i18n vs. L10n: Understanding the Differences Between the Two

The terms internationalization (i18n) and localization (L10n) are often mistakenly used interchangeably. This error is understandable as the two terms are related. They are both contractions that list the first and last letters of the original word and the number of letters between them. The similarities end there.

There are essential differences between the two terms, and it’s important to understand these if your organizational strategy includes operation on a global scale.

What Is i18n?

Internationalization is a set of processes that prepares a business or organization to do business globally. i18n can occur before your company ever does business in other countries or serves international customers. It simply sets the foundation for global expansion.

Why Is i18n Important?

We move in a global economy in which things are constantly changing. Therefore, businesses must not only be prepared to move into new markets but to do so quickly. Internationalization facilitates this.

Imagine that you are creating a shopping app for your eCommerce website. Your app developer and writers use dates formatted as “mm/dd/yyyy” and display prices in USD. 

If you move to other countries, that will have to be changed. This adaptation could add weeks to the project. You would then repeat it each time you started doing business in a new country.

Now, imagine that developers add placeholders instead of inputting and displaying that information manually. Then, pricing information, dates, and other data that may be location-dependent pull from a data file that corresponds with the user’s location information.

What Is L10n?

Localization is making your products, services, operations, and technologies compatible with the needs, expectations, and cultural values of a specific country or region. This work includes:

  • Modifying pictures displayed on a website to be culturally appropriate 
  • Adding new text to a product package so that it complies with local regulations
  • Using a different company mascot if your current one isn’t globally relatable 
  • Translating user manuals to a specific language or dialect

Localization is a process that applies to marketing, sales, QA, manufacturing, financing, and virtually every other business area.

Why Is L10n Important?

Active localization helps to ensure a business, school, or other organization will succeed in a new market. In addition, it makes an organization user-friendly to customers, employees, and business partners. 

When you deploy a successful L10n strategy, you show respect for the local culture and an understanding of the needs of the people who may interact with your business for any number of reasons.

The Difference Between i18n and L10n

Here are some illustrative examples of the critical differences between internationalization and localization:

Website Design

Designers can use i18n in website design to add flexibility that makes doing international business more manageable. For example, instead of hard-coding the heading in the HTML source code on your homepage to say, “Welcome to Business — North America!” you could replace that with a placeholder variable.

L10n comes into play when you begin serving customers in another country. Then, you add a new welcoming header to a data file. This header text is pulled in and displayed according to the visitor’s location information. Developers could apply the same concepts to software localization.

Content Marketing

Suppose that you’re changing your business model to expand internationally within the following year. You conduct a content audit of your company blog, web content, and marketing materials as part of that process. 

One of the tasks you undertake is to review content for slang, idioms, pop-culture references, and other items that might be very specific to your locale. Then, you remove these or replace them with more globally relatable content. That is i18n.

Localization is used in content marketing when you have a new group of target customers in another country or region. For example, you may replace references to holidays, celebrations, and events popular in your home country with those relevant in the new location.

Package Design

Companies can use internationalization in package design to ensure that it is easier to sell products in foreign markets while complying with applicable regulations. 

For example, a pharma company might produce medication packaged in a bottle with an expandable content label. This design would create additional room for future translations or further instructions or warnings.

In this case, localization would involve using that space to make that medication more accessible and safer for target customers in another country. For example, if the company began selling medicines in Canada, designers could use that extra-label space to add a French translation of any instructions or precautions.

i18n/L10n differences can be summarized quite simply. Internationalization sets the stage, and localization uses that foundation to reach new markets better.

What About i18n vs. L10N vs. g11n?

You’ve likely been introduced to globalization (g11n) if you explore i18n and L10n. Here, the difference is that globalization is the overall strategy behind creating a business that operates internationally. L10n and i18n are usually a part of a globalization strategy.

What Are i18n and L10n Testing?

Companies should incorporate testing into various phases of i18n and L10n. Generally, it is good to conduct tests to audit the quality and effectiveness of internationalization and localization. By performing these tests, you can catch potential issues early and get a better ROI out of your globalization strategy.

The Goals of Internationalization Testing

Most internationalization testing happens before products or services are released and processes implemented in a production environment. The primary purpose of this testing is to see how ready various elements are for use in multiple languages or cultures. 

For example, you might test a website by translating it into a language that reads from right to left. Then, you would verify that the text renders correctly and that user navigation still works.

The Goals of Localization Testing

Localization testing aims to ensure that a product is suitable for use within a specific location. For example, you would want to verify that the correct virtual keyboard comes up for a user in Taiwan vs. a user in the United States.

Final Thoughts on i18n and L10n

Any leaders at an international business must understand the differences between i18n vs. L10n. This understanding is the key to more effective efforts to reach customers in new markets and increase revenue.

Internationalization is always a great place to start. It truly sets the foundation, and Lingoport can help. Download our get-started guide to i18n today.

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