What are the differences between translation, editing and localisation?

There are differences between translation, editing and localisation that everyone should be aware of; on the one hand, for the sake of faster and simpler communication between the person ordering the job and the person doing it; and, on the other, to avoid misunderstandings due to unrealistic expectations.


  • A translator’s job is to transfer the content of a text that is normally referred to as “the original” into a different language.
  • The translator must do this in such a way as to give readers the impression that they are reading a text that was originally written in the target language.
  • If something is not quite right in the original, the translator will try to understand what the writer actually wanted to say and will attempt to express it better in the translation. But if the original text contains an incorrect fact, for example, then the translator should not correct it.
  • If a translator notices the error (which often happens), they can leave a note for the person who ordered the translation to let them know about it; but a translator should never correct an error because, if they do, the translation ceases to be a translation and the translator will have overstepped the limits of their function.


  • Something similar happens when the original requires editing. In other words, when the ideas are poorly organised, there are unnecessary repetitions or there are steps that are not clear. The translator must not take it upon themselves to delete parts of the text, change the order or eliminate steps in the original, however justified this might be. Doing so goes beyond the bounds of the translator’s task, since these responsibilities belong to the author or the editor.
  • However, it is not uncommon for translators to do both tasks. Or an agency may first of all take on the job of editing a text, obtain the author’s approval and then have the now-edited text translated. But these are operations that need to be anticipated and carefully planned for, including budgeting and quotes.
  • It is natural, therefore, that someone who orders a translation might feel disappointed if they are expecting to receive a text that has not only been translated but also edited, and what they actually receive is “only” a good translation. And yet, the translator will have done precisely what he or she was supposed to do.


  • To avoid such misunderstandings, the term “localisation” is used, meaning a set of operations associated with translation.
  • When someone orders a localisation, it means that, in a given original text, there are physical and cultural references specific to a particular place in the world and the intended translation is to be used somewhere else. For this reason, all of the physical and cultural references will have to be adapted to the place where the translation is to be used.
  • For example, some languages have different forms for the word “you” depending on who is speaking and who is being addressed. In a place where this concept is different, the translation will have to be adapted accordingly.
  • If an original text mentions identity documents which exist in the country of the original text but not in the one where the translation is to be used, research will be required to determine what the corresponding documents would be in the target country. Any references to habits, times, national figures, celebrities and public places will have to be replaced by others that will make sense to the readers of the translation, in the case of localisation.
  • In any case, the term “localisation” is a good example of how the translation industry has found a way to clearly identify a specific feature of translation services that fosters communication and helps manage the expectations of the customers purchasing those services. As a result, misunderstandings can be eliminated.

All of the services we have mentioned above:

– translation, editing and localisation –

are services that professional translation companies provide to their customers. They are distinct but very closely related services. It is important that everyone knows what to expect from each of these services.


At Letrário, we work in all three areas – translation, editing and localisation – on a daily basis. If you need help with the translation, editing or localisation of a document, or a set of documents, do not hesitate to ask us for a quote.


If you are interested in finding out more about the work involved in a professional translation, you can download our free e-book:

12 Tips on How to Translate like a Pro!

12 Tips on How to Translate like a Pro - Free eBook