Internationalization: What Is It and Why Is It Important for Companies?

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If you have decided to expand the global reach of your software product, you are probably aware that you need to cater to the needs of users with various cultural backgrounds and who speak different languages. This means that you have likely encountered terms like translation, localization, transcreation, and internationalization.

With all these terms, it’s easy to confuse them and decide when to use which. In this post, we’re talking about internationalization, how it is different from localization, and why it is important if you want to grow your business internationally. 

What is Internationalization?

Internationalization, sometimes abbreviated as “i18n” (“i” – eighteen letters – “n”), is the process of planning and implementing a product in such a way that it is readily adaptable to different cultures and languages. Internationalization can include:

  • Using developer tools that support multinational character sets. For instance, think about data encoding. For the majority of Western European languages, using the ASCII character encoding is enough. However, if you intend to localize your website to non-Latin alphabets such as Chinese or Russian, you should use Unicode, which supports the majority of languages.
  • Planning additional space in the UI from the beginning to make it simpler to translate into languages that need more characters.
  • Using written examples with global meaning.
  • Ensuring sufficient data space during software development to enable the translation of messages from languages using single-byte character codes to those requiring multiple-byte character codes.

Difference Between Localization and Internationalization

Internationalization and localization are two steps in the process of creating multilingual software.

Internationalization is the process of planning and building your software or mobile application with localization in mind, i.e. making it ready for adaptation to different cultures, regions, and languages. Localization, on the other hand, is the actual adaptation process by which your web or mobile application is modified to accomodate each market’s unique linguistic, cultural, and other requirements. 

Internationalization is essentially a preparatory stage before starting the localization process. Because it makes localization easier to implement in the latter phases, internationalization is also often referred to as translation or localization enablement.

Internationalization makes it easier to build your product with future languages and cultures in mind. It involves neutralizing the code, design, and content so that future cultural adaptations of your product won’t necessitate a total re-engineering down the road. 

Internationalization is usually followed by localization. However, in addition to adapting your product to a particular region, the process of localization can also highlight any terms, phrases, or UI components that haven’t been properly internationalized.

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What Are the Benefits of Internationalization 

Simply put, developing an internationalization plan early on makes localization for target populations later much simpler. There are numerous immediate and long-term advantages of internationalization, such as:

  • Time savings. Internationalization lays the foundation for localization so you don’t have to start from scratch when you want to reach new markets, decreasing time-to-market and assisting your company to be more agile and get an advantage over the competition.
  • Cost savings. Even though developing an internationalization strategy may require a certain investment at the beginning, it can pay off in the long run. By foreseeing and dealing with future concerns like bug fixing or restructuring your source code, you may prevent dealing with pricey last-minute alterations during the localization stage. 
  • Identification of issues. Internationalization enables you to see several steps ahead in the growth of your company regardless of any obstacles, whether technical, legal or otherwise.

Here is a simple example that highlights how important software internationalization is from the outset: Since not all languages read left to right, your design needs to be adaptable enough to account for these variances if you intend to localize content into languages like Hebrew or Arabic, which read from right to left.

Final Thoughts

There you have it: now you understand what the term “i18n” means, how internationalization differs from localization, and why it is so important for companies. To sum it all up, localization is significantly simpler, quicker, and more affordable with internationalization in place. 

If you aim for global expansion, be sure to consider internationalization as a highly advised preparatory stage before localization. Combining the two and using a reliable localization solution, it will be much easier to adapt your product to international target audiences.

Images from Unsplash

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