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The Differences Between Translation Agency, Localization Services and LSP

All of us have heard or read terms for types of translation companies like translation agency, localization agency and language service provider (LSP). Many people new to translation and localization are sometimes confused by the jargon. This blog post will help clear up the confusion with the often interchangeable terms “translation” and “localization” as well as other terminology associated with the types of translation companies. Although translation and localization have distinct meanings, the term localization has gained popularity and is sometimes used in place of translation.

Types of Translation Companies

Technically, all of the terms “translation agency, translation company, localization agency and language service provider (LSP)” could be describing the same organization. Language Services Provider (LSP) has become increasingly popular in conference presentations, because the term is more general and describes a full service organization that may do more than just translation. In terms of common usage, translation agency is an older, more traditional term, whereas Language Service Provider (LSP) is a more current, commonly used term for a company or partner that provides a broad range of translation or linguistic services.

Common Translation Industry Terminology

Translation Agency: A translation agency provides translation services. This term is often used interchangeably with other terms or types of translation companies. A translation agency provides translation services and manages translation projects for clients. Some translation agencies may also provide interpreters, multilingual desktop publishing (DTP) and other language related services such as website translation and software translation. (Also referred to as a Localization Agency, Language Service Provider, Globalization Services Provider)

Translation: The act rendering the meaning of one language into another. Stated another way, translation is communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Translation is performed by a translator or translation team.

Copy writing or transcreation: While transcreators strive to actually copy write into a target language, the primary responsibility of a translator is to accurately translate the source content into a target language. In order to stay true to the source content, this can result in translations that are more literal. Multilingual projects that involve marketing or persuasive text may frequently require true copywriting or what is known as “transcreation”. In many cases translated text must be then rewritten to make the message persuasive, as well as accurate and culturally appropriate. In some cases, a target language locale may be so different that a complete rewrite of source marketing text is required.

Localization (L10n): The Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) defines localization as follows: “Localization involves taking a product and making it linguistically and culturally appropriate to the target locale (country/region and language) where it will be used and sold.” Localization must take the locale into consideration, for instance Brazil for Portuguese vs. Portugal.

Internationalization (I18n): Internationalization is a process which generalizes a software product (or website) so that redesign will not be necessary to enable it to handle multiple languages and cultural conventions. Internationalization takes place at the beginning of the program design and documentation development process. Separation of text from software source code is a critical aspect of internationalization. Moving translatable text, (the text that is visible to the user), into separate resource files prevents translators from changing or breaking the program code.

Globalization (G11n): The Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) defines globalization as: “Globalization addresses the business issues associated with taking a product global. In the globalization of high-tech products this involves integrating localization throughout a company, after proper internationalization and product design, as well as marketing, sales and support in the world market.” Globalization involves both internationalization and localization. The concept of globalization is frequently used in a sales or marketing concept, defining when a company moves beyond home/domestic markets and globalizes websites for eCommerce to pursue consumers and sales in targeted locales.

Website Translation:
Website translation is also known as “Website Globalization”. In order to truly “translate” a website into other languages you may need both Internationalization (I18n) and Localization (L10n) services.

Internationalization (I18n) + Localization (L10n) = Website Globalization

Internationalization (I18n) involves enabling the backend or the content management system (CMS) of a website to handle different languages, character sets, currencies, submit form data, site search capabilities, etc. and involves understanding what database and content management systems you are using to author, store and publish your website’s content. Many recent versions of databases and content management solutions (CMS) are already enabled for other languages. Localization (L10n) involves translating and localizing the front-end and the user interface of your website into different languages ensuring all content (text, scripts and web graphics) is translated in an accurate and culturally correct manner.

Software Translation:
Software translation is also known as “Software Globalization”. In order to truly “translate” software into other languages you may need both Internationalization (I18n) and Localization (L10n) services.

Internationalization (I18n) + Localization (L10n) = Software Globalization

Internationalization (I18n) involves enabling the code base of an application to support different languages, character sets, time, date and numerical formats, etc. and involves understanding your application’s development platform and process. Localization (L10n) involves translating and localizing your software’s User Interface (display, menus, dialog boxes, error messages), Online Help and User Manuals into different languages ensuring all content (text and graphics) is translated in an accurate and culturally correct manner.

Locale: a locale includes the language of the region as well as numerous other issues, such as character set support, date/time formatting, forms of payment, data/product sorting, phone/address formatting and more. Locales are associated with target languages; for instance Brazil and Portugal are locales associated with the Portuguese language.

Translation Memory: Translation memory (TM) technology allows translation teams to store and reuse both source and target language content for any translation project. GPI’s translation teams utilize translation memory tools in order to create and maintain multilingual glossaries and translation memories for our clients. These glossaries and memories are the proprietary property of our clients and can be provided to you as part of any project’s deliverables. Tool use is client-driven and GPI can work with all of the commercially available TM technologies.

Translation memory is not machine translation (MT). The benefits of translation memory include:

  1. Consistency in translations on larger projects, where teams of translators are required.
  2. Productivity and accuracy improvements.
  3. Reduced costs of translations by offering leveraged pricing on repeat and fuzzy match text.
  4. Revision projects can be handled in the most cost-effective, time-efficient manner.

Machine Translation: Machine translation (MT) is software that produces very raw, draft translations automatically. Machine translation software requires extensive upfront glossary development, strict adherence to controlled source language authoring and qualified translators to post-edit the raw translations that are produced in order to achieve acceptable quality. GPI utilizes human translation and editing teams who work with translation memory tools, NOT machine translation.

GILT: An acronym for “Globalization, Internationalization, Localization and Translation”. This term is sometimes used to describe professional societies and association in our industry.

CJKV: An acronym sometimes used to describe a combination of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

FIGS: A common acronym for French, Italian, German and Spanish, four of the more common western European target languages for English source materials.

BRIC: A newer acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China. These countries make up 4 of the fastest growing global economies. Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Chinese and some Indian dialects are becoming increasingly popular as target languages for content translation, localization and website globalization.


To summarize, there are many terms for types of translation companies. They include translation agencies, language service providers, translation companies and localization companies. Within the translation industry, there are many terms used to describe the localization processes. I hope this blog helped clear up the confusion.