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Internationalization vs. localization

So far in your localization research journey, you have come across terms like internationalization, and localization, and noticed that both of them seem to have things in common, that some resources use them interchangeably. 


Although this might be confusing, it’s true that both terms enjoy things in common, yet also differ in their processes and goals. One acts as a preliminary step to pave for the execution of another. Generally, internationalization and localization are two important concepts approached by businesses, and organizations aiming for global or international recognition in the market.


In this article, we’ll talk about the differences and similarities between both terms, pointing to the most important areas of comparison. 



Internationalization VS Localization

Internationalization refers to the initial process of preparing products, services, and software to function in different markets internationally and cater to international audiences who speak different languages and function in different cultural contexts. 


On the other hand, Localization is a process that usually comes after internationalization. It adapts the brand’s products and services, or any other textual or nontextual elements to fit into a specific local market.


Example of Internationalization

Examples of internationalization include Facebook a social media platform that can support languages worldwide. 


Other examples are e-commerce platforms like Amazon, WordPress, Ali Baba, and Airbnb.


Example of Localization

Moreover, an example of localization is when an e-commerce website displays items in different measurements based on the location of the customer. An e-commerce website in the US will display measurements in pounds, and inches. At the same time, one in Saudi Arabia will display the same measurements in centimetres and kilograms.


Let’s dig more into this



i18n vs l10n

What is I18n?

Internationalization is abbreviated as “i18n,” I18n refers to the 18 letters between the first letter I, and the final one n.


What is L10n?

Localization is abbreviated as “L10n”, typically, L10n refers to the 10 letters between the initial letter L, and the final one N. 



Where is Internationalization (i18n) Used?


When businesses launch websites or mobile applications, they do that with internationalization in mind. Instead of hardcoding languages into the software, they use Unicode to make the software a flexible structure that communicates in all languages.


I18n replaces hardcode with placeholders that retrieve the target language without coding changes.


For a website to display the word ‘welcome’ to a German user, the code, in this case, will look like this:


confirm(t(title)); instead of confirm(“Welcome!”); or confirm(“Willkommen”)


Internationalization is not only about translating the brand into hundreds of languages. It involves several technical aspects like text expansion, date formats, RTL languages…and much more.


  • User interface (UI):

When adapting your website or app to several languages, you need to keep in mind the factor of text expansion or contraction. Since languages differ in word volume and word length, many times when the text is translated from a source language to a target one, the text will either take more space, or less space. This will be a problem if the user interface is not flexible enough to adapt.


  • Date and time formats:

Not all countries used the same formats with dates like (DD/MM/YYY) in the US, or 13:00, versus 1:00 PM.


  • RTL languages

This is also relevant to the UI design. Right-to-left languages like Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew not only require the text to shift its direction but also force the entire layout to adapt to the language direction, which can be a huge mess if not optimized properly.


Read more: What is Software Internationalization?



Where is Localization (L10n) Used?

Localization processes involve the translation, and customization of a product to a certain culture, to meet its contextual and linguistic requirements. This includes adapting date and time formats, layout, design, cultural references, colors, symbols, images, currencies, measurement units, numerical formats, products, and models, among many other details. 


Localization in Food Business

One good example of localization is the food business. Food giants that have branches all over the world manage to sustain brand image and identity to the customers, while at the same time catering and customizing menus, and food options according to cultures. 


For example, the food giant Burger King localized its menu to involve items like the “Kuro Burger” which features black buns, and bamboo charcoal cheese.


In the same sense, Subway in the Middle East has featured sandwiches that appeal to arab customers like chicken shawarma and falafel sandwiches.



Internationalization i18n best practices

  • Keep in mind the factor of text expansion and contraction.
  • Store images, audio files, and other resources separately from your code so that they can be easily replaced or modified for different languages.
  • Use separate resource files for textual elements that require translation 
  • Keep in mind the different date and time formats; avoid hard-coding dates and numbers.
  • Align the user interface UI with right-to-left RTL languages. 



Localization (L10n) best practices

  • Create content with localization in mind. Early in the product design phase, it’s best to maintain a mindset that smoothens the localization process that follows.
  • We all have heard of things being lost in translation, and the same is valid for localization. The essence of your brand can be lost in localization’ therefore it is crucial to ensure the same smooth user experience no matter what. 
  • Hire native localizers who are up to date with the changing events in a certain culture.
  • Make use of machine translation (MT) and a suitable translation management system to ease communications between team members. 


Let’s sum up the most important differences between those terms in a final note:


Internationalization Localization
i18n L10n
Handled by software developers, and software engineers Handled by linguistics, translators, and localizers, but can involve collaboration with the marketing team and content creators, visual artists, and designers.
A process in software development that allows for it to support hundreds of languages through Unicode. 

It’s a basic and flexible software layout that allows for a smooth localization process.

The keyword in localization is ‘customizing’. Localization goes beyond the literal translation of meaning from one language into another. 

It is very loyal to making the content appeal to the target audience. It appropriates everything from design, images, colors, layout, translation, symbols, date and time format.

Comes before localization. Always follows internationalization.
Involved in:

-Software development

-e-commerce websites

-Social media platforms

-Mobile applications

Involved in:

-Video games




-Product (labeling, copywriting, and packaging)

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