What is internationalization?

What is internationalization?

Internationalization can also be referred to as “i18N”. This is simply a short form of writing it out, indicating that there are 18 letters between the first and last letters, “I” and “N”. Internationalization can be defined as a design process that ensures a product, usually a software application, can be adapted to various languages and regions without requiring engineering changes to the source code.

Another definition of internationalization is the planning and implementation of products and services in a manner that makes them conducive to localization – the process of adapting to specific local languages and cultures. In essence, it is the groundwork laid that ensures your products’ “readiness” for localization. It is important to realize that if you start localization and your product is not internationalized, you may encounter significant schedule delays and increased costs.

Often the term internationalization is used interchangeably with localization and globalization, as people think they are synonymous. As we have already defined internationalization, we will now define localization and globalization, and then compare them both to internationalization.

What is localization?

Localization is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market. Translation is one of several components in the localization process. It gives a product the look and feel that it was created specifically for a target market, no matter their language, culture or location.

Internationalization vs. localization

The primary task of internationalization is preparing the encoded scheme, while the primary task of localization is translating the elements and documents. Internationalization allows for easy localization in the future, since localization of code such as dates, currencies, or specialized language characters is dependent on internationalization being performed initially.

What is globalization?

Globalization is the process of integrating a country’s culture and policies with the rest of the world. It is natural for different cultures to have different viewpoints and practices; however, conditions around the world have evolved to where peoples and countries are beginning to have similarities in their ways of thinking and behaving. The world is shrinking because of faster and more efficient modes of transportation and communication.

Internationalization vs. globalization

Globalization increases interdependence of countries, whereas internationalization retains a country’s identity.
Globalization is inevitable with fast modes of transport and communication, whereas internationalization is voluntary and needs-based.

Why do firms internationalize?

Taking the time to internationalize can save significant time, expense and headaches for everyone involved by ensuring your product will work in your target market(s) without endless bug-fixing and re-engineering in the post-localization phases.

Some benefits of internationalization include:

  1. Easier adaptation of software applications (or other content) to multiple locales
  2. Reduced time and cost for localization
  3. Single, international source code for all versions of the product
  4. Simpler maintenance
  5. Improved quality and code architecture
  6. Reduced overall cost of ownership of the multiple versions of the product
  7. Adherence to international standards

When should the internationalization process be implemented?

It is important to consider the various markets that a product will target and make the necessary adaptations early in the product design and development stages. Some key areas addressed during i18n include number, date and currency formats, multi-byte character support (Asian languages), and bi-directional or right-to-left support for Arabic & Hebrew locales.

The internationalization process should be performed if you are:

  1. Launching your product/service globally for the first time
  2. Currently in the design phase for a new product/service and you want to ensure it will work globally
  3. Looking to expand your product/service into new markets

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