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Translation and Localisation: What’s the difference?

Translation and Localisation: What’s the difference?
Home » Blog » Localisation » Translation and Localisation: What’s the difference?

If you’re planning to successfully push your brand’s content into new markets across the globe, you need to adapt the content for your target audience.


Depending on your goal, you will need both translation and localisation to a certain degree.


It may be unclear what the difference is, so we’re here to help you get clued-up on the difference between translation and localisation.


What is translation?

Basically, a translation service is the process of transferring written text from one language to another.

Accurate translations are conducted by an expert linguist with extensive knowledge of the source and target languages. They need to not only consider the difference in words but also grammar and syntax.

Such translation generally means that any cultural differences between the texts or idioms in the text are not considered – only on a superficial level.

What is localisation?

Localisation involves thinking globally but acting locally.

It means adapting your content for your target audience within different cultures, considering cultural nuances and different consumer preferences. It can involve everything from changing colour and images on marketing material, to altering the fonts on your flyers and the layout of your website.

Localisation is an art as translators must understand their respective nation’s cultural quirks, traditions and superstitions.

For example, in China the number ‘8’ is considered very lucky and could grab your audience’s attention.

However, the number ‘4’ is very unlucky as it sounds like ‘death’. So, if you were pushing a campaign in China, you’d want to leave this number behind!

Can I just use translation, or do I need localisation too?

Most documents will need both translation and localisation.

The level of localisation necessary will vary from text to text. Some content, such as technical manuals and instructional documents, is read literally,  so don’t need to be localised to the same level as a website.

However, technical documents still often include elements which are specific to a culture. For example, units such as miles may need converting to kilometres, depending on which unit is the standard for that country.

Likewise, numbers are styled differently in different countries. In the UK, we use commas to separate digits (1,000), but in France, they use a space rather than a comma (1 000).

In these situations, localisation should only be needed in its most basic form, but still necessary. So, the degree to which localisation will be needed depends on whether your content needs to be translated for functional reasons, or to appeal to a specific culture.

Examples of when translation and localisation work together

The difference between cultures across the world means that copy and artwork will usually need localisation so that the messages correspond to the cultural expectations of the audience. Research shows that localised content can increase engagement by between 50% and 100%.

Localisation is absolutely vital to websites, product descriptions, brochures, and other more general marketing materials. The most powerful and engaging content will appeal to your audience’s emotions.

The perfect example of a brand which localises its website and marketing campaigns well is Nike. The pages within Nike.com are specific to a region across the world, in terms of both language and targeted marketing content.

The Nike US website invites its audience to “rep your team’’, promoting its American football fan gear. The brand is aware of the popularity of the sport in America and so has localised its website accordingly.

Mexico’s website has been both translated and localised to suit the mostly Spanish-speaking market. American football teams have no appeal in Mexico, so the current focus is instead on their newest trainer and its functionality.

Through successful localisation, Nike has been able to grow its presence worldwide and become one of the most popular sport brands in the world.

Localisation across English-speaking countries

Do you need localisation even if it’s for another English-speaking market?

The answer is yes.

Many companies ignore the fact that even if the language is the same, the markets will often have different tastes, and sometimes the same words often have different meanings. Take the UK and the USA for example, the standard units of measurement used in both countries are different. We tend to use the metric system which includes ‘grams’ and ‘litres’, whereas they use imperial measurements such as ‘ounces’ and ‘gallons’.

Starbucks are an American coffee company which successfully localised its brand to appeal to UK consumers with their ‘Mondays can be great’ campaign.


This campaign is specifically targeted at the UK market as it incorporated Big Ben’s chime and other British culture references to give Starbucks the impression of a brand that understands its audience.

Get help from the professionals

It’s important you understand when you need both translation and localisation. They go hand-in-hand, and you’ll very rarely need one without the other.

It’s important to partner up with the right language agency. With the right help, you can be confident that your message is spot on for every target market.

Interested? Get a quote or call us today to see how we can help you. Brightlines get it right, every time.