Internationalisation, localisation, and translation are three words that come up a lot when planning a project with global reach. Often used interchangeably, that mean different things and should be addressed at different points in your project.
I've written them in this order, as this is the way that they should be addressed in your project lifecycle: internationalisation, localisation, and then translation. But what do each of these really mean?
Often shortened to "i18n", internationalisation is the process of designing and developing a product, application, or document in a way that allows it to be easily adapted to various languages and regions without the need for extensive rewriting or development. This enables text, numbers, dates, and other data to be represented and handled consistently across different languages and locales. Internationalization is an important consideration for any product or service intended to be used by people in multiple countries or regions.
This is more than simply allowing languages and cultures in a CMS, it is about planning how your application(s) will handle localized data. Dates, timezones, numbers, and exchange rates all need to be considered to name a few, it's not just about text content.
For me, internationalization represents the planning and design of your project so that is able to provide translated and localized content so that information can be stored and displayed appropriately.
Localization is often shortened to "l10n" and is the process of adapting a product, application, or document to a specific locale or market. This typically involves translating the content into the local language and modifying any cultural references, currencies, units of measurement, date and time formats, and other elements to reflect the local conventions and customs.
Localization goes beyond simple translation and requires an understanding of the culture and needs of the target market in order to tailor the product or service to that market.
Localization is also the point where the internationalization work is validated. If your team have done well in the previous project phase, a minimal technical effort will be required when localizing your project.
Typically a project may need small modifications though, as new localized versions are created. This may be due to unexpected requirements such as right-to-left text for Arabic. If the visual designs don't cater for this, some rework will be required.
Localization can also highlight areas such as e-commerce and how prices, discounts, shipping, and tax for example might be impacted. Typically if a global presence is required there is a need to move away from a single price for a product and look at price lists instead.
Conversely, translation is the process of converting written text from one language to another. The translation is a key part of localization, but it is only one aspect. Localization involves much more than just translation and requires a broader understanding of the target market and its culture. It is important to remember that this is not just about content that your content editors will enter, but it also includes labels such as a 'Buy Now' button, alt text for images, images themselves, and so on.
In summary, internationalization is the process of designing a product or service for global use, localization is the process of adapting that product or service to a specific locale or market, and translation is the process of translating the text of the product or service into the local language.
A lot of time can be saved in planning when considering internationalization from the beginning and failure to plan correctly can lead to changes being needed in later project phases and new regional content needs to be added.