How does localization differ from straight translation

Translation and localization Frequently asked questions

how does localization differ from straight translation?

In scope it is certainly true that localization involves translation (e.g. of manuals and other documentations, screens, help texts, and error messages). Equally, product names may have to be changed to avoid unfortunate associations in the target language. However, the process also requires other non-linguistic skills.

On the software programming side, screen dialog boxes and field lengths may have to be altered, date, time and currency formats changed, delimiters for figures replaced, and icons and colors adapted, to give only a few examples.

On the content side, programs often have to be changed to conform to national and cultural norms. In multimedia applications the color, size, and shape of objects such as coins and notes, taxis, telephones and mailboxes, and buses and ambulances, traditionally vary from country to country. Vehicles may suddenly have to drive on the other side of the road, while dress codes will vary, and symbols take on a new significance. Similarly, mainstream business applications such as address databases and financial accounting packages have to be adapted to the procedures and conventions applicable in their new environments.

The difference in general is:

  • Traditional translation is typically an activity performed after the source document has been finalized. Localization projects, on the other hand, often run in parallel with the development of the source product to enable simultaneous shipment of all language versions. For example, the translation of software strings may often start while the software product is still in beta phase.
  • Translation is only one of the activities in localization; in addition to translation, a localization project includes many other tasks such as project management, software engineering, testing and desktop publishing.