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What are the differences between translation and localization?

Reaching more markets usually requires adapting your app to the users there. While it’s true that today mobile users usually know English, studies show most still prefer to use their local language for their devices and applications. The obvious solution that comes to mind might be translation, but that’s not enough!

Translation

Odds are you’ve used google translate on more than one occasion, while it’s definitely a popular tool it’s often not enough for business uses and most opt for either professional translation tools or simply the services of a translator. For applications however neither is the optimal way of doing things.

Localization

Localization or as it’s called in the business l10n is a process of not only translating everything to the local language but also adopting everything to the local customs. What exactly does that mean? To put it simply, localization is translation and then some: tailoring everything to the specific customs, tastes and preferences of a given culture and language. This is especially true for software where it extends to UX/UI as well. The purpose is to make the user feel right at home as if they were using a local app from that region.

Why is localization necessary?

To look at a simple use case for localization we can compare even countries using the same language like English. The US uses a 12-hour clock and the imperial system instead of metric (pounds, ounces, feet, miles, fahrenheit instead of celsius etc.) additionally you have different spelling (localisation for British English, localization for US, armour and armor and many others) and completely different words (lift/elevator and such) and idioms. Often the same word can have a completely different meaning depending on the region.

For a few examples football in the US means NFL and soccer in most other countries, the first floor is the ground floor in the US and the first floor above ground level in the UK and most importantly pants are trousers in the US and underwear in the UK. The same is obviously even more true for different languages where the text length might be completely different, the font size might look bad with the particular alphabet or the UI can become less readable. Basically every localization requires a number of solutions and tweaks to keep everything smooth for every language.


In short the benefits of localization are numerous and by catering to local needs you can:

  • reach new markets effectively by providing the same user experience as local apps
  • communicate with users who would otherwise wither face a language barrier of be forced to use a language contrary to their preferences
  • avoid misconceptions and faux pas related to specific customs and particularities of different languages and cultures
  • optimize your product to fit locally used search terms and keywords
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