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How Internationalization and Localization Differ

Bora Öztürk
31/10/2022
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When it comes to expanding your business globally, there are two key terms you need to know: internationalization (I18N) and localization (L10N). I18N is the process of designing a product to adapt it to different cultures and locales. L10N is the process of adapting a product to a specific culture and market.

Although these terms are frequently used as synonyms, they describe two dissimilar—but both crucial—processes. Continue reading to understand the difference between internationalization and localization and how the two concepts intersect.

What is Localization?

Localization(L10N) refers to customizing a product or service for a specific market. The process can involve adapting text, graphics, audio, and videos to reflect the cultural and linguistic needs of the target locale. A critical part of localization is adapting a text to be culturally appropriate and linguistically accurate for the target locale. To achieve this goal, you may adjust grammar, spelling, and punctuation to match the conventions of the target language.

Localization can also involve adapting graphics to reflect the cultural preferences of the local market and adjusting colors, designs, or images to align with local sensibilities. It can also include creating new graphics specific to the target locale. Audio and video localization entails adapting these forms of media to reflect local accents, dialects, and slang terms. The adaptation process can involve translating scripts into the target language and modifying sound and video files to ensure local audiences correctly interpret them.

For example, let's say you're a clothing company based in the United States that wants to start selling your products in Japan. To do this, you'll need to localize your website and marketing materials by translating them into Japanese and making sure both content and graphics need to conform to Japanese social norms and customs.

In short, designing content to better fit local cultural norms defines localization. After all, localization is all about making your product or service feel "local" to the people in your target market.

What is Internationalization?

Internationalization (i18n) is designing an easily adaptable product or service for multiple markets. In other words, it's making your product "global-ready." This process typically involves creating easy-to-localize content for various languages, making your website globally visible. Here are some points you need to consider while internationalizing your product.

- String length

When designing a product for internationalization, it is vital to set the string length for UI and UX to ensure that text is displayed correctly and legible for all target markets. Additionally, it is essential to consider the width of the screen or device when designing your product, as this may affect how locales display texts. 

- Localization of dates, times, numbers, and currencies

There are many ways to localize dates, times, numbers, and currencies. For example, you can format dates and times using the local language and/or the local calendar. You can also use the local currency instead of or in addition to the standard currency. When it comes to localization, there are many options to consider!

- Adapting to different input methods (e.g., keyboard layouts)

Considering how people will interact with your product in different countries is essential. Primarily, you should consider other input methods, such as keyboard layouts.

For example, the English keyboard layout differs from the Spanish one. If you're designing a product for both countries, you'll need to ensure your product is compatible with both keyboard layouts. You may need to create different versions of your product for each country, or it may simply mean making sure your product is easy to translate and localize.

- Supporting multiple languages

You'll need to create a translation interface to support multiple languages and ensure users can crawl your website in different languages.

One way to accomplish this is using a content management system (CMS) that supports multiple languages. A CMS allows you to create and manage multilingual content quickly and efficiently. In addition, many CMSs offer built-in translation features that make it easy to translate your website into different languages. 

- Handling right-to-left scripts (if applicable)

If your target audience speaks a language that uses right-to-left scripts (e.g., Arabic, Hebrew, Urdu), you'll need to consider the directionality of these scripts. You should adjust the layout of your website and/or create separate versions of your product or website for right-to-left texts.

- Designing for different screen sizes and resolutions

Regarding internationalization, it's essential to consider different screen sizes and resolutions globally. For example, if you're designing a product for the U.S. and Japanese markets, you'll need to ensure your product is compatible with the screen size and resolution used in the U.S (1280x1024 pixels) and Japan (1024x768 pixels). You or your developer team can design different versions of your product for each country to overcome this setback. 

Most companies see the internationalization process as costly and time-consuming, but realizing such a need during a product launch will cost you much more time, losing vast amounts of money. However, this crucial step enables you to reach a larger market and helps you get a way higher ROI.

How do Localization and Internationalization Overlap?

Localization, or L10N for short, involves changing your product or content to better suit specific locales. On the other hand, internationalization—or i18n— encompasses preparing your software in a way that makes localization simpler down the road and typically includes planning for text in different languages and coding with global expansion as a goal.

In practice, localization and internationalization often overlap. For example, let's say you're developing a new website for your business. If you're hoping to sell your products or services in multiple countries, you'll need to design your site with internationalization. In this case, you might involve:

  • Using Neutral TLDs (top-level domains).
  • Developing multilingual versions of your site.
  • Avoiding country-specific references in your content.

However, once you've launched your site, you'll also need to think about localization—how you can tailor your site to appeal to users in specific markets. You may create separate versions of your site for different countries or regions, use geo-targeting to deliver country-specific content, and run targeted online ads in foreign markets.

Conclusion

As you can see, there is a big difference between localization and internationalization—but that doesn't mean that these two concepts often go hand-in-hand. Companies who strive to successfully enter a new market first adapt their product/service for multiple locales (i.e., make it internationalized), then make the necessary linguistic changes/adjustments (i.e., localized).

It's important to note that internationalization should always come before localization; if you try to localize a product/service without first ensuring that it can be easily adapted, you'll likely run into all sorts of problems further in the future. By taking the time to internationalize your product/service before you attempt to localize it for specific markets, you'll set yourself up for success in today's ever-changing global economy. Schedule a call with us to discuss how our process can benefit you.

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Bora Öztürk
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