Localization vs. Internationalization vs. Globalization
Globalization, internationalization, and localization are often used interchangeably, but understanding the difference is crucial when going global.
You’ve started thinking about expanding to different regions around the world, and turned to online resources to help guide you. That’s a great starting point.
Without a doubt, you’ve come across terms such as localization or L10n, internationalization or i18n, globalization or G11n, and normally, you’re confused. Where to start?
For people working in the globalization industry, these terms are quite clear and they have no problem using the terms l10n, i18n or g11n.
However, when you’re just starting, these terms can be quite confusing, and even scary. But, they are actually the complete opposite. That’s why we’re doing a deep dive into all three in this article.
Localization vs. Internationalization vs. Globalization - Is there really a difference?
And the answer is simple. Yes, there’s a difference.
The three are often used as synonyms, and many think they are just different names for the same concept. However, there are slight differences between them. And in order to successfully ‘go global’, you need to understand them.
There are actually 4 essential parts to any business going beyond national borders.
We’ve all heard of translation, and that is the term we’re all comfortable with. However, to explain the other three concepts right, we need to mention translation as well.
💡 Researches have come up with an acronym - GILT, that stands for Globalization, Internationalization, Localization, Translation.
We all know what translation is - converting text from one language to another. But to launch your product globally, you need to include the other 3 parts as well.
The easiest way to understand the connection between globalization, internationalization, localization and translation is to visualize it.
What is Globalization (g11n)?
Globalization, or g11n, as it is often called, is the process of taking your business global. It includes everything, from decision making, to strategy to execution.
The entire process starts with the decision to expand beyond national borders, and it includes everyone within the company - from C-level executives, to Human Resources, Sales, Marketing and Software Development.
C-level executives are often the ones making the decision to go global, and are included in all other key decisions.
Human Resources will now likely have to hire employees in countries around the world, so they need to prepare and familiarize themselves with rules and regulations in other regions.
Sales need to adapt to other markets, and create a plan for each country individually. Whether you are doing sales by email, phone or in person, you’ll need to change your methods depending on the region.
Same goes for the Marketing Department, because now they’ll have to adapt all of their marketing assets to the international market. And this is where both Sales and Marketing need to be very careful, because certain things that are acceptable in one culture, might be considered offensive in others.
That’s why globalization also includes finding reliable consultants, possibility from the areas you’re expanding to, so they can help guide the process as well while being mindful of the cultural differences.
As for Software Development, that’s where internationalization and localization take the lead, and we will discuss that further down in this article.
But before we do that, let’s familiarize ourselves with an example of successful globalization.
And what better example to take, than Netflix.
The Globalization of Netflix
Even though Netflix launched in 1998, the Netflix we know today started in 2007 when they introduced streaming, allowing members to instantly watch content on their computers. Then, they were only available in the US market.
In 2010 their international expansion happened, when they expanded to Canada. Later on they expanded to Latin America and the Caribbean, UK, Ireland and in the Nordic Countries. By 2016, they were present around the world.
When they started expanding, their plan was to only offer pre-existing shows and movies. However, once they started producing original content, they experienced real success. By creating original content that reflects local culture, Netflix was able to attract foreign audiences.
Currently, Netflix is producing original content in 17 different markets. Some of those local TV shows are actually seeing success all over the world. For example, Money Heist (La Casa de Papel, Spain) has become a wordwide sensation.
Thanks to their globalization strategy, they have become the leading streaming platform in the world and their revenue has increased drastically.
What is Internationalization (i18n)?
Internationalization, or often called i18n, refers to the process of optimizing your product or service for expansion. In other words, i18n is the process of designing a product in a such a way that it’s easy to adapt to the international market.
As discussed, globalization includes everything from making strategic decisions to execution, while internationalization only refers to making the product adaptable.
When designing a product there are a few things you need to think about in advance if you plan to expand.
One of the most important things is the UI. If you’re planning to expand, you need to think about the space you’re leaving for certain words. For example, if your call to action in English is ‘Get Started Today’, think how that’ll appear once translated into other languages. Will the space you’ve left for the text on the button be enough in other languages?
It’s important for the designers to think in advance and prepare for localization, which we’ll explain in this article.
Developers can also avoid writing content into the source code so it’s easier to adapt the product to certain languages later on.
To explain internationalization even better, we’ll take an example, and in this case, it’ll be Ikea.
Ikea’s Internationalization Strategy
Ikea is one of the most popular home furniture brands worldwide, and is highly praised for its quality.
One of the things Ikea is also known for, is the fact that once you purchase something, you have to manually assemble it.
We do enjoy Ikea’s furniture, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy the memes as well.
Because their furniture needs to be manually assembled, and some of them can be quite complicated to put together, Ikea has provided great assembly instructions for each piece of furniture you purchase.
Great, detailed instructions we have all gotten used to now. But, you’ve probably noticed that their instructions are not textual, so logically - they do not need to be translated. All of their instructions are in diagrams and illustrations.
This was a clever move because when expanding to other countries, they would have to translate each assembly instruction and that would take a lot of time. Not only because there would be so much text to translate, but also because the measurements and other grammar rules are not the same in each country. This would require a lot of time, and is prone to errors.
That’s why Ikea avoided this confusion all together by not including text in their instructions.
When done right, internationalization can save you a lot of time and money in the process, as it will be easier for you to localize your products later on.
We keep mentioning localization. And now, let’s explain it.
What is Localization (L10n)?
Localization, commonly called l10n, is the process of adapting a product to a certain market.
Internationalization is usually what happens before localization. As discussed before, it refers to the process of designing and developing a product with localization in mind, so it’s easier to adapt it to a certain market later on.
If you’ve done the internationalization part right, localization should be quite easy to do. Some of the most common problems that occur when localizing your product are related to UI, but with proper internationalization, this can be easily avoided.
💡 Localization and translation (t9n) are often used interchangeably, and even though they are quite similar, they are not the same.
The main difference between localization and translation is that translation refers to converting text from one language to another making it easier to understand. But localization takes this process a step further.
When a product is localized, it should feel natural to the local market. You need to be mindful of the cultural differences, among other things.
Localization vs. Internationalization vs. Globalization - Conclusion
To sum it up, and to help you understand the difference better, here’s a breakdown of the four concepts.
Globalization is the process of taking your product global.
Internationalization refers to developing a product with localization in mind, and making it adaptable to international markets.
Localization is the process of adapting your product to an international market.
And lastly, translation is a part of localization and it’s the process of converting text from one language to another.
All four go hand-in-hand and are essential for successful expansion and taking your product across national border lines.
Once you make the decision and craft a plan for globalization, internationalization is the next step to ensure smooth localization.