To understand the difference between localisation and translation, let’s start by defining translation: it is an act through which the content of a text is transferred from the source language into the target language (Foster, 1958).

Are the technical words a bit confusing? Let’s add some clarity with an example: if you have a text in English and you want it in Spanish, English would be the source language and Spanish would be the target language. So far, so good.

How Do Localisation and Translation Relate and Differ?

We use translation when the source and target texts need to match exactly and literally. It may be the case of an instruction manual, an e-mail, an informed consent form, etc. Basically, we are speaking of a very literal rendering of the source message into the target language. Have you recently bought a new electronic device? The manual it came with has probably been translated into your language.

Localisation, on the other hand, involves translation but also goes one step further. Localisation involves translating the source content in such a way that it takes into account the target culture. In other words, the content is adapted for local consumption. The purpose is to make it resonate in the target audience.

Such adaptation might involve changing colours, jokes, cultural references, names, etc. Therefore, we frequently use localisation for evocative content aimed at eliciting an emotional response in the reader. It is the case of websites, blog posts, hotel descriptions, literature, etc.

Coca Cola: An Example of Great Localisation

The following example, taken from Translit’s website, is as good as localisation gets:

Back in 2013 and 2014, Coca Cola launched their “Share a Coke” campaign. This campaign captivated the public. Instead of the Coca Cola logo on the label of the bottles there was a simple phrase: “Share a Coke with John”. But it wasn’t just for Johns, it was for Jacks, Sarahs, Bobbys. Everyone. On each coke label, there was a different name. This connected with people directly. A good example of their localisation is what they did in Ireland; adding Irish names such as Aoife and Oisín. A better example of localisation is what they did with their campaign in China.

In China, it is not respectful to address a person by their first name. Usually you would address a Chinese person by his/her surname followed by honorific titles. But this whole campaign was about direct and personal connection. How do you connect with someone directly if you can’t use their first name? Coke had an answer. Instead of names, they used terms such as “close friend”, and “classmate”. This was a great way to weave through cultural boundaries while also staying true to a marketing campaign.

Coca Cola Localisation

Got It. But How Does Localisation Differ from Transcreation?

For that, dear friends, we have written a whole new article! Check it out here.


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