Internationalization: The Magic Pill for Global Design?

Article by Yulia Akhulkova.

Four years since our original article on internationalization was published, questions about what internationalization is (and isn’t) and why it matters in modern software development still arise quite often.

Internationalization (abbreviated as i18n) is the process of preparing localizable source products in a way that enables them  to function globally. The task of internationalization is to ensure that the product design will meet the needs of users in different countries/regions and adapt easily to localization. So, before any software product (an app, game, or any other type of software) can be localized, it has to be internationalized, or “made able to dynamically support multiple local cultural formats and languages,” as Lingoport puts it.

The reason for talking about this process is that, according to multiple sources, over 50 percent of localization errors can be actually traced back to insufficiently internationalized sources. Internationalization helps such “weak points” to be identified beforehand and, therefore, prevents the actual issues from happening later on in the content globalization cycle.

As defined in a recent publication by Phrase, “internationalization can be thought of as building the structure of a piece of software so that it can be adjusted for different target markets, and localization is the process of actually doing so for a specific market. Both are integral parts of a localization strategy.”

Internationalization challenges in 2023 (and how to solve them)

Lack of awareness

As the recent Nimdzi panel on internationalization challenges in 2023 revealed, many software engineers as well as localization teams do not know what it takes to create, start, and/or sustain a meaningful and successful internationalization campaign in enterprise organizations. In most cases, they have to learn on the job.

There is a reported lack of comprehensive teaching materials that show clearly how to identify internationalization gaps and find effective solutions for them. Indeed, a typical article on the matter would include a barebones sketch of various things to look out for, from enabling the use of Unicode or adding support for vertical text and other non-Latin typographic features to separating localizable elements from source content.

In reality though, there are dozens of internationalization issues to uncover and keep in mind, not easily covered within one article, especially because most internationalization projects are unique. To start with, here are the top-20 most common steps to consider (updated based on our previous top-17 list).

This has been a preview. The full report can be accessed online by Nimdzi Partners.

The full publication available to Nimdzi Partners explores the main aspects to be considered for internationalization along with best tools and best practices for internationalization.

The article was written by Yulia Akhulkova, Nimdzi's Technology Researcher. If you have any questions about language technology, reach out to Yulia at [email protected].

12 July 2023

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