Addressing Markets: Translation or Localization?

The debate still stands the test of time: Translation or Localization? Though used interchangeably or deemed very similar at first glance, translation and localization are two practices distinguishable from one another. Having a solid grip on the key differences between the two is crucial before kicking off any project intended for any market. Once this range of vision is acquired, brands must effectively and strategically know where to implement translation and localization services if they want to compete in the increasingly global market.

In-depth Analysis to Sort out the Deal!

What Is Translation?

The process of changing a source text (ST) from one language to another target text (TT) to obtain an equivalent meaning is referred to as “translation”. Translation covers an array of types, including technical, marketing, professional, literary, etc., and is the pivot on which the meaning of the original text should be maintained while being expressed in the target language (TL). Even though when we think of translation, we’re directly geared towards literal translation; it’s not a word-for-word conversion -except for legal and medical fields- but rather a translation of the original meaning using appropriate terminology and idiomatic choices. The ST converted into the TT via the TL should also adhere to proper syntax and grammatical rules.

On a practical level, let’s exemplify the process most simply. Consider Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign. The bottles read Share a Coke with Sarah or Bobby in the US. The launch of the campaign in Ireland would follow the same translation as that of English; and the names will remain ‘Sarah’ and ‘Bobby’. It’s the same case for Arabic-speaking countries, ‘بوبي and ‘ساره. There’s no mistranslation here, and the original meaning is preserved.

So, translators work to keep the whole original meaning of a piece, with proper language. However, what does localization have to do with all this?

What Is Localization?

While translation aims to maintain the whole original meaning of a text, localization exceeds a word-for-word translation experience; it combines linguistic equivalence with cultural accommodations to give consumers the most useful and pertinent experience. Translation, by itself, is not enough to connect with your audience, which calls for a port of call, localization, a practice that focuses on making the TT both linguistically and culturally convenient to the region and market it will be available in.

Let’s take this process even further! Ad localization is the practice of adapting national advertisements’ copy, designs, and layouts for local audiences. Let’s build on the previous example of Coca-Cola’s campaign and exhibit the following fantastic localization. While the bottles carry the names Sarah or Bobby in the US, they choose Irish names like Aoife and Oisn in Ireland, and this is to adapt to this country’s culture and conventions. For Arabic-speaking countries, it would be preferable to build on names like ‘سمر‘ and ‘ابراهيم. The best example, though, comes from China, where it is considered rude to call people by their first names, and they instead use phrases like “classmate” or “close friend”.

To put it briefly, localization is the adaptation of translation, considering cultural differences. This brings forth some key elements to keep in mind throughout this process, such as spelling, vocabulary, expressions, idioms, cultural references, etc. The major distinction between translation and localization is that the latter goes one step ahead with the conversion procedure and considers cultural differences.

When crafting entertainment content and products or an advertising campaign, we must have regard to our goal: connect with our target audience in the market and achieve perfect communication. In light of this subject, we should speak their language in a way that aligns with their inclination. Therefore, if brands were to choose between localization and translation, they must go for the practice that best serves their main objective, most simply and effectively, via the most optimal communication.