Software Translation, Localization, Internationalization, Globalization: What’s The Difference?

Have you ever wondered what is the difference between globalization and internationalization? Or translation and localization?

I have to confess that when I started as an in-house translator, I was somehow convinced that Localization, Internationalization and Globalization were essentially pompous variations of the word “Translation”. After all, don’t these words all sound the same? Take a product and make it ready for new markets, locally, internationally, globally or whatever.

The truth, of course, is that Translation, Localization, Internationalization and Globalization have clear, distinct meanings. Explaining the difference between each these terms at once can be confusing. Fortunately, I stumbled upon this excellent post from Adobe, the company behind for Acrobat Reader, Photoshop and a bunch of dysfunctional browser plugins. The post in question contains the following diagram, which perfectly sums up the relationship between the respective concepts:

Translation, Localization, Internationalization, Globalization

Once you get that image in your mind, it becomes much easier to understand the full definition for each element. Here again, I will be quoting Adobe’s post with a bit of reorganization and editing for the sake of readability:

Translation (T9N) is simply converting the meaning of text in one language into another. In a software product, the contents translated are user interface, documentation, packaging and marketing collaterals.

Localization (L10N) is the process of adapting a product or service to a particular language, culture, and desired local “look-and-feel”. Translating the product’s user interface is just one step of the localization process. Resizing dialogs, buttons and palette tabs to accommodate longer translated strings is also part of localization. It also includes the production of localized resources, such as graphic texts, sound files and possibly other aspects of your software/game to avoid scandals in territories with different standards.

Internationalization (commonly abbreviated as I18n) is an engineering exercise focused on generalizing a product so that it can handle multiple languages, scripts and cultural conventions (currency, sorting rules, number and date formats…) without the need for redesign. Internationalization, sometimes referred to as world-readiness, can be divided into two sets of activities: enablement and localizability. A typical example would be keeping all localizable resources (texts, images, audio files, etc.) in separate files and folders.

Globalization (G11N) refers to a broad range of engineering and business development processes necessary to prepare and launch products and company activities globally. The globalization engineering activities are composed of internationalization and localization while the business development activities focus on product management, financial, marketing and legal aspects. In short, it is all about putting your localized product out there, with all the practical questions it raises.