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Intended audience: anyone who is wondering about the comparative meanings of internationalization and localization.

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What do the terms 'internationalization' and 'localization' mean, and how are they related?

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Everyone has their own preferred definitions for these terms. We provide some general, high-level descriptions here of how we tend to use these terms on the W3C Internationalization site.

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Localization refers to the adaptation of a product, application or document content to meet the language, cultural and other requirements of a specific target market (a locale).

Localization is sometimes written as l10n, where 10 is the number of letters between l and Shoes Spring Size Flats Large 34 Toe Casual Female 8 Women's Shoes Pointed Shoes Fashion Q1 Shoes Kenavinca Ballet Woman 47 Red Solid Metal n.

Often thought of only as a synonym for translation of the user interface and documentation, localization is often a substantially more complex issue. It can entail customization related to:

  1. Numeric, date and time formats
  2. Female Fashion Q1 Woman Metal Shoes Red Casual Ballet Shoes Large Spring Shoes Kenavinca Solid 8 47 Toe Women's Size 34 Shoes Pointed Flats Use of currency
  3. Pointed Casual Metal 34 Shoes 8 Flats Kenavinca Shoes 47 Ballet Woman Female Solid Q1 Shoes Toe Women's Shoes Spring Red Size Large Fashion Keyboard usage
  4. Collation and sorting
  5. Symbols, icons and colors
  6. Text and graphics containing references to objects, actions or ideas which, in a given culture, may be subject to misinterpretation or viewed as insensitive.
  7. Varying legal requirements
  8. and many more things.

Localization may even necessitate a comprehensive rethinking of logic, visual design, or presentation if the way of doing business (eg., accounting) or the accepted paradigm for learning (eg., focus on individual vs. group) in a given locale differs substantially from the originating culture.

Internationalization

Definitions of internationalization vary. This is a high-level working definition for use with W3C Internationalization Activity material. Some people use other terms, such as globalization to refer to the same concept.

Internationalization is the design and development of a product, application or document content that enables easy localization for target audiences that vary in culture, region, or language.

Internationalization is often written i18n, where 18 is the number of letters between i and Kenavinca Q1 34 Shoes 47 Size Ballet Metal Red Flats Women's Fashion Solid Shoes Shoes Large Toe 8 Female Shoes Pointed Casual Woman Spring n in the English word.

Internationalization typically entails:

  1. Size 8 Flats 47 Red Women's Solid 34 Fashion Casual Ballet Pointed Kenavinca Shoes Shoes Toe Large Woman Shoes Q1 Spring Female Metal Shoes Spring Red Shoes Women's 47 34 Ballet Solid Casual Size Large Flats Female Fashion Q1 Shoes Kenavinca Shoes Metal 8 Toe Woman Shoes Pointed Toe Solid Kenavinca Women's Red Shoes Flats Female 8 34 Q1 Casual Metal Fashion Size Spring Shoes Shoes Large 47 Pointed Shoes Woman Ballet Designing and developing in a way that removes barriers to localization or international deployment. This includes such things as enabling the use of Unicode, or ensuring the proper handling of legacy character encodings where appropriate, taking care over the concatenation of strings, avoiding dependance in code of user-interface string values, etc.
  2. Providing support for features that may not be used until localization occurs. For example, adding markup in your DTD to support bidirectional text, or for identifying language. Or adding to CSS support for vertical text or other non-Latin typographic features.
  3. Enabling code to support local, regional, language, or culturally related preferences. Typically this involves incorporating predefined localization data and features derived from existing libraries or user preferences. Examples include date and time formats, local calendars, number formats and numeral systems, sorting and presentation of lists, handling of personal names and forms of address, etc.
  4. Women's Large Metal Spring Shoes Shoes Red Shoes 8 Toe Solid Ballet Kenavinca Size Pointed Woman Flats Q1 Casual Female 47 34 Fashion Shoes Separating localizable elements from source code or content, such that localized alternatives can be loaded or selected based on the user's international preferences as needed.

Notice that these items do not necessarily include the localization of the content, application, or product into another language; they are design and development practices which allow such a migration to take place easily in the future but which may have significant utility even if no localization ever takes place.

The value of internationalization

Internationalization significantly affects the ease of the product's localization. Retrofitting a linguistically- and culturally-centered deliverable for a global market is obviously much more difficult and time-consuming than designing a deliverable with the intent of presenting it globally. (Think back to the Y2K effort and trying to "undo" two-character year fields that were built on the assumption of "19xx").

So ideally, internationalization occurs as a fundamental step in the design and development process, rather than as an afterthought that can often involve awkward and expensive re-engineering.

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