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

world map to support scope of localization translation and transcreation needs

So, you may be thinking of going “global”. It’s a big discussion, a huge commitment, and lots to think about. The first question you’ll want to answer is: What does it mean for an organization to go global?

Every “thing” that is created for another language market is unique. Do you have a digital software product or a boxed board game? A food item with distribution needs? Or a creative jewelry line to be sold online?

Whatever it is you want to produce for a global audience, you need to begin the process by doing a basic inventory of the scope of the work to define HOW each piece will be translated BEFORE you start localizing content. And, to do this, there are just three basic, but very important, terms you need to understand: localization, translation, and transcreation.

What’s the difference between localization, translation and transcreation?

You will find many, and sometimes differing, online definitions of what these words mean. The subject is both deep and wide, with numerous webinars, books, videos, and whitepapers available on these topics.. But for the sake of clarity and to help you decide which method is best for you, we’re going to keep our definitions  simple.


This is a collective “umbrella” term to encompass all the work and processes that go into making your global strategy a reality. This includes the project plan for the work to be done, the team processes to grow toward scalability and efficiency, encompassing the Localization Model of Maturity (LMM) working with Localization Service Providers (LSPs), translations, etc. Localization is the larger category or “department”, like Marketing or Development.


Translation is the process of putting words or text from one language into another. In the world of Localization, this term infers “directly” or “as-is”. It is pretty much a word-to-word or phrase-to-phrase match taking into account various locale forms of grammar, syntax, etc.

Let’s consider the phrase Where is the restroom? This phrase translates well as-is, though many countries call this room something different, such as bathroom, washroom, toilets.


The process of culturally adapting and translating words, text, images, videos, entire campaigns, etc. from one regional locale into another. In the world of Localization, this term infers “change” or “different”.

Let’s consider the NIKE slogan, Just Do It. What does this mean to you? Ask 10 people what this means, and you will receive 10 very different answers. So, as you may surmise, a direct translation of this elusive slogan would not convey the emotion or personal meaning behind the phrase and it might even end up being ridiculous or offensive. Therefore, an equivalent slogan in other languages was sought. However, for NIKE, translation ultimately proved impossible and they chose to leave this phrase as-is in English for all their target markets.

Transcreation might be a simple change in graphics on your localized webpages, or, it could be completely different products, campaigns, menus, etc. for a global region. Consider this Chinese Pizza Hut breakfast menu webpage. Aside from the red logo image and the words “Pizza Hut”, it doesn’t resemble anything we might know about Pizza Hut in the United States.

Screenshot of what Chinese Pizza Hut represents

Overall, Pizza Hut operates in over 120 countries, each with their own unique website, look, menu, campaigns, etc. What’s more, each of their sites may have several language versions to choose from.

When you consider this scale of this operation, it’s pretty mind boggling. However, it gets even better. Pizza Hut is part of YUM!, the corporation that also owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and more. Overall, they operate in 140 countries and open seven new restaurants around the world each day!

Which is a best fit for you?

Now that you understand more about the two basic ways to take your product to a global audience, your first step is to choose which model to follow to meet your global strategy.

Overall, does your product have a straightforward look, message, or process that is ubiquitous for use around the world? If so, translation should work in 95% of what you need to create for your new market. Software, technology, machinery, technical support, help desks, and instruction manuals are great products to translate since the “how to” is the same in each language. This method is also most cost effective since you typically pay by the word along with some project management fees.

Additionally, these translations are added to your Translation Memory (TM). The TM stores all your words and phrases and you only pay for the first time a word is entered. So, incorporating Controlled Language best practices in translation can really pay off on your bottom line.

Screenshots of Camtasia web page in three different languages

However, if your product, marketing campaigns, logos, slogans, menus, creative descriptions, and web pages need to be changed in any way to meet the market demand in other locales, you have a higher percentage of transcreation needed. The transcreation process often includes market research and analysis, creative writers in the various locales, regional marketing experts and more. Since this is a more hands-on approach to going global, the costs for transcreation services are much higher than translation services. Also, the LSP, advertising companies, etc. are often different since some specialize in one area or another. This means you might be managing and organizing projects across a number of different providers in various time zones.

Screenshots of four different Coca Cola advertisements in various languages

First things first- make an audit sheet

Before your first project is sent off to be translated, you need to know which assets are included and what kind of translation you need. This requires you make a simple audit of your content. It might be a long list, but, that list will grow exponentially with every language you add. So, it’s better to do the audit now, rather than later.

You can use a spreadsheet, like Google Sheets, to list all the content to be localized. Google Sheets also allows others to more easily collaborate with you on the audit process.

  • Include videos, webpages, products, whitepapers, store pages, technical support pages, help files, newsletter version, etc.
  • Use different sheets to keep things organized by category.
  • Make a plan to keep this document well maintained and up to date.
  • In the sheet, create a column for the asset name, file name or URL, file or project location, each language the asset is available in, and whether or not the asset will be translated (TR) or transcreated (CR).

Try also checking out this video, which provides tips on how to use Snagit to capture multiple translations.

These are just a few things to keep in mind when you start looking at localization for your content. Overall, there’s a huge world of localization out there… but, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just by learning a few simple terms, you are well on your way to creating a well-organized global plan.

Kelly Mullins

Kelly Mullins has been with TechSmith for 20 years and is currently the Localization Coordinator. She is a self-proclaimed craftologist and attempts to incorporate a creative approach to EVERYTHING she does. She loves grocery stores and camping. So, mixing visits to unusual grocery stores WHILE on camping trips is required. Kelly is also an eBay PowerSeller who has been selling bonafide junk on ebay for over 20 years.

Subscribe to TechSmith’s Newsletter

Join over 200,000 people who get actionable tips and expert advice every month in the TechSmith Newsletter.