Term of the Week: Internationalization

What is it?

A process by which content—online, in print, or in software—is made world ready so it may be localized with minimal rewriting, redesigning, or reengineering.

Why is it important?

Helps organizations save significant time and resources by creating content that is global by design before moving on to localization and translation.

Why does a content strategist need to know this?

Internationalization, sometimes abbreviated as i18n, is the first stage towards taking content global. Before localizing content, it’s important to first take a step back and ask: Is it world ready?

Internationalizing text content means creating universal English source text in which sentences are optimized for translation. Edits may include removing culturally specific metaphors (for example, A home run offer!), removing humor (which rarely translates well), and keeping sentences short and declarative.

When designing for the web and software, internationalization entails creating templates that can be supported across all locales with no engineering changes. Requirements may include support for the world’s many scripts, currencies, date and measurement display formats, and address formats. The most efficient global templates often avoid embedding text within images because such images must be manually edited for each language supported.

Templates must be flexible enough to allow for text expansion—text strings often double in length when translating from English into languages such as Dutch or German. Also, images and icons intended for the global templates must be carefully reviewed to ensure they are globally relevant and usable.

Internationalization is often overlooked by companies in their rush to go global. But when overlooked, a company may discover, after creating a website or app for one locale, that its design must be redesigned in order to support a different locale. Internationalization ensures that companies can avoid that extra work.

Additional Resources:

Beyond Borders: Web Globalization Strategies (Pearson, 2002)

The Art of the Global Gateway (Byte Level Books, 2010)

Global by Design: www.globalbydesign.com

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