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Internationalization, Localization, or Globalization?

There are three key concepts used to discuss the expansion of an enterprise into foreign markets. Internationalization. Localization. Globalization. Defining these concepts clearly makes it easier to develop a successful strategy for expansion.

The relationship of these terms is this: internationalization and localization of a company or product are the first and second major steps one must implement for successful globalization. These lengthy words are often abbreviated as I18n, L10n, and G11n, respectively. All are essential to marketing your product in other countries.

Let’s start, as you must in real life, with internationalization. I18n refers to the preparation of a product and its branding for any potential country you may want to market it in, no matter the culture or language. You want to work that adaptability into your product’s programming, branding, packaging, website, and every other element that may need adjustment in order to resonate with a new audience. If you can do this before you ever start trying to sell in a foreign country, then you won’t need to consider a total redesign when you get to the stage of actually expanding. It’s a lot cheaper to prepare than to re-do.

Internationalization entails elements like:

1. Designing and developing your product and marketing in a way that removes barriers to localization or international deployment.
2. Providing support for features that may not be used until localization occurs, such as preparing for bidirectional text or other non-Latin typographic features.
3. Enabling code to support local, regional, language, or culturally related preferences.*

Once you have internationalized and decided which countries you want to sell your product in, the next step is localization. To localize your product is to actually make those changes necessary to meet your target audience precisely where they are – in their own landscape, culture, language, and legal system. Many small details will change during this phase, like currency, time, and symbols. But localization also involves larger changes, such as new color schemes, music, product names, software programming, and sometimes even re-imagined branding concepts. And of course, culturally sensitive language translation is part of this step.


Internationalization and localization have been done to fulfill globalization, which may be defined as the expansion of a business or organization to include the needs, interests, and characteristics of people from around the world. Economies and legal systems of different countries become entwined to some extent, and all parties have an impact on one another. Globalization relies upon interconnection, learning, understanding, and adaptation, among the people of multiple countries.

This is how experienced language service providers have come to serve such a vital role in 21st century globalization. Their knowledge of languages and cultures literally knits together the needs of people around the world with the offerings of global enterprises.


*Some of the information and language here comes from the organization called W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web. For more information, go to W3.org.