What’s the Difference Between Translation, Transcreation and Localization?

Buying translation services can be very confusing when providers start using industry lingo you’re not familiar with. More often than not, these discussions center around three core concepts – translation, transcreation, and localization. While they are all related, there are subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences between them. So which service is right for your situation?

To figure that out, let's look at what each term actually means.


Translation refers to the communication of meaning from one language (the source) to another language (the target) and is centered around written information, whereas interpretation refers to spoken information.

The purpose of translation is to convey the original tone and intent of a message, taking into account cultural and regional differences between source and target languages.


Transcreation is a concept used in translation studies to describe the process of adapting a message from one language to another while maintaining its intent, style, tone, and context. A successfully transcreated project evokes the same emotions and carries the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language.

A simplified example of this service would be to consider a video that features an older person talking to a health insurance agent about her medicare coverage and her medicare supplement insurance. The translation of this type of content would have to be modified significantly. Medicare and even health insurance are concepts that don’t apply to other countries that have nationalized health and no health insurance.

This method requires a significant amount of creative license on the part of the translator in order to maintain the same tone and relative meaning even when the end result can look fundamentally different.

Language localization

Localization is the process of adapting a product’s translation to a specific country or region. It is the second phase of a more extensive method of product translation and cultural adaptation (for particular countries, areas, cultures, or groups) to account for differences in distinct markets, a process known as internationalization and localization.

Language localization differs from translation because it involves a comprehensive study of the target culture to correctly adapt the product to local needs.

Localization is also the process of translation and adaptation of software resources and audio components for gaming and other multimedia projects.

An example would be the translation of dialog and audio prompts from a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game like League of Legends. The translation team will need to deal with slang, research on typical terminology for the gaming culture in a given country, and then deal with software localization constraints like the maximum length of a translated software string.

So which service do I need?

There are differences across the three approaches, but for many translation projects, these differences aren’t applicable.

The reality is that, for most corporate translation projects, you may require some aspects of all three approaches. The common thread across all three services relates to understanding the target audience and the factors that will affect the creation of the final translation.

Even if you simply request a translation, your translation team must understand who the target audience is and adapt it to communicate the original message. This exercise is a requirement for creating a good translation. If you don’t use creative energy to create a translation, you are performing literal translation, which is extremely inaccurate.

Getting the best results

Excellent communication between the customer and the translation project management team is essential to creating an adequately adapted, high-quality translation for the target audience. Customers should always be open to questions from the translation team because that means they’re trying to make the final product as accurate as possible. Don’t view that as ignorance of the topic or some lack of understanding.

While the terms do an excellent job of highlighting the type of effort that goes into creating an adequately adapted translation, customers should also be aware that some agencies have used these terms to drive higher prices and create an unnecessary mystique around the process. We recently discussed this topic in an episode of our podcast.

When you request your translation project, be very clear in describing your target audience. Let the translation team know how much leeway they have to modify the messaging. Define how you would like to know about deviations from the source and ask if there are any additional charges for adaptation of the content.

Ready to start your translation project with some of the industry’s best? Contact Argo to find out what type of service best fits your needs.

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