Globalization, Internationalization and Localization – What does all it Mean?

globeI get this one on a regular basis – especially working with global organizations’ product and services design and development. Here is how it breaks down:


“Globalization is a process of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment and aided by information technology.” – Globalization 101, a SUNY Levin Institute project

Globalization is not new. For thousands of years, people have been buying from and selling to each other in lands at great distances, such as through the legendary Silk Road across Central Asia that connected China and Europe during the Middle Ages.

Advances in transportation, such as the automobile, trains, ships, planes, and in telecommunications infrastructure, including the telegraph, Internet and mobile phones, have been major factors in expediting globalization. Since 1950, the volume of world trade has increased by 20 times, and from just 1997 to 1999 flows of foreign investment nearly doubled, from $468 billion to $827 billion.

When defining, designing and develop your products and services you need to be sensitive to the different needs and requirements for each culture. Examples include:

  • Decimal Separator: In Germany the decimal separator is “,” and the thousand separator is a “.”. So this is 12.890, twelve thousand, eight hundred and ninety and not twelve point eight nine.
  • Calendar: Not all the world use Gregorian months. The Hijri Calendar is the official calendar in Saudi Arabia and they use the UmAlQura variation.
  • Even the digits are not the same in all cultures and languages, 1, 2, 3 .. is not the only way to count.

In most cases, when discussing globalization, it includes Internationalization and localization.


Internationalization (sometimes shortened to “I18N” – I – eighteen letters -N) is the process of planning and implementing products and services so that they can easily be adapted to specific local languages and cultures. Enablement can include:

  • Allowing space in user interfaces (for example, hardware labels, help pages, and online menus) for translation into languages that require more characters
  • Support international character sets (unicode)
  • Creating print or Web site graphic images so that their text labels can be translated inexpensively
  • Using written examples that have global meaning
  • For software, ensuring data space so that messages can be translated from languages with single-byte character codes (such as English) into languages requiring multiple-byte character codes (such as Japanese Kanji)


While Internationalization is the process of developing solutions that can potentially be adapted to various languages and regions without technology changes, Localization (L10n) is the process of adapting internationalized solutions for a specific region or market by adding locale-specific components and translating text. Localization (which is potentially performed multiple times, for different locales) uses the infrastructure or flexibility provided by internationalization (which is ideally performed only once, or as an integral part of ongoing development). The localization process may also include:

  • Adapting graphics to target markets
  • Modifying content to suit the tastes and consumption habits of other markets
  • Adapting design and layout to properly display translated text
  • Converting to local requirements (such as currencies and units of measure)
  • Using proper local formats for dates, addresses, and phone numbers
  • Addressing local regulations and legal requirements

The aim of localization is to give a product or service the look and feel of having been created specifically for a target market, no matter their language, culture, or location.

Any questions?