You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s not the destination but the journey that matters.” As technology continues to shrink our world and expand our possibilities, the journey becomes more and more important. We can already reach the other side of the world in a virtual instant, but what are we going to do with that opportunity?
When you’re considering localization vs internationalization for your business, it’s a mistake to think of them as destinations along your global marketing trajectory. They are dynamic and integral elements of your ongoing round-the-world journey. Both localization and internationalization are indispensable for your product’s success in international markets, and they work together closely in your company’s strategy, now and into the future. Rather than endeavor to tell them apart, let’s instead explore their interplay that is most important to understand as you charge forward.
Localization vs Internationalization—Break Down the Walls
Localization is the transformation of content to look and feel natural to local users around the world. Translation is part of the localization process, but it goes far beyond that in its efforts to appeal to the target market. Localization may be a combination of approaches—translating content, tailoring your product line, and setting up the systems, such as accepting payments—that make marketing possible in a foreign market.
Internationalization is a set of methodologies and best practices in product design and software development that facilitate localization. It’s a technical process that is informed by localization. For example, it’s critical to facilitate local adaptation for time and date formats, text directionality, and text expansion. Without these preparatory steps, translation may not go very far.
Together, internationalization and localization bring about several desirable outcomes:
Sturdy systems architecture
When internationalization is a fundamental strategy from the onset, it guides crucial decision making, such as picking a CMS with tools to manage a variety of content streams and making sure all your tools and software can talk to each other. Not to mention, internationalization ensures that your product is sturdy and versatile to facilitate diverse language formats. Likewise, localization needs a platform that is flexible and scalable enough to host all of your stakeholders and indefinite growth. The ideal scenario is when these various systems integrate seamlessly together and management is largely automated.
Flexible UI availability and database design
A large part of initial internationalization is making sure you are prepared to handle all languages effectively. Anticipate that some language translations will take up much more space than your source language does; anticipate double-byte characters and RTL languages. Be prepared to adapt your product to situations that are unfamiliar.
Japanese users of a localized app, for example, should be able to input their addresses in the unique Japanese format. Russian users expect to provide their patronymics with their contact information and will notice if you do not ask for them. Asking a Russian user for their patronymics is an aspect of localization. But internationalization must first ensure that the UI and database are set up to collect that unique information.
Internationalization prepares your product to be globally functional and relevant. When localization and translation take place, they won’t break your interface or render it incoherent.
Internationalization lays the foundation for certain critical capabilities, often before you need them. Planning ahead for localization in the ways we’ve already talked about can save serious time and money down the road. If you skip the early steps, you may find, in the rush to localize, that your German translation is way too big to fit on the screen, Japanese users have no way to input their correct addresses and actually make purchases, and the UI cannot properly display Arabic characters. Retrospective internationalization is complicated and laborious. The additional expenses and delays can very quickly add up.
The need for internationalization continues as long as localization does. Hence, you need a long-term approach so that your teams are ready and able to work together on internationalization and localization projects. And it’s never too early to get started.
Localization vs Internationalization: Get the Best Outcome
It’s good to break it down so we can understand the next steps clearly. But the reality is that localization and internationalization are particularly complicated. You must have a comprehensive understanding of your markets around the world—at least, someone on your team needs to. You need to be able to anticipate problems before they arise, adapt to cultural surprises, rely on sophisticated systems for automation. We’re not just talking about a one-time translation. Any updates will need to be rolled out across all of your localized products, and the day will come when you’ll want to expand into even more foreign markets.
You need a guide and a partner on this journey full of twists and tongues. Internationalization and localization are your new frontier. Make sure you’re always ready to say, “Yes,” to what lies ahead.
Bureau Works can help your startup master the constantly evolving processes of internationalization vs localization. Our services include translation, quality management, and automated API/CLI integration to create efficient workflows. Contact our team to find out how you can harness our technology for your localization journey.