Off topic: Translation vs. Localisation
Thread poster: Cristina Mazzucchelli

Cristina Mazzucchelli  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:03
English to Italian
+ ...
May 11, 2006

Hello everybody,

My name is Cristina and I am a student at Imperial College, London where I am finishing my MSc in Scientific Translation with Translation Technology.

As part of the Master Degree we have been asked to write a project about the differences between translation and localisation.

I was thinking to insert a paragraph in the project on the ideas that translators/localisers have about their job and about what they think is different or similar between the two.

So, if you have any idea/comment I would really appreciate your help!

Thanks very much in advance!


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Alain Dellepiane  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:03
English to Italian
Localization is like crosswords :) May 11, 2006

I would say that the main difference is in the amount of guesswork and tweaking that localization requires.

Localization strings usually are:

-Written by engineers, which usually aren't very good at short and clear writing, forcing you to guess what they really meant.

-Devoid of any context whatsover and again, you have to guess what they really refer to. On top of that, add the structural ambiguity of English about gender and number.

-Short! You often work with strict length limits, usually based on the English text. In order to fit an Italian translation in the same space you have to juggle a lot.

Ciao! Alain

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Alberto Orengo  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:03
English to Italian
+ ...
translation vs. localisation May 11, 2006

Hi Cristina,

Process: I agree with Alain. His description of localisation is exactly what happens in practical terms, when what you get is, e.g., an excel document to translate, with the main company's recommendation being "Also, please try to keep the translations to as few words as possible. Since these translations are intended to be menu items on (...) , there is limited space allocated for these titles." In my case, I have worked on car websites, videogames and mobile phones, both as checker and as translator. In both cases I was particularly urged to "keep things short", simply because buttons and windows don't allow for space and also because some languages (such as Italian) tend to have longer words than others (such as English). In many cases (especially from English) this is felt as a violence by the translator in the sense that , in strict ethical terms, it simply does not work and one ends up using the English term or forcing the source language. This, of course, does not happen in other translation fields where, unlike the localisation process, there are no such constraints. In term of process, then, translation within localisation is even more strictly bound by structural factors such as softwares than other translation types are.

Definition: from a theoretical point of view there are thousands of definitions on localisation. Among these I found the LISA's particularly clear (The Localization Industry Standards Association). What I now understand is that globalisation and localisation are processes of product designing and distribution. The main difference between translation and localisation is simply that localisation is part of a distribution process. Take a videogame: it's conceived not just to be read (as a book) but to work world-wide, te be USED and not just read. Books>readers, videogames or softwares>users --although one might still argue that a website is meant to be read!. A localised product is like a machine that must work with all possible languages and in all cultural contexts. Engineers and specialists who are on a product meant to be sold world-wide have to bear in mind that this has to be, from the very beginning "localisable". The more easily localisable the product, the more successful its "global" distribution. Translation is one stage of this complex process. Of course these are just personal thoughts, so much can be still said.

I am happy to share with you my complete bibliography, meanwhile I can suggest you a couple of entries that I found particularly enlightening:

Cova, Bernard, Véronique Cova (2001) “Tribal Marketing: the Tribalization of Society and its Impact on the Conduct of Marketing” in Visionary Marketing, . Prepublished version for the European Journal of Marketing. Online document at URL [12/10/04].

Friedman, Jonathan (1995) “Global system, globalization and the parameters of modernity”, in: Mike Featherstone, Scott Lash & Roland Robertson (eds.), 69-90.

Fry, Deborah (2003) The Localization Industry Primer. Féchy: SMP Marketing and the Localization Industry Standard Association.

Pym, Anthony (2004) The Moving Text. Localization, Translation, and Distribution. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Savourel, Yves (2001) XML. Internationalization and Localization. Indianapolis: Sams

Snell-Hornby, Mary (2000) “Communicating in the Global Village: On Language, Translation and Cultural Identity”, in Christina Shäffner (ed.) Translation in the Global Village (11-28) Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Sprung, C. Robert (2000) Translating into Success. Cutting-Edge Strategies for Going Multilingual in a Global Age American Translators Association, Scholarly Monograph Series. Vol XI. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

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Martin Wunderlich
Local time: 09:03
English to German
+ ...
Easy answer: depends... May 11, 2006

Hi Cristina,

I guess you would first want to clarify what you mean by "localisation". There are some people who see this as part of translation, consisting of the cultural adaptation of the text to the target locale.
Most people, however, would relate the term to the translation and adaptation of digital products, inparticular psoftware, including tasks like fixing GUI layout issues, software testing/QA, internationalisation (e.g. externalising strings from code to resource files), etc. etc.

So, as for the differences, I'd say translation is always a subset of the localisation process, but not every translation is part of a localisation project, of course (document translation, legal translation etc.).

As for the similarities, both translation and localisation are increasingly seen as a commodity (as you can see when looking at some on the "offers" on this platform and similar price wars elsewhere). Part of this might be the way such services are priced (i.e. per word, similar to the way, for instance, screws or whatever commodity product is priced; as opposed to per hour or per day, the way professional services are priced). The latter might be just the way it is or it might be caused by another similarity, that is a certain lack of self-esteem or rather perceived lack of recognition and valuation by others for everything that's involved in translation and localisation.

I hope this helps.



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