself and only works with the same three translators per language. This works very well for us if the translators agree.

Sometimes we have a good experience working with a translator and just keep assigning jobs from the same project to that person. It’s an informal way to engage them in a project. I think this happens more often than the first case.

TCZ – You worked as a translator before “changing sides,” I mean, becoming a PM, right?

IA – I did, yes.

TCZ – Could you share a few lessons you learned as a translator that you use at your new job (preferably those that might be relevant to translation buyers)?

IA – Most definitely. Many project managers are former translators, and a lot of them still work and consider themselves translators. This is key at a translation agency. I don’t think I would be as good at coordinating translation projects if I hadn’t been a translator myself. I know it’s impossible to deliver a high quality translation of a 20-page scanned contract in 24 hours. I understand there’s this thing called “time zones,” and I can’t expect an editor from Russia to respond to my urgent request at 3 PM Pacific time.

You might imagine these are obvious assumptions, but they are not. It’s important to know how the translator’s mind works!

TCZ – I see. An analogy just came to my mind: my sister is an orthodontist, and I just realized I have no idea of what’s feasible or what’s utopia in her area, or what results to expect from different braces or techniques… I can’t even predict how long it takes her to fix someone’s smile. It’s very common for clients to come to you (and to me, too) without basic knowledge about our field. Do you think it’s part of your job to educate them?

IA – Absolutely. Clients come to us looking for a service and we are happy to provide that service, but translation is not as straightforward as buying a product in a shop. Not all clients know what their needs are when they look for a translation company. That’s when we need to step in and develop a translation and/or localization plan.

Even though I don’t understand how my orthodontist fixed my teeth, I know what he did and why. Not all clients need to know the “how.” So there are basically different levels of understanding required by different clients. If I think clients need further understanding of the process (or if they ask for it), I’m happy to share that information with them.

TCZ – What quick tip could you give other PMs for improving their relationship with translators?

IA – Always provide very clear instructions to your translators. There is a lot of tension going on during a translation project, so communication must be clear.

TCZ – And what quick tip could you give other PMs for improving their relationship with clients?

IA – Be honest with your client from the very beginning. Clients are more flexible and understanding than people imagine, and they appreciate honesty. And try to go the extra mile. It pays off!

TCZ – Now, to wrap up, would you share a quick tip for clients when dealing with PMs?

IA – The more information, the better. Send reference materials along with the text to be translated. They will help PMs and translators do a better job. And try to send all instructions and requirements before the translation process starts. Changes along the way will cost more time and money.

TCZ – Thank you so much for helping me launch this interview section for the blog, Izabel!

IA – It was my pleasure!