Internationalization: The Elusive Bridge Between Global Dreams and Local Wins

We all know the allure of global expansion — new markets equal endless possibilities! But let’s be honest, the journey from grand global ambitions to local victories can be a bumpy one.

You know the feeling; you’ve meticulously localized your content, but then “ugh,” you hit a snag — your product needs manual adjustments, developer intervention, or worse, a complete redesign to fit different time zones or currencies.

Why the disconnect? It all boils down to neglecting internationalization (i18n), the invisible bridge between your global vision and local success. Think of it as future-proofing your product by designing and developing it with the potential to adapt to diverse languages and cultures. This means using encoding for different writing systems, building flexible interfaces for varying text lengths, keeping content separate from code for easier translation, and even planning a domain strategy for international audiences. Basically, it’s like setting the stage for your product to shine on a global stage, even before the curtain rises.

In contrast, localization (l10n) involves translating content, adapting visuals and layouts to local preferences, and ensuring everything complies with regional regulations. It’s an action-oriented process that transforms your global potential into real wins.

As Joel Sahleen, Internationalization Engineering Manager at Spotify, aptly summarizes, “i18n unlocks the potential for local market adaptation, while l10n takes that potential and turns it into reality. Without i18n, l10n has nothing to work with. And without l10n, i18n is just a potential waiting to be realized.”

Sure, the difference between i18n and l10n seems clear on paper, but in the real world, things can get messy. Different mindsets, approaches, and sometimes even a lack of communication between development and localization teams can blur the lines, making the theory seem simpler than reality.

Throw in the intertwined nature of these processes — ideally, i18n should happen early on, but sometimes reality bites, and localization teams end up fighting product design limitations — and you’ve got a recipe for confusion.

The excitement of global expansion can often overshadow the critical role of i18n. Companies might meticulously localize content while neglecting the foundation of making things work worldwide. But here’s the thing: Embracing i18n early on is like investing in travel insurance for your global ambitions. It saves you time, money, and frustration down the road. By designing with i18n in mind, you avoid costly rework, ensure a smoother l10n process, and ultimately, reach new markets faster with a product that resonates with local audiences.

So, what can we do as localization champions? Let’s advocate for recognizing i18n as the invisible hero in the global success story, integrating i18n early in development, and fostering clear communication and collaboration between development and localization teams to ensure a smooth handoff from i18n to l10n.

By prioritizing i18n and working together, we can help companies navigate the complexities of global expansion and ensure their products resonate with audiences worldwide. Let’s build bridges, not walls, and make global domination a reality — one localized experience at a time!

Teresa Toronjo
Teresa Toronjo is Localization Manager at Malt and has 11 years of experience working with languages. Her passion is to support teams throughout the creation of high-quality localized content.

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