Localization vs. Internationalization: Acting Globally, Thinking Locally

by Drew Evans
3 Minute Read

With more and more people looking to access information and participate in world events, companies are beginning to bring more of their content online. Localization is a term common to many of those companies as they start to grow and expand business across the world. 

But internationalization and localization are two concepts that, while similar, are not interchangeable. They’re all aiming to accomplish a similar goal - so what’s truly the difference between the two? 



Starting at the highest level, globalization is simply the idea of bringing different countries and cultures together, whether separated by people, economies, or borders. Oftentimes, globalization is thought of as the umbrella goal that localization, internationalization, and translation all work to accomplish.


Localization vs. Internationalization

The distinction between localization and internationalization is a bit more subtle, but ultimately, the two differ in their areas of focus. 

Internationalization is a building block at the beginning of an application or product that defines a framework for adaptability. Simply put, internationalization “prepares” applications and products to easily support languages. The process typically starts early on with developers as they build the application or product.

For example, different countries read and write differently than others. In the United States, the date is formatted M/D/Y, while a large majority of the world otherwise uses the D/M/Y format. While this may not seem like much, it’s important for applications and products to be built in such a way that allows them to easily adapt depending on where they’re located.

Localization, on the other hand, is the process of actually adapting to a specific locale or region. This often includes all visible pieces, like text and images, to make sure that they align with the culture. Locales are defined by pairing a language with a region - for example, French (France) and French (Canada) are two different locales, even though they share a common language.


Act Locally, Think Globally 

One of Disney/Pixar’s recent films, Inside Out, focuses on the emotions and feelings of its main character, a young girl growing up in a new city. While director Pete Docter knows that the imagery and experiences shown in the movie may hit home for audiences in the US, it was important to build a system that could easily adapt for international markets as well.

disneypixarCredit: Disney/Pixar

“In Japan, broccoli is not considered gross. Kids love it,” he said. “So we asked them, ‘What’s gross to you?’ They said green bell peppers, so we remodeled and reanimated three separate scenes replacing our broccoli with green peppers.”

This is a great example of internationalization and localization in action. Doctor and his team built in the process for easy adaptability, allowing animators to quickly swap in more relevant content, like memories of soccer for worldwide audiences instead of hockey for US audiences, so it makes sense locally.

• • •

Ultimately, internationalization and localization are two important tools that help companies grow globally while maintaining an amazing user experience. For some, that simply means localizing and translating marketing materials, while to others, that means building an app with an internationalization foundation. 

If you’re thinking about localizing your content to expand globally, be sure to request a live demo of the Lilt platform today and chat with an expert to see how adaptive machine translation can improve your efforts.