Language Localization vs. Internationalization

Currently we are experiencing dramatic increase in public dissatisfaction with the forces of globalization and the resulting worldwide upheaval of traditionalism, conservatism, and populism in political discourse, including calls for protectionism and isolationism in both economy and international relations. However, there are some areas where globalization is irreversible, while such calls are muted. Paradoxically, those who oppose globalization rely primarily on those same information technologies, communication means and social networks that bring around globalization. At the same time, 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.

Two catchwords that refer to mutually complementary approaches dealing with this challenge are ‘localization’ and ‘internationalization’. And sometimes, when pronounced by IT professionals, these rather familiar but context-specific words may need some explanation as to what they exactly mean. It becomes even more difficult 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.

localization vs internationalization


Localization refers to the adaptation of a software product, application, hypertext or document content in order 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’. The most widespread form of glocalization is of course language localization.

However, in order to make glocalization possible, the respective product should be ‘internationalized’, which means that it (such as a software application) should be designed and created in a way that it can 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 normally implies separation of localizable components from source code or content by splitting potentially locale-dependent parts into separate modules, so that localized options are easily introduced without the need to redesign the product for every new locale.




Re-adapting and re-engineering a deliverable product for a global market is obviously more difficult 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 it would as a rule imply enabling Unicode, or otherwise ensuring character encoding as needed, but also developing multilingual software and enabling national language support, also taking into account local cultural preferences – e.g. local date/time formats, metric and numeral systems, forms of personal names and address, sorting and presentation of various lists, among other things.


  • Localization (L10n): the process of adapting a service, product or content to a specific locale or market, primarily through translating all necessary documents and texts into the local language, but also using local formats, symbols, presentation style and other regional specificities that make the product competitive in the local market.
  • Internationalization (i18n): the process of design and creation of a product that ensures that it can be easily localized, i.e. adapted to various languages and regions without requiring re-designing and re-engineering changes to the source codes and other essential structures of the product.
  • Globalization (g11n): refers to a broad range of processes necessary to prepare and launch products and activities internationally. It is a wide-ranging concept which applies to activities such as multilingual communication, global-readiness of products and services, enabling a product to be used in divers environment, with multiple scripts, regional specificities, and cultures.
  • Glocalization: The term coined by sociologist Roland Robertson by merging ‘globalization’ and ‘localization’ means, according to him “the simultaneity – the co-presence – of both universalizing and particularizing tendencies”. In international trade glocalization means the adaptation of products and services to regional/cultural specificities of the local markets that allows moving globally marketed products/services to new markets along with the integration of local markets into world markets.
  • Locale: A set of parameters that defines the language, region, cultural and other special preferences and formats that enable a product or a service to be fully competitive in a local market through the localization Usually, locale is identified by the geographic region and language(s) used, along with other possible identifiers.
  • National language support: Incorporating in an interactive product or service the possibility of communicating with it using one or another national language. So, as today fewer than 20% of the roughly 3 billion Internet users are native-English speakers, it is essential that internet-based services support tens of different languages (on average, websites serving international clients support ca. 28 national languages).
  • Multilingual software: Software that can be operated while using different languages, which makes possible its straightforward localization, adapting to the requirements to the locales where respective languages are dominant. This is usually done by designing software in such a way as to keep the application’s texts separate from its program codes.