What is internationalisation?

The internationalisation of a website, program or software means preparing its adaptation to different languages and cultures. It’s essentially technical work that aims to get a product that can be directly deployed in different languages by simply adding a new translation file.

Internationalising goes through separating in the source code what is independent of the language and the culture of what is dependent on it (in files called translation tables). But attention must be paid not only to the preparation of texts but also to:

  • Color codes: meaning can change according to cultures
  • Graphics: icons names
  • Date or number format
  • The direction of writing
  • The size of graphic element: text in German are longer than a text in English, which may have an impact on the layout

At the technical level, developers and programmers use a plugin called gettext that allow them to create translation string. Read more on gettext.

Internationalisation is the set of technical mechanisms that allow the user to choose the language of his interface and to get a viable result, linguistically and culturally speaking.

Internationalisation vs. localization

The distinction between the two is subtle but nevertheless important. Internationalisation is the adaptation of a potentially usable product almost everywhere. Localization, for its part, consists in adding special characteristics according to specific regional parameters. A product is internationalised once whereas one localization must be done for each product-region combination. As localization is shortened l10n, internationalisation is often found as i18n.

These two processes are complementary and must be combined in order to achieve the goal of a global operating system: it’s the globalization of a product.

Why internationalising?

Internationalisation saves time in a globalization strategy. The localisation of the product is easier and faster. Its company can thus enter the world market, have more potential customers and make more profits.