Localization and Translation: how they differ and affect Technical Writing

Published: 2023-07-26 Updated: 2023-07-26

The terms localization and translation always seem to create confusion. Occasionally, you hear people say that localization and translation are the same thing. Or that localization is nothing more than a more accurate translation. In fact, there are major differences between localization and translation, and these differences also have consequences for technical writing as well as for working with a content management system.

In this article, you will learn...

  • The differences between localization and translation
  • Why localization plays an important role in technical writing
  • The importance of efficient terminology management for localization

The role of the content management system (CCMS) in localization

Localization or translation

Localization and translation are both services that are provided by translation agencies, which is why there's often confusion surrounding these terms. Translation is about transferring the text from the source language into one or more target languages. Localization, however, is not only about translating the text, but also about making it easily accessible to the target language readers.

  • For example, this can mean that text passages that are not important for the target language are omitted (e.g., dealer addresses in the country of manufacture).
  • It can also mean that the translation agency adds information in order to explain content that is not self-explanatory for the culture of the target language through a pure text translation (e.g., a short summary of what an English standard requires for which there is no counterpart in the target language).
  • And, last but not least, it can also mean that content is replaced with other content that is more suitable for the target country (e.g., instead of the original illustration of the device, an illustration with the country-specific power sockets).

Localization in technical writing

These examples show that localization is also important in technical writing. Basically, localizing a text is much more expensive. This is quite understandable because, when localizing, analysis, research, and creation are altogether much more time-consuming. The cultural differences must be identified, researched, and then reflected in a localized version.

Ideally, a technical writing department will therefore try not to include cultural nuances in the source text in the first place. Overall, it is more cost-effective if the writing department, for example, already states the requirements of a standard in the English version as well, instead of just referring to it. Or if illustrations are always made without plugs as standard.

An efficient terminology management system is also helpful for localization. This is because device labels or user interfaces also have to be adapted to the target language. Terminology management ensures that it is clear which term in the user interface should be used in which language.

Localization and the CCMS

How does the CCMS come into play in localization? In three ways: Through...

  • Language management
  • Resource management
  • The Callout Editor

A modern CCMS manages content units on a language basis so that there is always clarity about the current editing status in the source and target languages. Language-dependent content units can be pure translations of the source language. However, they can also be variations (e.g., other support addresses) or completely different content. This content can either be created by the technical writing department or by a translation service provider, depending on who has better knowledge of the market.

Through resource management, images and graphics can also be managed in a language-dependent manner. This means that images or image sections can be replaced to match the target language. It is always clear which image belongs to which target language and whether this image needs to change due to a product update.

Finally, the Callout Editor is a tool that can be used to add text units to images. This is useful for the localization of products for which, for example, only the user interface differs depending on the language. Instead of requiring new images for every target language, the agency can focus purely on the translation, which is stored in the termbase. Localization therefore becomes automated translation.

Regardless of whether it's used for localization or translation, a CCMS offers many functions to make transferring content into other languages easier. In addition, however, efficient language management is also necessary. After all, only by setting the right course for translation in advance can obstacles and queries be avoided.

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