What Is the Difference Between Internationalization and Localization?

internationalization and localization

What Is the Difference Between Localization vs Internationalization?

Expanding into new markets gives you access to a broader audience, but it also comes with a variety of challenges. Preparing products, branding, customer service, and other aspects of your business for international audiences is a complex process that you need to master in order to appear to local consumers.

The acronym GILT stands for Globalization, Internationalization, Localization, and Translation. When a business wants to expand into a new location, they need to complete those four steps in order to produce content that’s relevant to the audience in the target region.

Most people are already familiar with translation, which simply refers to the process of converting text from one language to another. However, you might not be familiar with the distinctions between the other three.

Globalization, internationalization, localization—these concepts all sound similar. To make matters even more confusing, people often use them interchangeably. However, it’s important to understand the differences between them and how they work together to produce content that can be exported to a global market.

What Is Globalization?

The word globalization is used to describe any activity that brings the populations, cultures, and economies of different regions closer together. In a business context, such practices can encompass any element of operations that involves international markets such as product design, marketing, and sales. Here are some examples of globalization:

• Online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay enable consumers to purchase products from vendors located around the world. Even traditional brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart and Target often rely on supply chains that involve more than one country before reaching their final destination. For instance, consumer electronics are typically sourced from raw materials in India, manufactured in China, and then sold in the USA.

• McDonald’s and other multinational chains operate in many different countries and regions. Diners around the world are familiar with the company’s logo and other symbols, illustrating the success of their distinctive branding.

• Similarly, the instantly recognizable Nike swoosh transcends any individual language or culture. To help develop the brand, Nike partners with athletes in many different countries who are well-known in the target region.

What Are the Benefits of Globalization?

Globalization has been in motion for centuries, but air travel, the internet, and other modern technologies have connected the world economy more than ever before. In 2019, global GDP amounted to approximately US$87.55 trillion.

With that in mind, there has never been a better time to take a business worldwide. Expanding companies now have access to a global talent pool and an ever-increasing volume of data to help position their brand in a new market.

However, successful globalization requires a lot of preparation. Internationalization and localization are two of the most important aspects of globalization.

What Is Internationalization?

Sometimes abbreviated as “i18n,” internationalization refers to the process of making products and services more adaptable to easy localization. Internationalization is a key step for products that will be sold to consumers in many different countries. However, it doesn’t involve any actual translation.

• Example: IKEA streamlined its assembly instructions by using only illustrations and diagrams. This eliminates the need to translate text from a native language or even produce different sets of instructions for each region.

If you have content that does have to be translated, you should first internationalize the text by making it as culturally neutral as possible. Of course, this is easier said than done.

For instance, digital products bring several unique challenges to the internationalization process:

• Data encoding: ASCII encoding works for most Western European languages. However, languages like Chinese, Hindi, Korean, and Russian that use non-Latin alphabets need larger character encodings such as Unicode. Keep in mind that the same content may require a different number of letters depending on the language being used.

• Hardware support: Certain devices may not be popular or even widely available in every country. You’ll need to optimize your website or mobile app for new devices or operating systems in order to cater to your target locale.

• User interface: If a software application needs to be translated into new languages, the user interface needs to have enough space for every version of the text. You don’t want to have to go through the time-consuming process of adjusting the design, resource files, or other locale-specific components for each individual language.

• Customer service: When you start selling to consumers in new regions, you’ll need to offer customer service availability that makes sense for their time zones. If your company is based in Los Angeles, your usual business hours will be totally different compared to what European or Asian audiences expect from local companies. Remember that date and time formats also vary in different locations—the American DD/MM/YYYY system won’t be familiar to most foreign consumers.

Most business experts agree that marketers need to prepare their content in advance before initiating the localization process.

What Is Localization?

Localization is the practice of adapting a product or service to a specific target market. This typically takes place after a brand has prepared the content by making it more localizable.

Internationalization concentrates on developing a product that can easily be adapted for target audiences in many different countries. For example, you might make a text more multilingual by removing culturally specific references. On the other hand, localization takes the internationalized product and makes it as relevant as possible for a specific market.

When thinking about the difference between internationalization and localization, it’s crucial to understand that successful internationalization precedes successful localization. Let’s again use McDonald’s as an example.

With more than 30,000 restaurants in approximately 100 countries, McDonald’s is the epitome of globalization. Their product menu is designed to be adaptable to various local customs and tastes—this would be internationalization.

From there, McDonald’s also localizes their menu in order to cater to specific audiences. Here are just a few examples of their localization practices in different markets:

• Israel: McDonald’s serves up kosher food and drink, and their Israeli locations also close during the Jewish Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

• India: McDonald’s has implemented a meat-free menu in some of its Indian restaurants to serve the country’s large vegetarian population. Even at locations that serve meat, the local menu still caters to the portion of the Indian population that does not eat pork or beef.

In both of these cases, McDonald’s has managed to maintain its global brand identity while simultaneously customizing its products for various markets. This is a perfect example of localization.

Internationalization and Localization:
 How Is Localization Different from Translation?

Translation is the conversion of written text from one language to another. On the other hand, localization refers to the process of making a product or message resonate with a specific target culture – as if it were created there in the first place.

For most products, localization includes translation but goes far beyond it. Localization requires close attention to various cultural factors that go beyond the words used to describe a product. Here are some examples:

• When producing the film Inside Out, Pixar modified its animation for a scene in which a character points to a sign. In the Arabic version, the character motions from right to left instead of left to right. Arabic, Hebrew, and many other languages use a similar right-to-left system that may require special attention or even engineering changes.

• When people ask Siri for information, Apple’s virtual assistant automatically gives them a localized answer. Their software development ensures that an American user will always hear temperatures in Fahrenheit rather than Celsius. Users can also select a preferred accent—English speakers, for example, can choose between American, South African, and Australian.

Internationalization and Localization: Summary

Globalization refers to all the tasks involved in taking a business global.

Internationalization is how products, services, and internal operations are prepared for expansion into international markets.
Localization is the adaptation of a particular product or service to an individual market.

If you’re still reading, you’re probably thinking of expanding your brand to new regional markets. In that case, you need to understand that internationalization and localization are both critical for the international brand development process.

Localize has years of experience helping all types of businesses adapt content for international audiences. Contact us now to learn more about how our platform can help you establish your brand in new markets.

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