Localization vs Internationalization vs Globalization
As the value of globalization, internationalization, and localization becomes more and more recognized by global enterprises, many have begun to seriously evaluate the meaning behind these concepts. Despite this, even many companies that have been engaged in these operations for long periods of time may have difficulty distinguishing between them.
With this issue, we seek to better inform enterprises with a brief outline of these core LSP concepts from a professional perspective.
What does i18n(Internationalization) stand for?
Internationalization is the process of designing and preparing an app or product to be usable in different locales around the world. This ensures that products can be adapted at a rapid pace and low cost. It is the most commonly used in software development as software that has been properly internationalized can be introduced to a wide variety of locales without the need to modify any of the underlying code. Compared with localization, internationalization is more concerned with the global usability of the backend of a product or service.
Using software internationalization as an example, we can outline several key aspects：
Many traditional encoding standards can only be used with certain Latin alphabets. To ensure software compatibility with a large variety of different European and Asian languages, Unicode serves as an excellent choice.
The most important aspect of the interface design process is to ensuring adaptability with the differences between languages in areas such as text length. For example, East Asian languages can impart a lot of information with comparatively fewer words, while languages that use the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets tend to require much more space. As such, developers should ensure that enough space is available for languages from other locales during the UI design process.
The formatting and characteristics of data from various locales must also be taken into account to ensure that proper measures are in place. For example, the software must be properly configured to handle various time zones. Internationalized software typically uses an internal UTC clock, which is then converted to the user's specific time zone. Other examples include adding an optional international dialing code in front of phone numbers or supporting alphanumeric zip codes.
One of the most well-known successful cases of product internationalization is IKEA. In addition to utilizing international styles and designs, the company made the decision to write entirely pictographic manuals. This greatly saved on translation costs and created a smooth and uniform reading experience that suited all ages.
What does Localisation(l10n) mean?
Localization is the process of adapting a product or service to a specific locale. While it may seem like an inverse of internationalization at first glance, localization is, in fact, quite similar in its purpose of introducing a product or service to another part of the world. Where localization differs is that it focuses more on the level of implementation. For many large enterprises with mature global operations, localization and internationalization are two complementary processes. A product does not enter the localization stage until internationalization has been carried out on its core components and architecture.
The key aspects of localization are outlined below:
While we all know that the core of any localization process is translation, its success relies on many linguistic factors that go beyond a word-to-word conversion. For example, the reading order of various languages must be taken into consideration when designing the presentation of a product. When localizing a product or service to RTL (right-to-left) languages such as Arabic, Persian, or Hebrew, any design decisions must take RTL reading habits into account to ensure local users do not encounter any difficulties.
Cultural localization is another key consideration of any localization process. No product can succeed in a market without taking cultural considerations into account. For example, in the Chinese investment industry, red represents gains and development, while green represents losses and downturns — the exact opposite of Europe and America. As such, a European or American developer who attempted to port their wealth management app to China with the same green design is likely to be ignored. Other elements such as data, date, and currency formats also need to be taken into account.
Localizing the functions of a product itself can also have a significant impact on its success in any given market. Any app that enters China with support for Apple Pay, Visa, and Mastercard, but not AliPay, WeChat Pay, or UnionPay would lose most users during the payment process. Similarly, any app in the Western market that only supports sharing posts to Weibo or WeChat would not see much use, no matter how well designed it was.
Compliance procedures must also be carried out for the majority of products to ensure they are in line with the various standards and regulations of different locales. For example, the Hong Kong version of many products we use are equipped with UK three-pin plugs and require an adapter for us to use and various countries also have different voltage standards. As such, the localization of voltage standards and plug specifications is key to ensure product usability.
For example, even though Apple announced that they would no longer include a power adapter or their EarPods headphones with standard iPhone purchases, France became an exception with the release of the iPhone 12. This decision may seem strange at first, but it was required by French law, which stipulates that every smartphone sold must include a set of headphones (or a hands-free kit) to reduce EM radiation.
While globalization is considered synonymous with internationalization in many industries, on the technical level, the term encompasses both internationalization and localization.
In comparison to the previous two concepts, globalization refers to the interconnection and structure of comprehensive high-level processes, including product development, global marketing, after-sales support, and even international trade. Specific operations include the supply chain, channel partnerships, after-sales services, warehousing and logistics, franchising, compliance, customs, and much more. To put it another way, the purpose of globalization is to provide users from different regions a better customer experience.
Internationalization, localization, and globalization are all processes used to prepare, adjust, and optimize the products, services, and structures of a company expanding into global markets. By optimizing their products and services, enterprises can better adapt to the languages, cultures, habits, and technical standards of various locales, thereby providing an enhanced user experience. In the highly integrated world economy, enterprises with a strong foundation in globalization are better positioned to seize international markets. As such, there has been a renewed push from management to examine the role of language services.
With over 10 years of industry experience, the elite team at Maxsun offers a variety of professional language services to corporate clients, including translation and localization, technical writing, desktop publishing(DTP) solutions, copywriting, interpretation, subtitling, and dubbing. By helping companies navigate the hurdles of globalization, Maxsun delivers value through language. Please contact us if you wish to learn more.