i18n Vs L10n: Which is Better?

If you’re considering global expansion, the first step is ensuring you’ve set up a strategy for internationalization and localization.

International companies’ secret to their success is I18n and L10n strategies. With the power of internationalization, i18n, and localization, or L10n, businesses can grow beyond the borders of their home country to reach global audiences.

In this post, we’ll explore the pillars of internationalization vs. localization, and which one is right for your business as you work towards growing internationally.


All About I18n

So what is internationalization, exactly? Internationalization is the process of preparing products, services, websites, mobile apps and internal operations for expansion into global markets. To save, it’s common to see internationalization abbreviated as i18n.

A successfully internationalized product should have a layout, user interface and overall strategy that supports many different languages for various segments of your audience. With some much involved in the process, most businesses need to internationalize their content from the ground up. This means i18n has to be a part of a product’s design and development process.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a mobile app developer, and you’d like to launch your app in Asian markets. Before you do this, you’ve got to adapt the app’s user experience for compatibility with unique characters in languages like Japanese and Chinese.

For best results, you’ll also need to update the app’s source code, character encoding, and more. Other components for internationalization include:

  • date formats
  • time formats
  • currencies
  • time zones
  • numerals
  • number formats

A well-planned internationalization process ensures that your full product is localizable, meaning, it will be much easier to adapt the product to several different markets, instead of a broad swath.

Real-World Examples of Internationalization

Here are some examples of successful internationalization efforts from a few major global companies.

Ikea’s Internationalized User Manuals

Instead of translating their furniture assembly guides, IKEA internationalized their manuals:

I18n vs L10n
The internationalized assembly manual for a popular IKEA bookshelf

Ikea’s new wordless, diagram-based instructions could be easily understandable in different markets all over the world. This internationalized approach was more cost-effective than crafting multilingual manuals for dozens of different regions.

Foreign Language Landing Pages with Duolingo

Duolingo, a popular language learning app, internationalized its site to accommodate learners from all over the world. A prime example of this is their homepage. Here, let’s take a look at Duolingo’s Arabic site:

I18n vs L10n
The Arabic language landing page of duolingo.com

Notice how the language flows from right to left instead of left to right, like English. Duolingo’s successful internationalization laid the groundwork to make sure the site’s UI was functional and helpful for their new audiences in Arab countries.

When to Internationalize? A Checklist

Is it a good time for your business to start the internationalization process? These indicators show that you might be ready to get started.

  • You’re ready to lay the groundwork for global expansion
  • You have a product, site or service that might perform well in other regions, and it’s clear that your home market is saturated
  • You know the geographic regions you want to expand into
  • You want to take advantage of lower labor or business costs in another region
  • You have the time and resources to do plenty of market research on your new target markets
  • You can afford to invest in professional language translation and translation management systems

All About L10n

Localization, also known in the industry as L10n, is the process of adapting a product or service for the unique preferences of a specific locale.

Where internationalization makes a product more broadly adaptable to new regions, localization drills down to make the product suitable for a particular locale and its native language.

A successfully localized product should feel authentic to a specific culture—like it was made for them in the first place. Localization helps brands fine-tune a product to make it a perfect fit for their target audience.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re expanding your American eComm site to Mexico. You’ll obviously need to translate the site into Spanish, but localization doesn’t stop there. You’ll also need to adapt your site to make everything feels seamless for your Mexican audience. This includes the following:

  • Offering local payment methods
  • Displaying custom product recommendations for locale-specific interest groups
  • Adapting slang or idioms
  • Remaking images and graphics for a new audience
  • Subtitling any video content
  • Adapting character encoding (Unicode vs ASCII)
  • Redesigning sites or pages for new languages and their nuances (e.g. the different number of letters in German vs English)
  • Transcreating any content that won’t translate well in different cultures

With all this in mind, a well-planned localization process ensures that your product feels like it was tailor-made for a specific region.

Real-World Examples of Localization

Here are some examples of successful localization efforts:

Localized Payment and Booking with Airbnb

Before the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil, Airbnb (the popular vacation hosting site) localized its app to dozens of new languages. They also added more international payment methods. This resulted in millions of extra bookings and a big revenue increase for Airbnb.

I18n vs L10n
The localized French-language Airbnb app.

Localizing Regional Websites with Nescafe

Nestle, one of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies, owns and operates the Nescafe coffee brand. Nescafe’s international sites are a great example of localization. Take a look at their Japan landing page, where the site design, layout, language, and images are all adapted for the preference of the Japanese audience:

I18n vs L10n
Nescafe’s Japanese site

When to Localize? A Checklist

Thinking about localizing your product or service? Localization might be a good fit for your business if:

  • You’ve laid a solid foundation with internationalization and are ready to fine-tune a product for a new market
  • You understand what it takes to match your content to unique cultural expectations in a new region
  • You have the resources to hire local experts and native speakers, including a language service provider (LSP) and in-country reviewers (ICRs)
  • You’ve invested in a reliable TMS to help you manage translations and keep them up-to-date without draining your budget or internal resources

I18n vs L10n: Final Thoughts

Before expanding your business into new markets, it’s important to understand the distinctions between localization and internationalization.

Internationalization is the process of preparing products, services, and internal operations for expansion into global markets. Localization is the adaptation of a specific product or service to a unique local market.

In essence, i18n lays the groundwork for global expansion, while L10n helps you transform content to capture the attention of your target locale.

Global Expansion Made Simple with Localize

No matter where you are in your globalization journey, a trusted translation management system (TMS) like Localize can help you jumpstart the localization process. Localize has years of experience helping all types of businesses adapt their content for international audiences and different languages.

Contact us now to learn more about how our platform can help you establish your brand in new markets.

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