Intended audience: anyone who is wondering about the comparative meanings of internationalization and localization.
What do the terms 'internationalization' and 'localization' mean, and how are they related?
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.
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 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:
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.
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 n in the English word.
Internationalization typically entails:
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.
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.