Home External Communication Translation versus localization: Which is best for your business? ​​

Translation versus localization: Which is best for your business? ​​

by Rosetta Stone
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In today’s globalized business world, companies are looking to access new markets and expand their reach. In order to do so, they must increase their language proficiency to connect with their target audiences the world over.

When it comes to adapting content for international markets, translation and localization are two common strategies for global business communications with key similarities and differences.

This article will define translation and localization and cover the major distinguishing features of both strategies to help you decide which strategy is better for your expanding business.

What is translation?

Translation is the process of rendering text from the original language into target language(s) so that the meaning in both languages is equivalent. It involves taking the foundational text and converting each word, sentence, and paragraph into new languages, all the while maintaining the meaning and intent of the original message.

Naturally, translation is an essential component of international business communication. It allows companies to break down language barriers that can impede business growth in order to communicate with customers, business partners, and stakeholders in different regions across the globe.

By including translated content in your company’s globalization strategy, your company can expand its reach, build brand awareness in diverse markets, and establish itself as a global player.

When translation is appropriate

Translation is the best strategy to use when your priority is to communicate a precise message to multilingual audiences. If your company needs to communicate specific information to an international audience, such as product descriptions, technical specifications, or legal terms and conditions, translation is the way to go.

For example, if you run a software company, you’ll need to translate user manuals and technical support into multiple world languages to ensure that all your customers, no matter what their native language is, can effectively use your products. Similarly, a furniture company would need to translate its assembly instructions to make sure that everyone can build its bookshelves. And medical device manufacturers need to provide safety instructions, warning labels, and user manuals in multiple languages.

In these cases, precise and clear translations are critical to ensure that users understand the instructions regardless of their language proficiency. Cultural nuances and adaptations are less relevant since the content is focused on being informational. Technical and informational content  has less of a need to be tailored to align with the customs and preferences of your target audiences.

Moving beyond translation

If your international business strategy extends beyond a few translated documents, then considering a corporate language training strategy and including language training for business teams, can be highly beneficial. Familiarizing yourself and your employees with local languages is an important foundation for business connections in new regions of the world. When expanding internationally, your business can benefit from expanding multilingual channels of communication, and making sure that effective communication takes place between your employees, clients, and stakeholders. 

When globally mobile employees receive sufficient language training, they can better manage their personal affairs and gain the confidence they need to fully immerse themselves, and settle in their surroundings overseas.  This can decrease global mobility failure down, and in the long run result in significant savings and business benefits. 

The benefits of corporate language training

Empower your employees and colleagues with Rosetta Stone for Enterprise, which gives them the tools to improve their language skills in 24 world languages. Rosetta Stone for Enterprise has been designed with the needs of employees in mind. From the first lesson, learners will cover competencies such as writing and speaking, which will serve them in many settings and across communication vehicles.

As your employees progress, they cover business communication and can choose topics related to specific industries or professions, such as technology, manufacturing, retail, and more. And with Rosetta Stone’s TruAccent speech engine, your employees will feel confident that they’re communicating with their international networks with clear, authentic pronunciation. With enough practice, your employees will be able to assist in your business’s translation efforts. 

What is localization? 

Localization is a more comprehensive process than translation; it addresses cultural and non-textual components—as well as any linguistic and cultural disconnects—when adapting a product or service for another country or locale. It involves reshaping your content to better align with the cultural norms and preferences of the target audience. This ensures that your business’s message is communicated in a way that resonates with the local audience. 

Localization goes beyond just translating the text from the original language to the target language. From the perspective of just language, it means inserting cultural references, or humor to make messaging both relevant and impactful for different audiences.

Localization also entails modifying images, graphics, and even color schemes and product names to better suit local preferences. Your company may consider changing your packaging to adhere to local regulations or respect local cultural norms, for example. Or perhaps your company would consider reworking entire marketing campaigns—after all, your campaign’s attention-grabbing slogans and witticisms probably only work in the original language. 

Businesses that localize are better able to communicate their value propositions and present their products and services in a culturally appropriate manner. This ability to generate meaningful messages for diverse audiences, in turn, enhances brand recognition and expedites global expansion.

When localization is appropriate

In particular, localization is appropriate when the cultural and non-textual components of the communication are as important as the message itself. In other words, localization is the best strategy for situations when translation alone would fail to appeal to or include global customers, clients, and stakeholders. For these reasons, localization can help your business set itself apart from others that rely on translation only, meaning it can be one of the best strategies for growth in new international markets.

For example, If your fast food brand were to launch new products in a foreign market, you may need to consider revamping your marketing materials, packaging, and even the ingredients themselves to suit local preferences and cultural norms. In the past, some fast food chains with restaurants in Hong Kong and other locales have launched desserts featuring taro, a purple, slightly sweet root vegetable. Marketing materials for taro pies, shakes, and more are also translated into local languages, of course.

But here’s where localization enters the picture: marketing materials may also include purple-heavy color schemes on their packaging and advertising to put the spotlight on taro. Such a strategy wouldn’t translate—or localize, if you will—in North American locations, where taro is less popular or totally unknown among most consumers. Most regulars would scratch their heads at the purple packaging and wonder why their apple pies suddenly have a surprisingly delicious purple filling.

What makes localization different from translation? 

The primary difference between localization and translation is that localization encompasses both translation and cultural, non-textual components of the communication. Therefore, localization is a more complex, rigorous, and time-consuming process than translation alone. Entire marketing campaigns may require overhauls to get the message across to your target audiences, which costs your teams their time, money, and energy.

To ensure that your company’s products and services are effectively communicated to global audiences, localization requires a deep understanding of the cultural nuances and sensitivities of both the source and target markets. This involves researching and analyzing the target market’s customs, values, and behaviors, as well as adapting the content to suit their language, tone, and style.

What are the main challenges of localization?

The main challenge of localization is striking a balance between appealing to target demographics and maintaining brand consistency. If your company is too rigid in its approach and fails to make the necessary adjustments to suit local preferences, you risk alienating your target audience. On the other hand, while it’s tempting to implement drastic changes to suit local preferences, this sometimes leads to unintended consequences, such as inadvertently changing your brand’s image or even undermining it in nascent markets abroad.

For example, earnest attempts to translate a billboard’s puns from English to your target audience’s language could end up not being funny, which would defeat the purpose. Or worse: the billboard may not make grammatical sense, lending an air of unprofessionalism to your enterprise. Additionally, efforts to incorporate local preferences could also veer into the patronizing or even verge on the stereotypical, which would turn off potential customers and clients.

Another challenge of localization is the need for accurate and effective communication between all parties involved in the process. This includes not only the employees and teams directly responsible for translation and localization, but also original content creators, project managers, and other stakeholders. Miscommunication can result in inconsistencies or other errors that wind up compromising the effectiveness of the localization effort. This is where Rosetta Stone for Enterprise comes in, helping your employees communicate clearly and effectively, whether in their native language or in their new language.


Translation vs localization – which one is best for your business? 

Translation and localization are two essential strategies your business can use to reach new audiences and grow across the globe. When it comes to deciding which strategy is best for your business, remember to consider the nature of your content and the expectations of your target audience. Both translation and localization can have their challenges, such as coordinating communication across teams, languages, and cultures; maintaining brand consistency despite cultural differences; and integrating local preferences without compromising brand image.

Rosetta Stone for Enterprise can help. With our award-winning tools, your employees don’t just learn languages, but they can focus on the specific business communication and industry specific vocabulary needed to drive their professional success. They rapidly gain the ability to communicate confidently with international coworkers and clients, helping to access the cultural touch points that make translation and localization efforts more successful, and will bolster your business’s ability to reach global markets.

Learn more about the best way to build multilingual teams and accelerate the global success of your organization.

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