Is Translation the Same as Localization?

Let me be frank: I do not understand the novelty of discussing localization, at least not as a translator. I think that a translation should always be localized, because the nature of the work demands it. When I translate, I really do localize everything. For me, translating content has always meant adapting a text to the culture itself.

Localization Is More than Just Words

I am not only talking about adapting the language into the colloquial lingo that everyone can read and understand. I look at the local customs and specific details. I adapt and transform everything — currencies, values, measurements, ideas, names. When translating a U.S. recipe book into Swedish or German, for example, I will automatically transform a 1 1/2-inch piece of ginger into a 4 cm piece of ginger, a cup of flour into 2,5 decilitres, and 5 ounces of cheese into 140 grams.

Tiny Little Differences

The purpose of localization is simple: to make the translation even better. Localization is important, especially if you want to sell a product and explain its benefits to another culture. If you don’t make the reader feel at home, you can forget about selling anything to them.

For as long as I can remember, I have always written texts for different target groups, for different levels of customers, different social groups, for B2C or B2B. As I see it, this is just the same thing, but in a broader context.

Location may also be necessary in different countries where the language is the same. We all have plenty of examples of inter-cultural misunderstandings and mistakes that stand out dramatically. These examples are the ticket for a good laugh but, in the end, these linguistic mishaps can manage to damage a brand’s name, or a product, or negatively impact a company’s sales.

Cultural Details 

Localization has become even more important lately, and I would bet it has something to do with us being, acting, and working in a more global fashion than ever before. The Internet is greatly responsible for this, as we have finally realized that we are in fact not the homogeneous group we once thought we were. People do not have the same habits in every part of the world. We do not have the same customs, nor the same values. This is where fine tuning a translation, far beyond expressions and metaphors, comes into play.

The cultural differences between the U.S. and Great Britain are vast, the differences between the U.S. and the rest of Europe even larger, and Spain and South America can’t be compared culturally, either. That’s were localization is a magic wand for any translator worthy of the title. Perhaps this is why so many translation firms are now only looking for people who translate into their mother tongue.

Localize It 

A good translation should read as if it has never been translated at all, since it is about the reader, or the customer. Therein lies a huge dilemma. Why then, all of a sudden, does everyone talk about localization as if it’s the next big thing? Localization is old school! I know that location is typically a more complex task than words, and when talking about interface, symbols, colors, visual design, people in different countries do not perceive things the same way. But, I work with words, and for me it’s never been a matter of just translating words, because it’s highly likely that the translation will feel odd to the reader.


About Jeanette Gardner

I am a native Swedish translator living on an island in the Swedish Archipelago. I have worked as a professional trilingual translator (Swedish, German, and English) for more than 20 years. A translator, editor, and writer, I formerly worked for the largest publisher in Sweden.