Localization vs internationalization (l10n vs i18n): Decoding the differences

In today’s global context, businesses that aim to broaden their horizons and tap into diverse markets must navigate the complexities of language, culture, and user experience.

Two critical concepts that play pivotal roles in this global endeavor are localization (l10n) and internationalization (i18n). While these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent distinct stages in the journey towards successful global market penetration.

In this article, we’re going to go over the key localization vs internationalization differences.

What is localization?

Localization, abbreviated as “l10n,” is the process of adapting products, services, or content to fit the cultural, linguistic, and functional preferences of a specific target audience or region. This is commonly done to make the product or content feel native and relatable to the local audience, improving user experience and increasing the chances of success in that particular market.

This process goes beyond simple translation. While translation involves converting text from one language to another, localization involves a more comprehensive approach that takes into account various cultural, linguistic, and contextual aspects.

Localization is crucial for enhancing user experience, building trust, and increasing the chances of success when entering new markets. It ensures that products and content resonate with the local audience, fostering a stronger connection and engagement.

What is internationalization?

Internationalization, abbreviated as “i18n,” is the process of designing and developing products, applications, or content in a way that makes them easily adaptable and accessible for various languages, cultures, and regions. It’s the foundation upon which successful localization efforts are built. The primary goal of internationalization is to create a framework that allows for seamless adaptation without extensive reengineering or redesigning.

The process involves anticipating and addressing potential challenges related to language, cultural differences, and technical requirements early in the development process. This might include designing software interfaces to accommodate text expansion or contraction due to translation, ensuring proper handling of date and time formats, avoiding hardcoded text or cultural assumptions, and making provisions for different character encodings.

Internationalization example

Imagine you design a greeting card with a specific message in English. To internationalize this greeting card, you need to:

  • Ensure that the design and layout of the card can accommodate different text lengths. Some languages might require more or fewer characters to convey the same message.
  • Instead of printing the text directly on the card, include a separate sheet or sticker with the translated message for different languages. This way, you can customize the card for various markets.
  • Consider cultural nuances and preferences when choosing images, colors, or symbols. What works well in one culture might not be as effective in another. For instance, colors may have different meanings in different cultures.
  • If the card includes graphics or illustrations, ensure that they are culturally neutral or easily replaceable with elements that resonate with various cultures.
  • Provide clear instructions on how to replace or use the translation sheet. Include a simple guide that shows where to place the translated message on the card.

Internationalization vs localization: The differences

Internationalization (i18n) and localization (l10n) are closely related concepts but refer to distinct stages in the process of adapting products or content for global markets. Here’s a breakdown of the key differences between internationalization and localization:

Focus and purpose

The primary goal of internationalization is to design and develop products, applications, or content in a way that makes them adaptable to various languages, cultures, and regions. It involves creating a foundation that enables easy localization without major modifications.

Localization is the process of customizing products, applications, or content for specific target markets or regions. It involves adapting elements like language, cultural references, and user interface to make the product feel native to the local audience.


Internationalization occurs during the initial design and development stages. It involves implementing best practices and coding standards that allow for efficient localization in the future.

Localization comes after internationalization. It involves translating and customizing the product or content for specific locales.


Internationalization preparing the product’s architecture, design, and codebase to handle different languages, character sets, date/time formats, and cultural nuances. It focuses on creating a flexible framework for future adaptation.

Localization focuses on adapting content, user interfaces, and functionalities to align with the preferences and requirements of a specific locale or target market.

Activities involved

Internationalization activities include designing with text expansion/contraction in mind, using resource files for text, separating code from content, implementing Unicode support, and avoiding hardcoded strings.

Localization activities include translating text, adapting images and symbols, adjusting UI layouts, and ensuring legal and cultural compliance.

Impact on codebase

Internationalization changes made during internationalization are generally structural and architectural. They don’t impact the core functionality but set the stage for easy localization.

Localization changes made during localization are specific to a particular language or culture and often involve modifying content, UI elements, and visual assets.

Long-term benefit

Internationalization benefits long-term code maintainability, as language-specific elements can be added or updated without reengineering the entire product.

Localization facilitates successful market entry by creating a personalized experience for each target locale, leading to improved user engagement and customer satisfaction.

How POEditor assists in your localization processes

POEditor is a powerful tool that can greatly assist in the localization processes, streamlining the way your business adapts its products and content for global markets.

We provide a centralized platform to manage software strings, making it easier to handle multiple languages and collaborate with teams spread across different regions. Supporting various localization file formats commonly used in software development, our localization software is versatile for different types of projects. POEditor can extract translatable strings from your localization files, helping your team members avoid localization bugs and focus on the language data that needs to be adapted for other cultures.

The platform provides an intuitive interface for translators to work on translations, offering context and suggestions to improve accuracy and speed. It allows multiple translators to work on the same project simultaneously, promoting collaboration and faster completion of translations. Translated strings can be immediately updated in your application or software as soon as they are approved, ensuring the most current content is available to users.

POEditor can be integrated with various development tools and platforms through APIs, allowing seamless integration into your existing development workflow. It also supports automation through API integrations, enabling automatic synchronization of translation updates with your development environment.

Wrapping it up

In conclusion, both internationalization and localization are integral components of a successful global market strategy. Internationalization sets the stage for effective localization by building adaptable products and content. Localization tailors these offerings to resonate with specific locales and cultures.

Understanding the crucial localization vs internationalization (l10n vs i18n) differences is essential for businesses aiming to seamlessly adapt their products for global markets. Businesses that embrace both concepts can create meaningful connections with global audiences. They can foster brand loyalty and unlock new opportunities in the dynamic landscape of international commerce.

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