Localisation guide

Translation vs. localisation

What’s the difference between translation and localisation?

When choosing a professional translation service provider, you’re likely to come across references to ‘translation’ and ‘localisation’ among the various services on offer – but what’s the difference between these two terms? And when – and for which specific types of content – is localisation necessary?





The terms ‘translation’ and ‘localisation’ are often used interchangeably. But in reality, localisation is an additional step that builds upon a translation. In a simple translation, the translator interprets the meaning of the original text and accurately conveys it in the desired target language – without making any changes to the content.

For very technical or informational texts, the facts are the focus – that goes for technical writing and specialised medical or product information (such as clinical study reports, user manuals and financial statements). These types of texts are not intended to have an emotional impact on the reader; in this case, the only priority is to correctly convey the entire contents of the original text. For this type of project, therefore, a simple translation is all that is needed. You can find information on tolingo’s specialist translation services here.



Texts for which the intended effect is the main focus, such as marketing materials, require a different focus. Here, localisation is used because it goes one step further than simple translation – in addition to interpreting the source text in the target language, the translator also adjusts the final productto better suit cultural aspects relevant to the respective target group. But what does that mean, exactly?


What are some reasons why a text might need to be localised?

Many languages feature regional dialects that can differ dramatically from one another in terms of spelling and grammar. The best-known example of this is probably American and British English, but there are also different dialects of Spanish that are spoken in South America, as well as the various varieties of German found in Germany and Switzerland.

It goes without saying that most native speakers can still understand texts written in regional dialects of their language, but these texts might not have the desired emotional effect on the reader. Any marketing expert could tell you that a text that requires puzzling over will leave the reader with the impression that “something just seems off” – and ultimately won’t have the same appeal as one that reads more naturally. The same problem occurs when the reader is forced to stumble over odd or unfamiliar expressions.

The only way to evoke the right connotations for a particular cultural context is by using words and common expressions suitable for that target country, so that the text is less likely to be perceived as a translation. This ensures that the text flows naturally and the message of the text can reach the consumer as intended.

What is adapted during localisation?

Localisation doesn’t just mean switching out ‘bike’ for ‘cycle’ or ‘pants’ for ‘trousers’ – it’s equally important to make adjustments for the cultural conventions of the target country. To ensure seamless comprehension, aspects such as the following will need to be considered:

  • Dates (order of day, month and year)
  • Times (does the target country use the 12-hour or 24-hour clock?)
  • Telephone number formatting (how are area codes written for the country or city?)
  • Units of measure (centimetres, inches, grams, pounds, etc.)
  • Temperatures (Celsius or Fahrenheit)
  • Local currencies (euros, pounds, dollars)
  • Clothing sizes


When does content need to be localised?

The question of whether you should have a text translated or localised is therefore closely linked to the purpose of the text. Is the focus on the factual information a text contains, or on the desired effect on the reader? The examples above should make it clear why the following text types, among others, should be localised: 

To translate or to localise? We’re happy to advise you!

Nowadays, thanks to the Internet and globalisation, customers have a nearly infinite number of options available to them. That’s why all it takes is one bad experience with your company to forever lose a customer to your competitors. This is particularly annoying when this happens because of mistakes which could easily have been avoided by working with a professional translation agency. We can provide comprehensive advice on all aspects of localisation!

tolingo's highly experienced account managers have successfully implemented numerous projects for companies of all sizes in a wide range of industries and languages, and are familiar with all the requirements of various language services. We work with a pool of more than 6,000 specialist translators who are proven experts (linguistically and culturally) in translation services and localisation of all types and in all languages, thanks to their advanced training and extensive professional experience. This means that we’ll always find the perfect translator for your individual project! If you’d like to have your texts translated or localised now:

We’ll be happy to advise you (free of charge and without obligation) about tolingo's translation and localisation services – contact us.

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