by Maria Rotger

Differences between translation localization and internationalization

“Localization” and “internationalization” are two catchy terms that refer to mutually complementary approaches to this challenge.

Globalization and more concretely global spread of information technologies, along with the growing market demand for these, create the challenge of how to better serve clients and communities with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds in increasingly competitive and demanding international markets.

Sometimes, when pronounced IT professionals say the somewhat familiar but context-specific terms “localization” and “internationalization,” they may need some explanation as to what they exactly mean.

It becomes even more complicated when these terms are replaced by strange code-words (in scientific Volapük called ‘numeronyms‘) such as ‘L10n‘ and ‘i18n‘, where 10 and 18 are respective numbers of letters between the first and the last letters in these words.

What is localization?

Localization refers to the adaptation of a software product, application, hypertext, or document content to meet the language, cultural and other requirements (such as keyboard usage, currency, symbols, metric systems and data formats, or legal requirements) of a specific local market (or ‘locale‘).

When a globally marketed product is localized, the process is called ‘glocalization,’ and the most widespread form of glocalization is language localization.

However, the respective product should be ‘internationalized’ to make glocalization possible.

What is internationalization?

Internationalization happens, for example, when a software application should be designed and created to be potentially adapted to various languages and local parameters without any essential structural changes, other than adding needed locale-specific components and translating respective texts.

The possibility of effective localization relies on adaptability provided by internationalization, and these two concepts are intrinsically coupled, even though somewhat asymmetrically. Indeed, internationalization does not necessarily imply localization, just its possibility.

Internationalization typically implies the separation of localizable components from source code or content by splitting potentially locale-dependent parts into separate modules so that localized options are quickly introduced without redesigning the product for every new locale.

Re-adapting and re-engineering a deliverable product for a global market is more complex and expensive than internalizing it in advance as an essential principle of the design and development process.

Internationalization, or i18n, should enable a product to be used with multiple scripts, regional specificities, and cultures, dubbed its ‘globalization’ (g11n). In more concrete terms, as a rule, it would imply enabling Unicode, or otherwise ensuring character encoding as needed, but also developing multilingual software.

Also, helping national language support and considering local cultural preferences –e.g., local date and time formats, metric and numeral systems, personal name forms, addresses, sorting and presenting various lists, etc.

Glossary used to analyze the differences between translation localization and internationalization

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