Translation and Localization, What’s the Difference?

I thought I’d take a step back today to look at something that comes up in almost every customer conversation I have. And if you read the blog title up there, you already know what that is: “What’s the difference between translating something and localizing it?” And believe me when I say this really applies to global travel and hospitality companies. Not only do you need to translate material for many of your customers, but quite often the material being translated is critical to the success of their travels and therefore, their relationship with you.

Stay Away from Word-for-Word Translations
Let’s start by first understanding that translations almost never work when they’re translated word-for-word.  Here are a few examples of literal translations that will help illustrate the point really well  and maybe even make you smile (you can find more at

  1. In a hotel in Athens: “Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m. daily.”
  2. In an Austrian hotel catering to skiers: “Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.”
  3. On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: “Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.”

So now you know there’s literal translation and then there’s good translation. And even good translation isn’t enough by itself. That’s where Localization comes in – it’s the translation and adaptation of material for foreign-language markets.

Localization = Translation + Adaptation
When localizing, a translator (aka linguist or localization professional) will:

  • Adapt the language by creating a linguistic equivalent, not a literal translation
  • Assess color for cultural implications
  • Change telephone number formats
  • Mailboxes Around the WorldChange time/date/measurements to reflect that culture’s counting system
  • Assess and change any icons or graphics that will not make sense in the target culture. As an example, look at the different mailbox symbols used in various countries over on the right.

Can you see how this would impact a hotel, airline, travel agency or car rental company?

There’s more to know about the differences between translation and localization, so when you have time, I highly recommend you read the Lionbridge FAQ on the subject, “What’s the Difference Between Translation and Localization?” (free, no strings attached). And of course, please contact me if you have questions or need help.

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