What Is i18n?

What Is i18n?

Let’s say you land a new contract with a company in Japan, or your management team is looking to make an aggressive push into the EU. The

Let’s say you land a new contract with a company in Japan, or your management team is looking to make an aggressive push into the EU. Internationalizing your software is the path towards meeting the needs and expectations of local users in those markets.

Language, culture, social references, and anything else that defines a group can all come into play when preparing your software for a new market. Assuming everyone speaks English so there isn’t any need to adapt your software for specific locales is a sure fire way to set yourself up for failure. Users want to feel like software was written for them, and giving them a first class experience where everything feels native does exactly that.

With some 1.5 billion English speakers in the world, according to data from Statista, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking everyone knows the language, so why bother supporting any other? The answer is that people prefer reading and interacting in their native language and dialect. Of those 1.5 billion English speakers, for example, PopulationU reports only 231 million live in the United States and 60 million live in the UK. There are spelling, grammar, punctuation, number formatting, and even word differences between the two. There are also 1.1 billion people speaking Mandarin Chinese, 602 million Hindi speakers, and 548 million who speak Spanish.

Since coding unique software versions for individual markets is impractical and cost prohibitive, developers rely on internationalization to make it easier to support multiple languages and locales with a single code base. Developing software with internationalization in mind makes it much more cost effective to support multiple languages, saves time during the development process, and makes it easier to add support for additional regions later.

What is i18n?

Internationalization (i18n) is the process of preparing software to support local languages and cultural settings. An internationalized product supports the requirements of local markets around the world, functioning more appropriately based on local norms, and better meeting in-country user expectations.

Internationalizing includes several aspects such as:

  • Developing software to be independent from a specific language or limiting character set, cultural conventions, and formatting standards such as date and time display, addresses, and numbers
  • Locale Frameworks
  • Achieving Unicode compliance
  • Elimination of hard-coded text strings in code
  • Removal and reworking of concatenated strings
  • Support for data collation
  • Support for bi-directional languages, such as Hebrew and Arabic
  • Application and market-specific issues, and more

Benefits of software-based i18n include:

  • Higher quality software that meets the technical and cultural needs of multiple locales
  • Reduced time, cost, and effort for localization
  • Single source code for all languages of the product
  • Simpler, easier maintenance for future iterations of the product
  • Greater in-country customer acceptance and satisfaction

What is L10n?

I18n is often misrepresented as Localization (L10n), and sometimes even Translation. I18n is product development-focused so a single software code base is capable of supporting worldwide languages and locale-specific formatting and behaviors. It’s a critical and sometimes underestimated step needed for successful and scalable L10n. Conversely, localization makes a product specific to a target market or region by translating the interface, adapting terminologies, adopting correct content formats, and more.

Releasing software that hasn’t been properly internationalized can lead to many problems, such as a lack of market acceptance, interfaces that are difficult to use, and even lost customers. Addressing and fixing i18n bugs after product release results in additional costs, time, resources, and a potentially damaged reputation in local markets. Retrofitting a product for a global market after release, instead of internationalizing during development, can be time-consuming and costly, and gives alternative products a competitive advantage.

You can learn more about the value of i18n support for your software by watching our Product Internationalization: The Pursuit for Cultural Adaptation (and happiness!) presentation.

Continuous Internationalization and Localization

Agile development has altered i18n and L10n tasks dramatically now that software changes are coming faster, but in smaller increments. It’s easy for i18n and L10n to fall behind. It’s also often not apparent to developers when internationalization-related problems crop up in their code because the scope of i18n is so broad. There are also QA challenges, and L10n is full of management and manual task overhead as files are moved around and updated. All of those issues can be addressed by systematically and continuously integrating i18n and L10n with agile teams, instead of hoping to find and fix issues in QA cycles after the developers have moved on to another sprint.

Integrating i18n and L10n as part of the agile development process gives software companies the biggest globalization efficiency gains. The key here is automation. Not necessarily through machine translation, but by managing legacy and new development for i18n issues, and moving files for localization from the build to the translator and back again in a very visible and verified manner. To do this, we automatically monitor software code repositories for i18n and L10n changes along with issues and violations. As you add and update features and locales to your software, you’re working with an automated framework for faster and trouble-free global releases. You can learn more in our Continuous Globalization whitepaper.

Continuous i18n and L10n features include:

  • Visibility: Dashboard measurement and drill-down of i18n and L10n violations and changes via static analysis of source code repositories, including tools for fixing problems early during development.
  • Automation: i18n support in the developer’s integrated development environment (IDE) during check-in, and regularly run on targeted source code. Automated analysis, verification, and exchanging of localization resource files from the build to translation (or translation management technologies), and back again to the build for staging and linguistic QA.
  • Metrics: Tracking progress, coding quality, translation timing and more, so that you can plan and improve.
  • Integration: Integration with the tools you’re already using, such as a Translation Management System (TMS), and Slack for communication.

Why Continuous i18n and L10n are Important

In practice, most software development endeavors treat localization as a delayed and often manually managed process, outside of ongoing sprints and releases. This is contrary to agile and good software development management practices.

There are all kinds of “bookkeeping” issues around managing what’s changed, finding missing files, handing off content for localization, and then putting it back in the source code. By its nature, this delays the process, lends itself to handling errors later when the teams have moved on, shortchanges QA efforts, and delays localized releases. It’s costing you time, headcount, and cleanup, and impacts your company’s global imperatives. Continuous i18n and L10n is simply a much more effective strategy.

Case Studies: Solving i18n Problems as a Team

Sometimes companies need some help to add or improve internationalization support for their products. Failing to address i18n bugs and issues, or to add support for your international markets, creates a poor user experience and opens a door for computers to step in and take your customers. With the help of the right internationalization partner, however, those are issues companies can overcome. These cases show how partnering with a team that has the expertise and the right tools can turn i18n and L10n issues into success stories.

Upwork: Adding i18n to Existing Software

The freelance staffing company Upwork was ready to expand its platform with localized language support for more than 100 countries, but hadn’t internationalized their software yet. Their developer teams weren’t experienced in coding for i18n, plus they were already busy with hundreds of projects and dealing with multiple technologies like database repositories, Node, and templating languages. The localization launch date was quickly approaching without their software ready to go. It was a perfect setup for failure.

Upwork turned to Lingoport for support and quickly jumped into a two-phase plan to get on track. Lingoport stepped in with a team of architects, developers, and QA specialists who used Globalyzer to find and track i18n issues in the software, fixed related database issues, and integrated Localyzer to manage content localization as coding progressed. In the second phase, Lingoport developed company-specific internationalization coding guidelines for the company, provided i18n and Globalyzer training, and offered ongoing support.

The end result saw Upwork launch their localized software versions on schedule, and they were well prepared to ensure future software updates were i18n-compliant, too. The company was able to avoid lengthy and expensive delays, give their users a first class experience in multiple languages, and create opportunities to grow their loyal customer base in more than 100 countries.

Snap: Overcoming an Internationalization Bug Backlog

Snap, the company behind the visual messaging app Snapchat and other apps, was facing a growing list of unresolved internationalization bugs in their software, and wasn’t skilled in dealing with complex i18n issues like rendering for right to left-reading languages. With many of the bugs left unaddressed for an extended period of time and more piling up, users were left frustrated and unhappy, potentially damaging the company’s reputation and driving customers away.

Lingoport helped by conducting an i18n gap analysis and developing a plan to address the issues they found. They also used their internationalization expertise to fix the complex issues the Snap team wasn’t able to handle, cataloged i18n bugs with Globalyzer so developer teams knew what needed to be addressed, and integrated Localyzer to automate the round trip process of sending resources to translation specialists and adding those resources back into the code repository when they were returned.

With Lingoport’s experts supplementing the developer team, Snap was able to clear the backlog of i18n bugs and complex issues. With the additional training Lingoport provided, they’re able to properly support i18n in their products moving forward, and were able to resolve issues that could’ve led to lost users and lost revenue.

Lingoport’s Market-Leading i18n Software and Services

Lingoport is the premier i18n software and services company. If you’re looking for internationalization tools, i18n assessments, consulting, or implementation services, explore our products and contact us at any time.

  • Lingoport Globalyzer: Find and fix i18n bugs. Lingoport Globalyzer is your operating system for exceptional global software. Avoid rework. Find and fix i18n issues as the code is written. Default rules and machine learning pinpoint existing i18n issues in source code for a wide variety of programming languages and database scripts. Improve your agile software development for global markets with Lingoport’s flagship i18n software.
  • Lingoport Localyzer: Automate change detection and export/import resource files for localization. Eliminate error-prone, manual processes and save thousands of hours of engineering time. Synchronize localization with development, and connect with leading TMS platforms, machine translation, and localization vendors.
  • Lingoport LocalyzerQA: Give your translators context so they can provide better accuracy. Simplify linguistic quality reviews. Supports leading TMSs and Trados. Translation updates are fast and simple, saving time and money.
  • Lingoport Localyzer Express Suite: Continuous internationalization and localization in a simple solution that connects to GitHub. With Globalyzer i18n Express, Localyzer Express, and LocalyzerQA, you get i18n static analysis, always-on machine translation, translation review, support for 71 languages, and more in a package to fit any budget.
  • Lingoport i18n Services: Benefit from our 22 years of experience. Enjoy expert teams for software i18n assessment, planning and implementation.

Internationalization is Good Business

Internationalization is more than preparing software for language translation. It’s a process for ensuring your software is designed to support the unique formatting needs, numbers, currencies, dates, and also local languages in a way that feels as if it was coded for each locale. It’s also the framework for offering users the best possible experience regardless of where they live.

Supporting i18n makes the localization process easier and more efficient, saving time and reducing costs. Adding new features is smoother, too, since internationalization is already in place and part of your developer team’s best practices.

Coding with internationalization in mind also prepares companies that aren’t ready to expand into new markets today to make that move more easily when the time comes. Including i18n support in your code — whether it’s a new project, or an update in anticipation of moving into different markets — is good business. The investment you make today will pay off by streamlining localization and reducing related bugs, creating a more efficient update process, and opening the doors for faster expansion into new markets.

Related Posts

Globalization Resources