ULG's Language Services Blog

Internationalization vs. Globalization, What's the Difference?

This article was originally published in November 2016 and has been updated.

The world is now more interconnected than ever before. The ease of travel, the internet in all of its forms and the wide availability of technology has made the world much smaller in an astonishingly short amount of time. In order to keep up with the rapid pace of change, businesses have had to radically re-examine what it means to be global in this very global age. These recent changes have lead to a development in business strategy terminology. Two of the most important of these new terms are internationalization and globalization.

In discussions around the importance of websites and applications, internationalization and globalization are of special interest to companies looking to expand their global reach.

But what’s the difference between internationalization vs globalization? To the average viewer, these two words should mean the same thing. After all, ‘global’ and ‘international’ are essentially synonyms for each other.

And yet, marketers and other business strategists talk about these terms as entirely separate concepts; there’s something unique about how these people think about globalization and internationalization.

In a typical dictionary these words may mean the same thing. But in the world of business, globalization and internationalization are actually two very different steps in the same process.

Globalization is a Strategy

When those in business development and strategy talk about globalization, they’re looking at the bigger picture. Globalization is the end goal for those designing an application or website for a worldwide audience.

A fully globalized app or website is fully available and functional in multiple languages. And given the pervasiveness of the web and apps in every aspect of our lives, a robust globalization strategy is vital for any business today.

But the full translation of a site or app into many languages doesn’t just happen. It’s a complicated procedure requiring the combined efforts of copy writers, designers and web developers. To reach the goal of full globalization, business strategists have to consider two other smaller processes within globalization. The last of those steps is localization, but first comes internationalization.

Internationalization is a Globalization Task

If globalization is the end goal, then internationalization is a task that has to be completed in order for the end goal to be achieved. To internationalize your company’s app or website means designing them with full globalization in mind.

From a coding standpoint, this means that the text of labels and drop down menus shouldn’t be hardcoded into the application. This will allow for easier translation down the line.

Internationalization means writing all web copy in a style like global English, again so that everything is easier to translate into various languages. If sentences are short and vocabulary is limited, the translation process will go much faster and cost less. Additionally, internationalizing an app means it’s designed so that a change in such things as different time formats and currencies won’t affect its functionality.

When an app or site has been designed internationally, you’re halfway there to full globalization.

Localization is the Final Step

After a website has been fully internationalized it then enters the process of localization, which is the step of actually translating it into a new language or languages. Here is where all of the work you put into internationalizing pays off.

Localization, of course, takes it a step or two further than simple, literal translation. Especially important for marketing, the localizing process ensures that text is not understandable in other languages but also that the writing flows well and gets across the same message no matter what language it’s in.

Although it can take some time and trial and error, localization can be a smooth and relatively quick process if internationalization has been properly addressed.

After a site has been both internationalized and localized, it is then fully globalized. Although the process can at first seem terribly complicated, globalization is well within every business’s reach. If you can find the right resources, design your site for global audience and take special care as you translate your online presence, your business can take a step into this brave new world of possibilities.