Difference between Localization and Translation and How Machine Translation Can Help

In today’s globalized world, brands are increasingly expanding their reach and venturing into new markets.

While content translation is a fundamental step in this process, localization extends beyond mere linguistic adaptation. Localization is changing the content, images, videos, and branding by considering the cultural aspects of a particular region. The ultimate goal is to recreate the entire user experience so that users feel a deep connection to the brand—as if the local community members exclusively crafted the product or experience for them.

This article explores the difference between localization and translation in detail. We also discuss how machine translation supports localization efforts, making the process faster and more cost-effective.

Translation vs. localization – what’s the difference?

At first glance, both translation and localization involve adapting content to different languages, but their objectives and scope diverge significantly.

Translation focuses primarily on adapting content from one language to another while preserving its meaning and intent. It involves transferring words, sentences, and phrases from the source language into the target language, ensuring accuracy and clarity. Translators meticulously navigate linguistic nuances and grammar rules to ensure the translated text effectively communicates the original message.

Translation is the starting point of the localization process. Localization extends to adapting all content aspects to fit your target market’s preferences—for example:

  • Date formats,
  • Unit and currency conversion
  • Legal regulations
  • Imagery and symbols

Localization delves deeper into the adaptation process by considering cultural, regional, and contextual factors. It aims to make the content resonate with the target audience in a way that feels native and culturally relevant.

What is the locale in localization?

In localization, a “locale” refers to a specific combination of language and regional settings that determines how content should be adapted for a particular target audience. It represents the specific linguistic and cultural characteristics of a target market. For example, English can have different locales, such as en-US (English – United States) and en-GB (English – United Kingdom), which have variations in spelling, vocabulary, and formatting conventions. Similarly, French in France, French in Canada, Spanish in Mexico, and Spanish in Spain represent different locales.

Let’s look at a simple example sentence.
The recipe requires 500 grams of flour and should be baked at 180°C for 30 minutes. While this sentence is suitable for the English UK audience, it changes significantly for the English US audience. Localization takes into consideration that the US uses the imperial system for measurement. Also, calls for instead of requires makes the sentence more “American.”
The recipe calls for 4 cups of flour and should be baked at 350°F for 30 minutes.

Example of Translation vs. Localization

Translation is a word-for-word replacement from one language to another. Localization is customizing the original sentence to the target language and locale.

Consider the English – I want 2 pounds of cake on July the 5th.

English French translation – “Je veux 2 livres de gâteau le juillet 5ème”
English- French (France) localization – “Je voudrais 900 grammes de gâteau pour le 5 juillet

What is the difference?

  1. In France, using the more polite voudrais (would like) instead of veux (want) is more common.
  2. The measurement system in France is metric (grams instead of pounds).
  3. In France, it is more common to say the date first, followed by the month.

Localization accounts for all these subtle aspects not found in mere translation.

Some more localization examples include:

  • Using the right words, like lift instead of the elevator in the UK
  • Adapting date and time formats (e.g., day-month-year vs. month-day-year).
  • Adapting greetings and formalities in customer interactions.
  • Modifying number and numeral formats (e.g., decimal separators, thousands separators).
  • Adjusting colors and symbolism to align with cultural associations and meanings—removing pork-related food images for Islamic countries.
  • Localizing user interfaces, such as buttons, menus, and navigation, to match regional expectations.

Summary of differences: translation vs. localization

The table below provides a concise overview of the differences between translation and localization.

FocusLanguage accuracy and preserving meaningCultural adaptation and user experience
ScopeWords, phrases, sentencesContent, visuals, design, formatting, cultural aspects
GoalCommunicate the original message accuratelyRecreate a native user experience, resonate with the target audience
ElementsText contentText, images, videos, symbols, colors, references, UI/UX
ProcessConverting content to another languageAdapting content for cultural and regional preferences
AudienceUsers who understand the target languageUsers who feel a deep connection to the content and user experience
OutcomeUnderstandable content in the target languageNative-like experience tailored to the target audience.

How Can Machine Translation Help with Localization?

Machine translation is the automated process of translating text from one language to another using artificial intelligence(AI) techniques. Neural networks are commonly employed in machine translation to learn patterns and relationships in language data. A neural network comprises interconnected computing nodes that work together to generate more accurate and natural-sounding translations.

Machine translation is a powerful tool that dramatically accelerates localization efforts. Benefits include:

Efficiency and Speed

Machine translation systems can quickly translate large volumes of content in the context of a specific locale. Human translators are only required for post-editing and content checks for the human touch. This enables faster turnaround times, especially when working with tight deadlines or frequent content updates.


Utilizing machine translation is more cost-effective than human translation, particularly for content requiring frequent updates or for translating lower-priority content that doesn’t necessitate human refinement.


Machine translation helps maintain linguistic consistency across localized content. It can aid in managing and enforcing specific terminologies and glossaries within localized content. Companies can ensure a unified voice, reducing inconsistencies that may arise from multiple human translators.

Real-Time Communication

Machine translation can facilitate real-time communication by enabling instant translation of text or speech for localization of customer support services or in chatbots.


Machine translation allows for the efficient handling of large content volumes, making it easier to scale localization efforts to multiple languages and markets without significant increases in time and resources.


Localization goes beyond translation to create a native user experience by considering cultural, regional, and contextual factors. Industries like ecommerce, gaming, tourism, and software require localization to effectively connect with global audiences and ensure their products and services resonate with local users. By leveraging machine translation in the localization process, companies can achieve faster, cost-effective, and consistent translation at scale. However, human involvement remains crucial for cultural appropriateness and overall quality in the localized content. By combining the strengths of machine translation with human expertise, companies can deliver tailored experiences to their target audiences in various markets.



Carolina - Linguist
4 Min Read
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