What are localization and globalization

Localization, globalization and internationalization: what's the difference?

Today the whole world is open to us. With the help of the smartphone, we can contact people on the other side of the globe at any time, make new friends and communicate in different languages. More immigrants and travelers than ever are crossing borders in search of new opportunities and experiences. And nowadays, information and knowledge can be easily exchanged and disseminated via the Internet. The whole world is global.

Companies from different regions and industries are constantly confronted with the opportunities and challenges of an increasingly networked world. Researchers summarize the activities of companies expanding into other countries under the acronym APPLIES together - globalization, internationalization, localization and translation. The term “translation” is the easiest to understand. This is the process of translating text from one language to another. But how do the other three differ?

Localization, globalization and internationalization - they all sound very similar and in fact the terms are often used interchangeably. But there are important differences and any company that wants to build a global presence needs to understand those differences and the benefits of globalization. This is the only way to ensure that a brand's message reaches the world.

In this article, we discuss the similarities and differences between globalization, internationalization, and localization. We also look at what solutions are available for the respective weak points.

What does globalization mean?

You will hardly find a clear, universal definition of globalization. The term “globalization” describes an activity that brings people, cultures and economies of different countries closer together.

In the business world, “globalization” (sometimes referred to as “building a global presence”) is a collection of processes that bring organizations and their worldwide customers and partners closer together.

Globalization: a few examples

Does all this still sound a bit vague to your ears? Here are some examples of globalization from the business world:

  • Numerous products from companies or people from all over the world are offered on online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon. Even products that are sold in traditional stores like Media Markt stop in several countries before they finally reach their destination. For example, the raw materials for electronic devices often come from India. The devices are then assembled in China before they are finally sold in Germany.

  • Many large restaurant chains such as McDonald’s are active in dozens of countries. McDonald’s has franchises in over 100 countries - the brand and logo are known all over the world.

  • Netflix is ​​available in over 190 countries and the streaming provider tailors content for each market using subtitles and programming in local languages.

  • Nike's unmistakable “Swoosh” logo is understood in many cultures and languages. Nike has partnered with athletes who play different sports in different countries. These then act as ambassadors for global expansion.

In general, the term “globalization” refers to a process or activity related to being present in different national markets, from product design to marketing.

Globalization has many advantages not only for businesses, but also for consumers. Global networking has driven the global economy forward in the last few decades: the global gross national product rose from USD 50 trillion in 2000 to USD 75 trillion in 2016. Globalization goes hand in hand with the most disruptive advances of the 20th century, such as international air travel and the Internet.

Localization and internationalization are both aspects of globalization. In the next two sections, we'll look at the differences between globalization, localization, and internationalization.

What does internationalization mean?

Internationalization is a corporate strategy in which products and services are designed as flexibly as possible so that they can be easily adapted to different markets. Internationalization often requires the support of subject matter experts, technical experts and people with international experience. Industry experts like to shorten the term “internationalization” to “i18n” (18 is the number of characters between the “I” and the “N” of the English word “internationalization”).

Products that are intended for people with different mother tongues usually go through an internationalization process. For example, IKEA is internationalizing assembly instructions for furniture by using only diagrams and illustrations - no texts that have to be translated. Products with instructions that need to be translated are often written as culturally neutral as possible. Of course, that's easier said than done.

In the case of software products and electronic devices, there are a number of things to consider when it comes to internationalization:

  • Data coding: The ASCII character coding is sufficient for texts in most Western European languages. Languages ​​that do not use the Latin alphabet (such as Russian, Chinese, Hindi, and Korean), however, require larger character encodings such as Unicode.

  • Hardware support: Software designers need to take into account that certain hardware devices are not available in all countries.

  • User interface: When translating a software application into multiple languages, the user interface must be large enough for text in all of those languages.

In general, it is said that companies must internationalize before they can localize a product. In the next section, we'll look at the differences between internationalization and localization.

What does localization mean?

If we want to define localization, we must first understand that internationalization makes a product more flexible and can be tailored to the requirements of target groups in different countries. Localization, on the other hand, is the process in which the product is adapted to specific target markets after internationalization.

As I said, McDonald’s operates over 30,000 restaurants in 100 countries. The company's global expansion is an example of Globalization. The group is developing a menu that can be adapted to different local tastes and customs - an example of Internationalization.

Many of the McDonald’s restaurants in Israel serve kosher food and drinks and close on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. McDonald’s has also opened a meat-free restaurant in India, a country where a large proportion of the population does not eat beef or pork. In both cases, McDonald's has retained its global brand identity, but tailored its products and services to local markets. These are two examples of the Localization.

How is localization different from translation?

Much of the localization, of course, revolves around language. translation and Localization are two closely related concepts. For most products, translation is part of localization. There are several factors to consider in localization that go beyond the words a company uses to describe or explain a product.

For the movie Everything is upside down For example, Pixar adapted the animations: There are several versions of a scene in which a character points to a sign and reads it out. In the Arabic version of the film, the character points from right to left, not left to right as in the English version.

Here are some key factors that companies should consider when localizing a product:

  • Naming (e.g. in certain cultures there may be no surname at all or people may have multiple surnames)

  • Format of phone numbers

  • Format of dates and times, like dd / mm / yyyy and mm / dd / yyyy

  • currency (Symbol and amount)

  • Direction of writing (Most languages ​​are written from left to right, but Hebrew and Arabic are written from right to left and in some Asian languages ​​from top to bottom)

  • System of units, i.e. metric or Anglo-American system

  • Punctuation, For example, quotation marks in English (“”), in German (““) and in French («»)

  • Symbols and pictograms, z. B. Check marks, stop signs, and the use of color to convey certain information

  • Electrical voltage,Frequencies and plug

  • Legal requirements (like the GDPR for the use of personal data of EU citizens)

Siri, Apple's virtual assistant, is a product that has been successfully localized. When users ask Siri for the weather report or directions, Siri can answer in Celsius or Fahrenheit, in kilometers or miles, depending on the user's location. Users can even choose their preferred accent on Siri's voice (there is an American, Australian and South African accent for English).

When building a website, developers should have a solid localization strategy in place, planning and designing with the above questions in mind. Successful internationalization is the basis for successful localization.

For example, currencies such as the Chilean peso and Japanese yen usually do not show sub-units because each unit is already so small (one euro is roughly equivalent to 900 Chilean pesos). This is why e-commerce websites that Japanese developers design for a Japanese audience only have whole numbers.

If the website wants to expand into the US, the developers have to add another variable so that units and sub-units (i.e. dollars and cents) can be displayed. Or the whole number must be converted to a decimal number. With a complex code base, this process can be very time-consuming and error-prone.


globalization is something of an umbrella term and includes internationalization and localization. It describes the process by which different parts of the global economy are linked together and the process by which companies expand their operations to the rest of the world.

internationalization is the development of products and services as well as the structuring of internal processes in the company in such a way that expansion into international markets is possible.

Localization refers to the adaptation of a particular product or service to one of these markets.

Whenever you want to expand with a product in national or regional markets, you have to think about internationalization and localization. If you plan for these processes in advance of the project, you can develop products that are suitable for all regions, cultures and languages.

It is not easy to manage important localization and internationalization processes well. At Lionbridge, we are passionate about what we do and tailor content to international audiences. If you want to be sure that your message will get across the world correctly, then contact us. We like to help you.

Find out how to find the perfect partner for translation and interpreting services in our localization guide.