Translation and localisation have similar definitions. However, there is a significant difference between the two:

Even the biggest brands commit marketing blunders when they attempt to reach a wider audience via regular translation.

Truly effective localisation, on the other hand, can really boost your marketing effectiveness. But it might not be what you’re looking for when you want to translate your legal documents…

So where does internationalisation fit into the picture? Is this just yet another confusing word for a similar process?

In this article, we’ll clearly set out the differences between these three important terms. We’ll start by seeing why it’s so important to get your translation process right in the first place.

The importance of translation and localisation in global marketing

Research by OneSky on the importance of translation and localisation shows just how important it is to reach your audience in the language they prefer:

  • Localised mobile advertising campaigns are 86% more effective than English campaigns in gaining click-throughs and conversions.
  • The Click-Through Rates of advertisements can improve up to 42% when adapted to the country’s locale.
  • 4% of international consumers prefer to shop online using their native language.
  • 2% of international consumers noted that having localised product information is an important factor in online shopping.

Further research shows that over 60% of buyers will stop engaging with brands if the brand’s communication efforts are not properly localised.

But, if an advertising campaign is properly focused on a specific audience, they can easily absorb the message more easily and will respond to it more positively.

What is the difference between translation and localisation?

The similarity of the definitions of translation and localisation means that the terms are often used interchangeably.

They are, however, quite different:


The Globalization and Localisation Association defines translation as:

The communication of meaning from one language (the source) to another language (the target)”.

In the translation process, while the style and terminology are customised to fit the target audience, the meaning is not. The process is designed to accurately transfer the meaning from one language to another. A material deviation from the meaning of the original text is normally deemed that most heinous of linguistic crimes – a mistranslation.

This very literal style of translation may be suitable for certain purposes. These might include legal documents or any project where the objective is a professionally-written, grammatically-correct text which is an accurate representation of the original.

It’s no surprise though, that when a message is translated into another language without any change in meaning, its original messages might become unclear. This is especially true for marketing copy, which might rely on word play and narrow cultural references.

This means that, for some projects, a more flexible translation will may be more suitable – especially in marketing.

That’s where localisation comes in…


Localisation, meanwhile, delves into understanding the socio-cultural requirements of the target region. This process permits and even encourages deviation from what the original text literally says in order to achieve a more effective communication outcome.

Localisation is defined as the:

Adaptation of a product, application or document content to meet the language, cultural and other requirements of a specific target market.

This process doesn’t just involve transferring the meaning of a word or sentence into another language. The factors which should also be considered when properly localising content might include your target audience’s:

  • Culture
  • Legal requirements
  • Numeric formats or symbols
  • The icons with which they’re familiar
  • The suitability and message conveyed by graphics and images

Choosing between localisation and translation

Even though translation is almost a subset of localisation, it is still effective when used properly:

  • Literal translation is helpful when a translation is needed to convey the literal meaning of the original – for documents such as bank statements or marriage certificates. It’s also useful when back-translating a translated document in order to verify the accuracy of the original translation.
  • Fluent translation is perfect when the translated document must appear as well-written as the original and accuracy is a priority. This is a suitable option for functional documents such as user guides, contracts and training materials.

But for marketing communications and other cases where a company aims to adapt its message to a particular audience however, it pays to go for a localised approach.

This process takes more time because there are more factors to consider. But it is much more effective if you want to boost your brand and global image.

Your localisation checklist

When creating a localised marketing campaign, make sure that you consider:

1) Transcreation

Transcreation allows your translator maximum freedom in interpreting the literal words you’ve used so that the message you want to convey stays the same across cultural boundaries.

This may result in changes to individual sentences and paragraphs so that the overall message is retained. Your translator will also need to be sensitive to local idioms and slang to make sure that you don’t unknowingly offend anyone.

Transcreation is not an essential component of localisation. But it’s normally advisable for marketing communications.

2) Cultural and functional adaptation

Customers are more loyal to a brand if it is sensitive to their culture and language. This includes understanding the symbols, political landscape and even the geography of the country.

It’s often advisable to replace images and colours suitable for your home market with others which will be more effective and well-received in other parts of the world.

3) Local regulations and legal requirements

Part of the localisation process is understanding the technical and legal requirements of a country.

For example, if you are selling a product in Canada, make sure that you follow the country’s strict bi-lingual regulations.

4) Language used in more than one locale

The variety of English you’ll want to use, for example, will vary depending on the region you’re targeting.

This includes the spelling (“color” in the US versus “colour” in the UK) or the term usage (“diaper” in the US versus “nappy” in the UK).

In some cases, the differences can be extreme. In Brazilian and European Portuguese, for instance. Brazilians tend to use Portuguese nouns as verbs. Both locales also differ in the way they assimilate foreign words.

5) Local formats

Date, number, phone number and address formats, currencies and units of measure all vary country by country. These need to be localised to make your customers feel welcome – and to ensure there are no barriers impeding your marketing calls to action.

6) Campaign adaptation

This is another subset of localisation, wherein your marketing campaign is adapted so that it relates to a foreign audience while retaining its original message at the same time.

An interesting example of a successful adaptation is Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke campaign:

From 2013 to 2014, supermarket shelves were filled Coke cans and bottles featuring common names from different countries. The campaign started in Australia and then spread to New Zealand, Asia, Europe and America.

Each country has its own unique twist to the campaign. China, for instance, added popular local nicknames on the Coke cans. The sign “Share a Coke with Wills and Kate” was used in Great Britain to celebrate the birth of the royal baby.

What is internationalisation?

Internationalisation is the process of preparing your software for later localisation into other languages. In short, it’s the way in which you make your code localisation-friendly ready for later.

The internationalisation process doesn’t actually require any translation or localisation to take place. All you’re doing is setting the stage for the easy creation of multiple language-versions of your software later on. Even if you don’t end up with versions of your software in other languages, building this capability into your design is good practice.

Internationalisation may involve:

  1. Using Unicode UTF-8 to standardise your encoding between language versions.
  2. Keeping your source code apart from text strings which may need to be translated.
  3. Making sure that your User Interface is prepared for translated text strings of different lengths or for adaptation into right-to-left languages.
  4. Creating resource files containing all of those strings which can be easily accessed.

Most development toolkits these days will come with internationalisation tools built in. There are simply too many opportunities available not to at least lay the groundwork required to access this potential audience.

This means that, although we’re reaching it last in this article, internationalisation should always be the first step in your localisation strategy.

Translation, localisation, internationalisation – the right process in the right place

Translation and localisation are both important processes. By understanding which to use to achieve your goals, you’ll get the best results from the project at hand:

  • When you need to accurately transmit identical information in a different language, use translation.
  • When you want to reach out to new markets, adapting your content or campaign to each of your target audiences’ culture, tastes, legal requirements and conventions, localisation is a better choice.

Internationalisation is the place to start. By building your software with the possibility of later localisation in mind, you’ll make the entire process easier for yourself.

Ensuring you’re all set to reap the profits of your globally-adapted product.

Do you need to learn more about the differences between translation and localisation? Or do you need to start planning the internationalisation of your product?

Comment below and let us know how we can help – or contact us directly at any time.