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What the heck’s the difference? Translation, Transcreation, Localization

So, you’ve been looking into translation. Maybe you’re thinking about hiring a translator or maybe you’re thinking about entering the industry yourself.

Either way, you’ve typed in the word translation into Google search and…



What the heck are those?


First of all, let’s clear up a common misconception – translation is not interpretation.

You may already know this from your research but in case you still don’t: translation is the transfer of written words from one language into another, while interpretation is the transfer of spoken words from one language into another.

If you’re considering hiring a translator, it’s not a big deal if you’re confused about this. However, having a better understanding will make your search more efficient.

If you’re considering entering the industry as a linguist, then you probably want take note of the difference.

Put simply:

If you’re looking for someone to help bridge communication between members at a business meeting, then you’ll need an interpreter.

If you’re looking to advertise or produce content in another language in line with your brand and current marketing strategy, then you’ll need a translator.


Let’s take a look at localization and transcreation. These concepts are often labeled as “translation plus.”

What do I mean by this?

In an attempt to clarify and define these terms, translation agencies and linguists like to create a translation hierarchy.




The issue with this is that localization and transcreation are not in fact “a cut above” translation.

Best clarified by my brilliant mentor – localization and transcreation are branches of translation.

In actuality, they are concepts under the umbrella term translation.

Let me explain.

Don’t let anyone convince you that translation is just taking one word in one language and transferring it into another.

For example:

eat = eat

eat pizza = eat pizza

eat for dinner = eat for dinner

eat dust = ??

If you believe that translation is just word for word than eat would be translated the same as the previous three instances.

But we both know that’s not the case because to eat dust means to outperform someone and not literally to eat dirt.

According to the “translation hierarchy” that some agencies suggest, this phrase would be translated based on the dictionary definitions of the terms, resulting in eat and dust.

However, it doesn’t take too much thinking to know this would be a poor translation. In fact, it shouldn’t even be considered translation.

The same applies to date and time formats. In the words of Wikipedia, the difference between something like localization and translation is that localization takes into account the appropriate date and time format of the target culture.

I’m not sure any serious translator would ever leave the date and time as it is formatted in the source text.

I am 100% certain serious translators would adapt them, even if they’re not supposedly working in localization.

What is localization exactly?

Localization originated in the technology sector back in the 1980s with desktop computers. Nowadays, it is prevalent in the video game industry.

The ultimate goal of localization is to produce the same experience for users no matter their location, culture, and language by adapting software to the users’ standard habits.

This includes the adaptation of images, colors, etc., as well as text language.

To me this sounds like these technology companies desire to create the same effect for their international users.

This is indeed a theory of a famous translator and theorist, Eugene Nida (1914 – 2011). In other words, the concept of creating an equivalent effect existed far prior to the concept of localization.

What is transcreation?

As you most likely can tell, transcreation is a term produced from combining translation and creation.

Transcreation is exactly that – a creative form of translation.

This differs from localization because it doesn’t work with software or technology but rather marketing content and copywriting.

Transcreation is also concerned about creating a certain effect on people – typically a company’s consumers or potential clients.

For instance, it’s perfect for adapting headlines, website, blog, and advertisement content.

As a businessperson, you most likely understand the amount of time and cost invested in producing perfect copy or content that speaks to your target audience.

Transcreation ensures your efforts aren’t wasted.

Transcreators understand the underlying “spirit” of the text and the desired effect the company wishes to impart on their target consumers.


Translation is an umbrella term for localization and transcreation.

Localization works with adapting software and technology for local markets. However, now it is a general term used to describe adapting a product to a local market, such as video games.

Transcreation is a creative form of translation, ideal for marketing, advertising, and content marketing content.

Did you find this article helpful? Let me know your thoughts on these terms and how you might define them.