Translation localization and internationalization

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.

localization vs internationalization


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


  • 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 styles, 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 redesigning 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 that applies to multilingual communication and the global readiness of products and services, enabling a product to be used in a diverse 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 implies the adaptation of products and services to regional and cultural specificities of the local markets, allowing marketed products and services to move globally to new markets and integrating local markets into world markets.
  • Locale: A set of parameters that defines the language, region, culture, and other particular preferences and formats that enable a product or a service to compete in a local market through localization fully. Usually, the 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 national language. So, today fewer than 20 % of the roughly 3 billion Internet users are native-English speakers, and internet-based services must 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 of 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.


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