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What is localisation and how is it different to translation? A practical example.

The term localisation first appeared around the 1980s when American software giants started to expand globally. Over time, as computers and technology became more and more part of everyday life, localisation became a necessity.


But what is localisation to begin with?

According to the Globalisation & Localisation Association “localisation is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market. Translation is only one of the several elements of the localisation process.

Localisation is usually required when a technology such as software, phone app or website, needs to become available to a market other than the market for which it was originally created.

It is fair then to say that localisation is very much technology-related. By that, I mean that it is a service which is often required when you are developing an app, a website, an online platform or a software interface, as opposed to when you’re writing a blog post, a product description or medical report.


How is it different to translation?

As mentioned, translation is part of localisation, therefore localisation is something wider than translation. Localisation often encompasses the extracting and processing coded language and importing and post-processing localised coded language.

In addition, localisation goes beyond translation. Content is localised in a way that it makes sense to the market in which the localised product is intended to be used.


Drawing from experience

I recently localised the user interface of an online platform. In order to register as a user, one has to list their personal details. So here is an example from this project illustrating how localisation is different.

English source:

Your postcode must consist of at least two letters, two numbers and two letters.

Greek translation:

Ο ταχυδρομικός σας κώδικας πρέπει να αποτελείται τουλάχιστον από δύο γράμματα, δύο ψηφία και δύο γράμματα.

Back translation:

Your postcode must consist of at least of two letters, two digits and two letters.

Greek localisation:

Ο ταχυδρομικός σας κώδικας πρέπει να αποτελείται από τουλάχιστον πέντε ψηφία.

Back translation:

Your postcode must consist of at least 5 digits.

Translation here wouldn’t work because a user in Greece, will never have a letter in their postcode. So if the system persisted in asking them to supply a postcode with a letter in it, the user registration would simply fail and the company would lose a customer. This is simply because Greek postcode structure is different to UK postcode structure. In Greece, postcodes consist of 5 digits.


It is fair to say that localisation requires special local market knowledge which will enhance the user experience. It is also fair to say that localisation goes beyond translation, in the sense that it is a process during which the translator must localise the content with the local market always in mind and through the eyes of a user found geographically within that specific locale.


What's your experience with localisation? How would you define localisation?

---Updated 11 January 2019---


Vasiliki is a Consultant, Chartered Linguist and Translator. She is the founder of Greek to Me Translations, a company that helps businesses communicate their brand, products and messages to their target audience. She can help your organisation achieve a global presence by implementing a translation process that works, using translation technologies and best practices. She believes that translation strategy, when well-embedded within the overall business strategy, delivers not only words but vision. Find out more about how she can help you or get in touch with her at to discuss your translation process and any challenges you have.


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