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Localization vs. Internationalization

Key questions:

Localization and internationalization are often referred to in the same context but, they do not share the same meaning. So, what exactly is localization? What do we refer to when we talk about internationalization? What differentiates them and what do they have in common?
In this post, we will establish a clear distinction between the two terms and will guide you through the steps in both processes.

What is localization?

When it comes to localization keep following in mind: Think globally, act locally! Localization refers to the process of adapting a product to meet linguistic, format, legal and cultural requirements of a specific target market. This process involves adjusting all constituents of the product and adding market-specific components along with the text translation.
While localization is often used as a synonym for translation of a user-interface or documentation a localization is far more complex.
Localization done correctly can entail customization in regards of:

  • Date and Time Format
  • Numeric System
  • Currencies
  • Symbols, Icons and Colors
  • Pictures and Graphics
  • Keyboard Usage
  • Different Legal Requirements
  • Many Many More...

A successful localization might necessitate a comprehensive reassessment of design, presentation and possibly a complete overhaul of the way of doing business.

The value of localization:

To give themselves an edge over the competition, companies will often pour resources into developing a website that has great content, is visually pleasing and is well-optimized for search engines, but at the same time, they often neglect one key aspect – languages Have look at above infographic and see how much of an impact language has on consumer behavior. Sticking to solely English and you will miss out on close to 79% of potential customers who rarely or never purchase from English-only stores. More than half of the questioned participants would rather engage with an poorly translated website than its English only counterpart. With this in mind, it becomes obvious that language is key to driving sales and marketing efforts where the audience includes speakers of more than one language. The vast majority of recipients are most confident in making purchases when the website is in their own language and data is presented in a clear and understandable way.

Check out these 5 tragic examples on how not to localize your product or website.

What is Internationalization?

Internationalization refers to the processes and methodologies in a product design and development phase that facilitate easy localization. A previously internationalized product can effectively and easily be localized for target audiences that vary in culture, religion or language. Internationalization is a fundamental corporate strategy with the aim of making products and services as adaptable as possible.

Internationalization entails:

  • Developing and designing products in a way that removes potential barriers to the localization and the products international launch.
  • Separating localizable elements from text or code for localized alternatives to be easily inserted.
  • Enabling code that supports regional, language and cultural preferences. In most cases, this involves Incorporating predefined localizable data from existing libraries or user preferences. Typically, these entail date and time formats, regional calendars, numeral systems, sorting and presentation of lists and display of name or address.
  • Including support features that may not be utilized until the product is localized. E.g. adding CSS support for vertical or non-Latin typography or adding markup in your DTD to identify a language.

Examples why internationalization is a critical step for multilingual products:

  • Not dependent on specific language/character
  • Not sensitive to culture
  • Minimization of hard-coded text
  • Compatibility with third-party software or applications
  • Accommodation of double-byte languages (e.g. Japanese) and right-to-left languages (e.g. English)
  • Unicode compliance for global text display

Note that internationalization does not include the localization of content or product into another language. Every step in the internationalization process is design and development practices that facilitate an easy adaption to specific regional markets.

A great example of an internationalized product are Ikeas furniture assembly instructions. Typically, these are entirely diagram and illustration-based and do not include any text. No matter where in the world, the end-user will be able to follow the instructions. In case instructions do require text and translation they are often written with the goal of being culturally neutral.

What defines good Internationalization?

Generally speaking, a great internationalization ensures, your software, app, website or content works across different cultures and markets. This means that ideally, every piece of text is translatable and that there isn’t any code that relies on text being input in a different language or alphabet. Perfect internationalization would auto-render prices into the appropriate currency, adjust the date in a way that makes sense to the reader and display other variables like measurements in the correct system.
When done right you can send your code to the translator knowing full well that they can simply get to translating without requiring any code changes.

When internationalization goes wrong

Bad or wrongfully implemented internationalization typically results in bad localization. A very commonplace to find these errors are e-commerce stores. Often you will find that these stores will only localize prices disregarding other key data such as product description, weight, and measurement. As most e-commerce stores are based in the US shoppers from Europe, Asia or Africa are given measurements and descriptions they are unfamiliar with. Pounds, feet, inches might be confusing for many which could lead to the customer quickly dropping off the website.
Bad internationalization can often lead to partial translations as well. In certain cases, menus are left untranslated, or contact information can only be found in English. Similarly, a website might be unable to translate certain sections completely. This is common when untranslatable JPEGs or PNGs are used instead of text- something that can be often witnessed with ads.

The value of internationalization

Internationalization paves the way for international usage. It significantly reduces cost and time to successfully localize a product. To redevelop a linguistically and culturally centered product after launch is obviously a lot more difficult and resource-intensive than designing a globally presentable product.

Benefits of Internationalization:

  • Easy adaption of content to multiple locales
  • Reduced time and cost for localization
  • Simplified maintenance
  • Adherence to international standards
  • Reduced overall cost of ownership of the product compared to multiple versions
  • One internationalized source code for all versions

The Common Goal of Internationalization and Localization

Globalization – Both internationalization and localization strive to develop and market multilingual products software or applications to global markets.

If you are in the process of developing a product, software or website and you intend to make it available in multiple regions you are globalizing your product. Both internationalization and localization will guide you to achieve this goal.



Internationalization and localization are two distinct terms. The former referring to methodologies and practices that streamline the latter. Put together, they are a powerful tool to create products that offer great user experience for people around the globe.

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1 thought on “Localization vs. Internationalization”

  1. Pingback: How To Take Your Company International - Beckett Translation Services

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