Localization Insights
Localization Insights

Localization vs. Internationalization

If you’re thinking about global expansion, you’ll need to think beyond basic translation. Internationalization and localization are two key processes that you’ll need to consider when adapting software for a new market. However, don’t make the mistake of confusing the two. Internationalization is a preparatory process, while localization involves actively adapting products for a new market. Ready to tap into new markets and realize some serious growth potential? Read on for everything you need to know about internationalization and localization. 

What is internationalization?

Although internationalization and localization are often spoken about in the same breath, they’re two distinct processes. However, there’s a considerable crossover between the two. The internationalization process comes first, where a product or service is adapted to make localizing content for new markets less of an undertaking. 

If you’re planning on targeting consumers in a new country, internationalization is an essential step, especially if you’re eyeing up a territory with a complex native language or wildly different cultural norms, it’s even more important. At this stage, however, translation itself doesn’t factor into the equation. 

Some companies have been able to sidestep the need for internationalization by using image-only instructional guides. However, these cases are the exception. Ultimately, content will need to be translated for global markets. 

To make translation as simple as possible, internationalization strips away any culturally-specific elements from the source text. By removing things like colloquialisms, you’re left with more neutral-sounding text that’s more adaptable for the localization process. 

Internationalization should be at the forefront of your mind when designing software and digital products. It’s essential for accessibility and makes localizing products far easier. Many businesses make internationalization a priority from the earliest stages of product development. In other cases, the need for localization comes later. Fortunately, internationalization can be undertaken after the fact. 

Consider multiple elements that need to be internationalized

What elements need to be internationalized? 

Not sure where to start with internationalization? Let’s look at software development as an example scenario. For effective localization, you’ll need to internationalize a fairly wide scope of elements. 

User interfaces demand special focus. If you’re designing an app or piece of software with the aim of translating it into several different languages, the user interface (UI) should be able to accommodate this. Some languages are relatively similar, with well-matched word and sentence lengths. Others involve considerably more characters to convey the same message. Redesigning user interfaces retroactively is time-intensive and costs money, so save yourself the hassle by investing in a localization-friendly UI at the earliest stage of the development cycle.

You should look into data encoding. In the case of many European languages, you can use ASCII encoding. However, you’ll run into trouble when dealing with languages using non-Latin alphabets. Languages like Russian, Chinese, and Korean are all best served by Unicode. 

Other country-specific components that are often overlooked are date and time formats. In the United States, DD/MM/YYYY is the standard. Elsewhere in the world, formats may display the month before day, while some countries use entirely unique calendar systems. Avoid alienating consumers by including the format they’re familiar with. 

What devices is your target market using? On home soil, desktop computers might be the go-to. However, mobile devices may be the preferred choice in a new market. Prioritize hardware support by ensuring products are optimized for the operating systems and device types your new consumer base is using. 

What is localization? 

While internationalization lays the groundwork for adapting a product, it’s during the localization process that things are really refined for a new market. How does localization work? Whether it’s a software localization project or you’re undertaking a website localization task, the goal is the same. Although you’ll need to accommodate cultural nuances and country-specific requirements, the aim is to produce an intuitive experience for the end user. Things should feel familiar for non-native users as if the product was conceived and created for them. 

A successful localization campaign calls for keen insights into the target market. Accuracy is also crucial, and you’ll need to maintain consistency if you’re constantly putting out new content or introducing regular updates. More important than this, however, is how well your localization efforts are being received. 

Have you recently unveiled a localized version of an app in a new country? A high number of downloads is all well and good, but how long are users actually engaging with your product? Are you leveraging email for a localized marketing campaign? You’ll need to take a look at those click-through rates to judge its effectiveness. If you neglect metrics like this, you’ll have no way of determining whether your localization efforts are striking the right note with a target market. 

Internationalization vs. localization

Still confused about what separates internationalization from localization? The internationalization process always comes first. The aim here is to design a product, software or otherwise, so that it can be readily adapted for multiple languages and international cultures. The localization process is more involved. It uses the framework established by internationalism, allowing you to make actual changes to products to meet the needs of a new market. 

Best practices for effective internationalization and localization 

We’ve already touched upon a few of the things you should be bearing in mind when internationalizing and localizing software. However, you’ll need to think beyond coding support and superficial details if you want to lay a solid framework for future localization success. For maximum impact in new territories, make sure your process covers the following:

1. Make internationalization and localization an early priority 

While you can internationalize software retroactively, it’s not the most practical approach. Ideally, you should be thinking about internationalization and localization as early as the design stage. Get in there early by analyzing your needs and start hammering out a plan of action. All involved processes should be considered to ensure you’re delivering a product that’s as adaptable as possible. 

2. Relocate any content that’s going to be translated 

To make the localization process as simple as possible, it’s a good idea to externalize any content that you plan on translating. Removing translatable text from code and rehousing it in resource files means you won’t have to worry about any duplication mishaps. What’s more, it allows software engineers and translators to concentrate on workflows simultaneously. Doing this also reduces the chance of code becoming damaged elsewhere in the process. 

3. Guarantee consistency with translation guides and glossaries 

If you’re using a large team of translators for a localization project, consistency can suffer. You can avoid this by taking the time to create a writing style guide and glossary of key terms and phrases. You can also include guidance on date and time formats, currencies, symbols, and anything else specific to a target market. 

Consider text expansion

4. Don’t forget about text expansion 

Some languages require more space on a screen than others. Make sure you’re leaving enough space within your layout to accommodate text expansion. Sometimes, the reverse is true. Text contraction can leave your user interface looking sparse, so you’ll need to be wary about this as well. 

5. Always use Unicode 

For maximum convenience, stick to Unicode when developing software. Unicode’s character sets are universal, allowing you to adapt software for any worldwide language. This saves you the hassle of having to worry about complex conversions, reducing development time and slashing costs. 

6. Provide translators with notes for context 

Even the most experienced translator can struggle with industry-specific jargon. Make sure you’re providing plenty of helpful comments to linguists who’ll be working on your localization project. These might be summarized in a writing style guide or glossary of terms, but including additional comments means nothing gets left to chance. Without them, consistency is likely to suffer. In a worst-case scenario, the translated text will veer far from the point and confuse the end user. 

7. Get acquainted with the best translation tools  

Today, translation management systems are commonplace. Machine translation can help automate workflows, while translation memory can boost productivity and improve consistency. Make sure your teams are familiar with the full potential of the tools you’re using. 

8. It’s never too early to think about testing 

You don’t need to wait until localization is complete to test your efforts. With pseudolocalization, you can perform preliminary tests of how a new language will look, without having to undertake translation itself. This can give you an early warning about things like text expansion and contraction, as well as any read-order issues.

The goal of internationalization and localization

While it’s important to understand the differences between internationalization and localization, together they serve a common purpose. Internationalization lays the foundations for localization, which in turn adapts software to the linguistic and cultural requirements of a new market. This increases the odds of a product penetrating a new market, which ultimately allows a business to pursue globalization. 

How BLEND can help with both 

If you want to succeed in foreign markets, you need to be thinking about internationalization and localization from the start. By internationalizing products, you’re providing an adaptable framework for localization down the line. Is this your first time planning for international expansion? Preempting all those localization problems isn’t easy. However, you can sidestep any challenges by choosing an experienced localization and translation management service like BLEND

Offering a single-source localization solution, BLEND brings together professional linguists with cutting-edge artificial intelligence tools to deliver impressive results. What’s more, our platform ensures you’re always in control of the process, with reliable communication tools and innovative project management features as standard. Keen to establish yourself in as many markets as possible? With 25,000 experts working in more than 120 languages, global dominance is possible when you choose BLEND as your localization partner. 

Want to find out more about how we can help? Get in touch with the team today. 

author post

Fouad Habash

As BLEND’s Localization Solutions Engineer, Fouad is a seasoned expert in translation technologies, including TMS, CAT tools, AI and MT. With over 14 years of industry experience, Fouad ensures our clients receive the best and most efficient localization processes.


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