What is the difference between localization and translation? Ask every professional in the field and you’ll get a different answer from each one. Why? Because localization is an old idea taking on a new identity. Localization, the adaption of a product from its source culture to a target culture, is a process that enables companies to enter new markets without getting ‘lost in translation.’ The discrepancy is not that there are differences, but which encompasses the other. Some say that translation encompasses localization and others say that localization encompasses translation. The newer more tech savvy generation seems to agree that localization encompasses translation. The older demographic tends to disagree with translation becoming a byproduct of something newer arguing that because translation is older, it encompasses localization. But I argue that although translation is more well known, localization encompasses translation, because translation is only one step in the bigger process of localization.
Localization is the process of adapting a product to a specific locale, which usually includes translation. Localization is all about communication. When a company wants to expand their target market, they need to accommodate for the cultural differences of the new market. They do this by localizing their products. The localizer or more commonly known as the localization engineer has the responsibility to take a product and make it usable in the target market/culture. This can be very difficult. For many middle eastern languages that means that the text needs to appear starting on the right, so the audience can read to the left. Switching the text to appear right to left is localization; changing the text from English to Arabic is localization and translation. You see, localization can be translation, but translation cannot be localization.
One of the biggest differences between localization and translation is that localization can be necessary without a language barrier. The localization of a product can make or break the product's success in any given market. 3dcart, an online retailer, noticed that the Canadian market often bailed on their purchases during the 'checkout' process. They decided to change the billing information to include 'state/province' instead of just 'state' and 'zip/postal code' instead of just 'zip code.' These simple changes don't seem to make a difference to us Americans, but to the Canadians it made the shopper more comfortable. The changes persuaded the online shopper that the retailer knew him or her. Showing the customer that the company understood him or her made all the difference for 3dcart's business in Canada (Wagner). All they had to do was make the customer feel more at home. Adapting their product to the foreign customers, or having localized the product, was better than simply translating it, but this isn't the only way to localize for more customers.
Sometimes it is in the company's best interest to localize their product by not translating it. Consider the example of hot sauce in my household. My wife knows that I always need a bottle of hot sauce in the fridge. Fortunately for me, she's the one who stocks the fridge. After failing a few times on getting a hot sauce that I like she finally asked in frustration: "How am I supposed to know what hot sauce is good?" It took me a while to figure out how, but I realized that there is a way without having to taste it: Buy the bottle of hot sauce with the least amount of English on it. If you like Mexican hot sauce, buy the one with Spanish on it. If you like Asian hot sauce, the one with an Asian language. Instead of wanting to buy what I feel more at home with, I always go with the hot sauce that seems the most foreign to me. These companies localize their products well by persuading me that they are foreign. And they do so by not translating them, which obviously is not translation so, it must be localization.
The term ‘localization’ was not popular until fairly recently, but the concept has been a part of international strategy for ages. Let’s look at an example from The New Testament. Paul goes to sell his ‘product’ in Athens. There he stands on Mars’ hill, where all of the philosophers philosophized, and he said: “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts). Paul knows the target market so well, that he can adapt his product to fit in perfectly with the Athenians. He knew that the men on mars’ hill would be open to new things, especially if it made sense to their culture. Paul knew that if he went to the Athenians and said something to the effect of “None of your Gods are real, but I know of a real God, so listen to what I have to say about Heavenly Father” they would dismiss his message quickly. Instead, after looking at all of the altars with a different God inscribed on each altar, he noticed that one had the inscription of TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. So Paul adapted his product and said something more to the effect of “You know that God you don’t know? Well I know him, so let me tell you about him.” Paul understood just how to adapt his product to the target market. That is not translation, but it is localization, even though they didn’t call it that back then.
In summary, localization is a newly coined phrase, but not a new concept. The term translation has been around for much longer, but that does not make it the encompassing idea; translation is a step in the localization process. Localization is the bigger picture and it can make a product more desirable to a foreign audience. Localization is all about communicating effectively across languages barriers and across differing cultures. Without localization, businesses would not be able to sell their products as effectively in international markets. Without translation, localization would not be effective; translation is a valued part of localization. Now the question to ask is: ‘how can localization be integrated better into the globalization process.
Acts 17: 22-23
Wagner, Viviam. E-Commerce Times. 22 March 2013. Web. 8 August 2015.
"Localization & Translation Services Company." Professional Translation & Localization Services Company by Acclaro. Acclaro, 2015. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.
"Paul On Mars Hill - Kumulani Chapel." Kumulani Chapel. Kumulani Chapel, 08 Mar. 2015. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.