What is Localisation? | Lexika – translation agency

What is Localisation?

Daniel Kruželák Ciferník27.05.2022 For Customers Reading time: 4 min.
What is localisation

To translate or to localise – that is the question. Translation terminology can be challenging to grasp. This article explains what localisation is and how it differs from other translation concepts.

What is localisation? Or localization?

Language localisation, whether spelled with the letter “s” or “z”, refers to an adaptation process – a product or service translation must align with specific local standards. Therefore, the difference between “localization” and “localisation” boils down to the American (localization) and British (localisation) spelling differences, but the concept remains the same.

Translation vs localisation

Previously, when exploring the differences between translation and interpreting, we defined translation as “an act, process, or instance of rendering from one language into another”. Based on the definition in the preceding paragraph, localisation entails much more than a mere textual transfer from the source into the target language. Unlike translation, localisation accounts for various extratextual and non-textual elements, such as cultural nuances, graphic design, images, and text colour. Nevertheless, is it really so different from written translation?

Some do note the difficulty in pinpointing the distinction between translation and localisation. For example, the following Spanish sentence would be translated (or localised) from:

Tengo hambre.


I’m hungry (as opposed to the literal translation: I have hunger).

Therefore, the difference between the two concepts is not an adherence to grammatical and syntactical rules. In fact, localisation and translation are more or less identical linguistically. However, localisation is a more comprehensive process, and while not too much changes in the translation process itself, other non-textual aspects should be kept in mind. For example, does our translation fit the text box on the target webpage? Did we use the proper tags or font? How will the target culture receive it?

Localisation considers User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX). Imagine browsing an online shop and seeing images that overlap the text, inappropriate cultural or religious references, or strange symbols popping up. Localisation fixes this by accounting for the local market particularities, which means more than just translating from one language to another. Moreover, localisation often occurs at an intralingual level (within the same language). Many Britons would find it strange and confusing to see words such as soccer or movie in a local television advertisement. Likewise, they would most likely frown upon the American spelling of words such as honor, center, or labor.

Localisation and translation are not the same, and their different applications mean that their associated services also vary. The following section explores localisation services, but if you are also interested in learning more about translation services, then check out our article on the different types of translation services.

Localisation services

Much like translation, localisation offers an extensive suite of services. If we understand translation as an umbrella term for all translation activities, then localisation can also be defined as a subset of translation services. However, this article approaches localisation as a separate phenomenon, meaning that localisation can be further divided into various groups, usually according to its specific application. For example, localisation is used in:

What do these examples have in common? The thread binding them together is the digital environment. When creating a video game or a new mobile application, the creators want to ensure that their product works in various countries worldwide. Virtual space is becoming increasingly personalised, and software developers want to ensure that their product never leaves you feeling like you’re stranded on an island after an accident. Localisation ensures that games, online shops, applications, and websites all feel like they were made just for you, no matter where you are in the world.

Localisation is all about making you feel like the product was developed and intended for you. But how does it achieve that?

Localisation process

Many businesses opt for localisation to ensure that their products and services can compete in foreign markets. They want more than to transfer the meaning, grammatical structures, and syntax from language A to language B – companies must make sure that their product descriptions, advertisements, or websites appear natural to their customers.

Marketers from different areas employ various methods and strategies to achieve the perfect result. The process usually follows the typical top-down hierarchy – this involves a style guide covering a wide range of general topics and specific interlingual changes, such as currency symbols or unit conversions.

If the scale of the project requires it, then localisation can be accomplished by a team of translators who cooperate with other teams, legal and marketing teams for example. A team consisting of a translator and a proofreader is often enough for small scale localisation projects.

Overall, localisation projects are also characterised by plasticity and flexibility. Translators often lack parallel or reference texts, and their source texts may change when they work on products and services that are unfinished. Businesses are dynamic, and as they change and update their products, services, and materials, changes to the previously localised content are required.

Lastly, aside from ensuring that their translation conforms with standard norms, translators must frequently ensure that their final text matches the technical criteria. This includes adhering to the character limit, text box and image sizes, proper tags, and sometimes using more specialised skills, such as working with markup languages.

Can you see the differences between localisation and translation? Don’t forget to share your opinion with us, and feel free to give your insights in the comments below!

Daniel Kruželák
Daniel Kruželák

I’ve been working in the language industry since 2016, primarily teaching Slovak and English while working on my Translation/Interpreting and Philosophy degree at MBU in Banská Bystrica. I’ve started as a freelance translator in early 2021. After gaining some experience in the field, I started working with LEXIKA as a part of the Mentoring Programme. Taking my first steps as a translator with LEXIKA reinforced my decision to fully dedicate myself to languages. I’m currently working on adding Spanish to my repertoire. My next steps are focused on improving my knowledge of markup and programming languages since technical competence is always desperately needed in the translation industry.

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