What Is Internationalization or I18n?
Internationalization is the framework of the new market strategy, while localization is a component of that strategy.

The term “internationalization” means different things to different people. That’s why no single unified definition of the term exists. A developer, for example, would define it as it relates to the process of localization. A C-suite executive, on the other hand, would probably talk about its impact on business strategy and revenues. So when asking the question, “what is internationalization?” you should probably be prepared for a diverse set of answers.

Generally, internationalization is the framework of the new market strategy, while localization is a component of that strategy. Since it covers such a broad spectrum of globalization—for everything from product design to migrating the entire content ecosystem—most organizations define the term in their own way. However, there is one commonality among all definitions: localization will always be a crucial component of the internationalization strategy.

What Is Internationalization and How Does Localization Fit In?

In industry speak, internationalization is often referred to as “i18n,” while localization is “l10n.” The “18” in i18n refers to the 18 letters between the first “i” and the last “n” in the term internationalization. Likewise, the “10” in l10n refers to the 10 letters between the first “l” and the last “n” in the term localization.

To summarize, i18n focuses on the design strategy for new market entry—preparing the product’s adaptability to multilingual audiences. Here are a few examples of strategies that fall under internationalization:

  • Choosing the timing of the rollout for new markets: Will you start in English and add one language at a time, or do you intend to roll out into multiple foreign markets at the same time?
  • Building an adaptable design: From a user experience concern, are your text boxes designed to be flexible so they can expand for languages that demand more real estate?
  • Reviewing the brand voice: Will your brand’s message resonate with all audiences, or will it require updating?
  • Evaluating tone: Is your written content capable of adapting to new languages, or does it possess slang and idioms that won’t easily translate?
  • Completing a code audit: Is your code enabled to support regional preferences from the start, or will it require updates?

These are all proactive strategies that often begin before you even choose which new market to enter; they center on preparing for the localization process. On the other hand, l10n involves the steps you’ll take to adapt that product for the market you’ve chosen, such as translating strings, setting up in-market reviews, and completing research.

Companies often approach l10n first without realizing they need a broader strategy. This often results in a struggle to manage the task effectively, as well as a lack in the returns expected. Any good l10n plan starts with a well-established i18n framework.

Preparing for Internationalization

I18n is often used interchangeably with globalization because both strategies share a common philosophy—to keep it simple. For example, start with analyzing your content’s original English version. Avoiding the use of idioms, slang, or pithy tones can make the translation much more straightforward, thereby eliminating many of the potential issues that could arise with localization.

The simplicity of code is another crucial factor to consider. Create code that is easily adaptable and includes the right variables for phrases that will need to change with the market, like currency notations or date formats. Since the translators often only see the strings and not the product itself, context is crucial. Developers can bridge the gap by attaching comments that explain what the strings refer to. This method eliminates uncertainty at a code level to limit consequential misunderstandings in translation.

Straightforward tests using machine-translated content can also help in instances where developers want to test their code to see if it’s localization friendly. They can do a quick run of their app or product in a foreign language to check for things like spacing or if the text boxes need expansion. It’s an excellent way to proactively eliminate issues early on.

Orchestrating all this preparation can be tricky, as it requires extensive collaboration among linguists, developers, project managers, and other team members. If this is an obstacle you predict you’ll find yourself running into, you can also simplify your project by leveraging a reliable localization management platform that will help you control the workflow of disparate departments. A top-notch program will allow linguists and coders to view projects as they are in progress and communicate freely in a single space. It will also enable individuals to preview text so they can grasp the essential context they’ll need to make the right translation decisions. I18n involves multiple moving parts, so having a centralized location that provides end-to-end management is invaluable.

“What is internationalization?” is a question that has many answers, but the simplest one is it’s your starting foundation to ensuring that your product design can stand up to the entire translation process. This type of proactive planning will help you speed your entry to new markets and maximize the return on investment (ROI) of your project.

Bureau Works offers a platform that allows you to manage your internationalization strategy and improve the results of your localization. For more details on our solutions or what internationalization is, contact our team.

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