Localization (or « localisation » in British English) refers the cultural adaptation of a text, rather than a more literal or true « word-for-word » translation that would be expected, for example in the case of technical translations, instructions and use manuals, medical translations, etc.
When a translator approaches a text from a localization set of mind, he or she is wearing two hats. The first hat is the linguistic hat, and the translator is using all the translation DNA to convey the meaning between one language to another. But most importantly, the translator is now also acting as a copywriter, and this means that he or she is finding the equivalent of each sentence and working at a higher level, the « cultural level » rather than working on the « accuracy level », sticking purely to the direct meaning of the words. Whilst terminology consistency is paramount in technical writing and not following the terminology can be even fatal, localization means more adaptation and thus some differences that make the content more easily recognizable to local reader or consumers.
For example, when translating a website, some people forget than certain expressions, even images, may not convey certain meanings or, worse still, may convey a totally different meaning to the original. Click on the link above to find out three tips on translating a website.
The purpose of doing localization work is to diffuse any traces of what people might assume is a « typical translation » and think about how to convey meanings by adaptation, stirring the same emotions and generating the same feelings as readers of the source text have experienced.
So, what is localization, then? Localization is usually a premium service as it can used in marketing, in advertising, for logos and public campaigns, in public relations. Sometimes, the job may only be a couple of words, as they are used in a slogan, or localizing a short snippet or a brand name. In these cases, translation is often paid as a consultancy service, rather than on a « word basis ».
Other cases where translation may become localization are, for instance, finding the right keywords in a SEO campaign (keyword localization).