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The Differences between Translation, Localization and Internationalization

Many marketers are unaware of the differences between translation terms: translation, localization and internationalization, and these terms are often used interchangeably. Before deciding to take your brand or products global, you should understand the differences between these three terms. This blog will detail some of the biggest differences between translation, localization and internationalization.

Translation Terms

Translation (t9n)

translation terms

Translation is the process of communicating the meaning of a piece of content, like a website or document, in another language. Translation is a diligent task and requires mastery in both source and target languages. If done incorrectly, or by non-qualified linguists it could be a literal, or word-for-word, conversion, which fails to communicate the intended message and may result in humorous, confusing or offensive translations, which can be detrimental to a brand.

For example, the French phrase “casser les oreilles” is literally translated as “breaking someone’s ears”, while the actual meaning of this phrase is to get on someone’s nerves.

Translation strictly follows the source language text and message, so sometimes it fails to take into consideration any cultural preferences. Therefore, in some cases, a process of localization is required.

Localization (l10n)

The Localization Industry Standards Association defines localization as “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”.

For example, Arabic is the official language in many countries, but it has linguistic differences depending on which country you are in. So it’s important to know which dialect is spoken in your target country or region.

The quality and success of a global website doesn’t depend only on language translation. Website localization is about adapting your product to meet the cultural, functional and language preferences of your global markets. Localization includes a thorough understanding of context, regional variants and cultural customs.

Language is just a piece of localization. Other variables like images, colors, time, how dates are displayed, currency and phone numbers are details that must be addressed if you want to properly communicate with your global audiences.

Examples of this include:

  • In Europe, dates are formatted as DD.MM.YYYY.
  • Outside the U.S., the 24-hour clock is common.
  • In Indian culture, red is the most powerful of all colors and has many meanings including fear, fire, wealth, power and beauty. However, in South Africa, red is associated with mourning.
  • In the United Arab Emirates, the first day of the work week is Sunday and Friday and Saturday are considered the weekend days.
  • Be careful not to use hand gestures in images that may be deemed offensive in another region. The O.K. sign, the hand signal where you put your thumb and first finger together to create a circular shape, is used to convey agreement and compliance in the U.S. however, it is seen as offensive in countries like Greece, Spain, Brazil and Turkey.

Internationalization (i18n)

Lastly, internationalization is the process of preparing a software application or product to facilitate localization.

Internationalization addresses issues that may arise from things like translating from a right-to-left language to a left-to-right language, language expansion and different alphabets and currencies, among many other things. This process is done so that content can easily adapt to target languages.

Some people use the term globalization to refer to the same concept.


Understanding that differences between the types of translation terms can be confusing. Sufficient planning, awareness and an experienced language service provider are crucial for localization success. When localizing, a professional language service provider will create a linguistic equivalent by adapting the message to meet the audience’s requirements. The end result of localization is a product that is appropriate for the target locale and keeps the original intended meaning.


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