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Internationalization vs Localization

Localization and internationalization enable brands to reach an entirely new audience by adapting their software, website or solution to a new target audience.

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You have a vision: your amazing applications and websites available around the world, in every language. The same great experience offered around the globe, and happy users all with the luxury of using your app in their native language.

But how do you get there?

You may have heard of localization, or internationalization, or even globalization. All of these terms have the same common thread: adapting your application to a new audience. Sounds exactly like what you need, right?

Well, localization and internationalization are both two very common terms, that on the surface seem similar, but under the hood have a clear distinction.

Yet, at the end of the day, the goal is the same: delivering your brand experience in a new language, to a new audience.

How you get there is what will differ. Internationalization focuses much more on the development and engineering process of building an application, while localization focuses on the content consumed by end-users.

Localization Can Be Easy

In the earlier days of software, applications were not built to support multiple languages. Businesses would typically build completely separate instances of their solution to support new languages. This was an expensive and time-consuming process.

In the past translating a solution was also complex, as it would then require both development and linguistic knowledge, and introduces a whole new host of potential issues. Since these solutions were never built with more than one language in mind, translated code often would not work properly.

So, by incorporating internationalization into your development process, your brand can build a solution that is simple and easy to adapt to new regions and locations.

What is Internationalization?

Internationalization begins at the conceptual stage for brands looking to offer their experience globally.

Internationalization is the process of building your application or product to support multiple languages and writing conventions. Internationalization requires developers to account for localization from the beginning, within the architecture of the application, enabling a smoother process down the road.

Multiple sources will offer varying definitions of the term, but mostly fall back on the same best practices:

  • Separation of the UI elements from source code of content
  • Support for multiple languages
  • Written text supported in multiple formats like right to left, left to right, and vertically
  • Support for local, regional and cultural preferences
  • Number formats and numeral systems
  • Sorting and presentation of lists
  • Handling of personal names and locations

For example, Microsoft defines internationalization as "a combination of world-readiness and localization. World-readiness is a developer task, which enables a product to be used with multiple scripts and cultures (globalization) and separating user interface resources in a localizable format."

What is Localization?

Brands looking to expand their existing content into new languages will most likely look towards localization.

Localization is the process of adapting a piece of content's full meaning for a new region with translation, associated imagery and cultural elements that influence how your content will be perceived. This content can be anything, including software, websites, mobile applications, videos, documents, etc.

Fully localized content resonates with users because it incorporates relevant cultural nuance to feel familiar, as opposed to simply replacing English words with translated text. This generally includes:

  • Translated text
  • UI layout to support different length text
  • Culturally relevant graphics and images -- why show the NYC skyline for real estate in London, for example?
  • Converting currencies and measurements
  • Addressing local regulations and legal requirements
  • Internationalization Starts From The Beginning
  • Best practice states an internationalized application should appear as if it is a native application built in that user's language, according to Apple. And this is really the heart of it all.

When looking to expand a service or product globally, internationalization must be involved in the development process from the beginning to provide that same experience in every language.

Incorporating internationalization and localization from the beginning not only enables a more agile localization and adaptation process for future releases but ensures a quality experience for every new release.

Internationalization vs Localization: Bottom Line

Both localization and internationalization focus on the same end goal for your solution: delivering an experience in a new language or region.

But for an application to be properly localized, that solution must be built from the ground up with internationalization in mind.

The idea is to both reduce the time and effort spent behind the scenes, enabling a much more rapid and agile development process for localized software, while also providing a native experience to all of your users, no matter their location.

By developing with internationalization in mind, your brand can engage an entirely new audience with the same experience that has proven successful previously.

Think you're ready to localize your application or website? Chat with one of our experts to learn more.

About Matt

Matt Grech is the Content Marketing Manager at Smartling, responsible for growing Smartling awareness and brand content. As a digital content writer, Matt applies his journalistic lens to content, helping users deepen their understanding of the brand, services and technology provided by Smartling. Matt has previously contributed to an industry leading Unified Communications resource, as well as local newspapers where he developed his unique ability to investigate, interview, and transform complex problems into simple solutions.

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