Revealed: the meaning behind the terms localisation, adaptation and transcription

Notepad, lamp, crumpled paper

Localisation, adaptation and transcription – despite the fact that the terms do not bear any outward similarity, they can quickly lead to confusion. This is because they all have something to do with language and they are all on offer in many translation agencies.

This information will stand you in good stead for realising your language projects no matter what the scenario, keeping you up to date and informed about the key points of internationalisation.

Localisation

The term localisation originates from the software development industry and is abbreviated by the numeronym L10n. The “L” represents the first letter of the word and the “n” the last, while the number in the middle represents the number of omitted letters.

But what is meant by the word localisation?

When a software, website or app is to be published in a foreign-language country, it is often not enough to translate words at word value.

On the contrary, it can be the case that content such as texts and images have to be adapted to the target audience. For instance, consider the different rules and conventions for dates, currencies and units of measurement.

And that is just scratching the surface.

In the same vein, legal considerations must be made. The laws in different countries stipulate different requirements, which must then be implemented in the localised version of the software or app.

Lastly, language conventions in the target country also play an important role: in order to best reach your customers in the target country, you have to adopt speech customary in that country – or make the conscious decision not to, and draw attention to yourself thus.

So, localisation describes the translation of texts and at the same time the comprehensive adaptation of content to the audience in the target country.

Adaptation

The terms adaptation and transcreation are used synonymously. The word transcreation is composed of the words translation and creation and denotes a creative, freer form of translation – in a sense, the recreation of a text in another language.

What purpose does this serve?

Your international target audience should not recognise the text as a translation. Customers feel more personally addressed if they believe that a text has been written especially for them;

your text should appeal to them in particular because the product or service it describes is specifically tailored to them and their needs.

So you can see where adaptation can come in, particularly in the marketing industry. In other fields, however, adaptation can be completely inappropriate. Take a legal text for example. Such a text requires a translation faithful to each and every word,

because it serves a wholly other purpose to that of a marketing text. It must relay exactly what is in the original as precisely as possible. Formulations that deviate from the source text could have far-reaching implications for a contract or court verdict.

But we digress: in order to supply your target audience in another country with a text in the right tone, the fundamental message is extracted from your source text and shaped in the target language.

This doesn’t mean finding the closest equivalents of the words in your text in the language in question. Quite the contrary, an entirely new text is created.

However, the impact that your original text has on your customers is retained. It is carried over and emulated in the target language so that the foreign-language text triggers the same emotional response from your international customers.

Adaptation or transcreation is thus a form of translation – a very free form, in which it is not the precise words of the source text that take priority, it is the overall effect.

Transcription

The term transcription is both a hypernym and hyponym. As a superordinate term, it covers both the terms transcription and transliteration.

  • Transcription is the phonemic conversion of linguistic expressions from one writing system to another. The focus of this conversion is therefore on pronunciation. This primarily serves to convey the pronunciation of a word as accurately as possible to non-native speakers.
  • Transliteration is the graphemic conversion of linguistic expressions from one writing system to another. A transliteration can, as opposed to a transcription, be converted back to the original writing system.

Alongside its meaning referring to the phonemic conversion of linguistic expressions, the hypernym transcription also has another meaning: it denotes the conversion of the spoken word to writing.

In this way, for instance, writing down audio recordings falls under the term transcription. Take a politician’s speech, for example, which is put into writing, possibly including further information such as background noises such as laughter and applause.

As we can see, localisation, adaptation and transcription all have one thing in common.

All three terms are concerned with the conversion of linguistic expressions. The target audience plays an important role in all this, because it is for them that texts are localised, adapted and transcribed.

It is now probably clear that many questions and obstacles may arise during the internationalisation of your projects (online shop etc.). The best thing to do to find out what type of translation or adaptation is right for your company is to discuss it directly with your translation agency.