Localization, Globalization, Internationalization: What's the Difference?


Localization, globalization, internationalization: these all sound like similar concepts, and indeed many people often use them interchangeably. However, subtle distinctions set them apart. Understanding the differences is key for anyone tasked with helping a company "go global" - and ensuring their brand message resonates globally.


Globalization refers to any activity that brings the people, cultures and economies of different countries closer together. In business, "globalization" refers to practices by which organizations become better connected to their customers around the world. This includes any aspect of operating in different national markets, from product design to marketing.

If that's still a bit vague for you, here are examples of globalization in the world of business:

  • Online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon make it easy to buy products from businesses or individuals on the other side of the planet. Even products sold in traditional brick-and-mortar stores like Target often make stops in several different countries before reaching their final destinations. Consumer electronics, for example, are commonly sourced from raw materials in India, made in China, then sold in America.

There are many benefits of globalization for both companies and consumers. The impact of global inter-connectivity has been a boon for the world economy in recent decades and has increased global GDP from $89.6 trillion in 2010 to a projected $149 trillion in 2021. Globalization has come hand-in-hand with the most transformational advances of the 20th century, such as international air travel and the Internet.


Internationalization is a corporate strategy that involves making products and services as adaptable as possible, so they can easily enter different national markets. This often requires the assistance of subject matter experts. Internationalization is sometimes shortened to "i18n", where 18 represents the number of characters in the word.

Products intended for use by speakers of multiple languages typically undergo an internationalization process. For example, IKEA internationalizes the assembly instructions for its furniture by using only diagrams and illustrations, without including any text that would need to be translated. Products with instructions that do require translation are still often written with the goal of being as culturally-neutral as possible. This, of course, is easier said than done.

In the case of software products and electronics, internationalization involves a number of different concerns:

  • Data encoding: The ASCII character encoding is sufficient for texts in most Western European languages. However, languages that use non-Latin alphabets, such as Russian, Chinese, Hindi and Korean, require larger character encodings like Unicode.
  • Hardware support: Software designers must consider that certain hardware devices may not be available in all countries.
  • User interface: If a software application will be translated into multiple languages, the user interface needs to include enough space for the text in all of these languages.


Localization is the process of adapting a product to a specific target market. This usually happens after internationalization has taken place. Where internationalization develops a product that's easy to adapt for many audiences in many different countries, localization takes that product and makes it highly relevant for one specific market.

As mentioned, McDonald's operates over 30,000 restaurants in 100 countries. Its worldwide expansion is an example of globalization. By design, the corporation creates a menu adaptable to various local tastes and customs. This policy is an example of internationalization.

Many of the McDonald's restaurants in Israel serve kosher food and drink and close during the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. McDonald's has also opened a meat-free restaurant in India, a country in which much of the population does not eat beef or pork. In both cases, McDonald's has maintained its global brand identity but tailored its products and services for local markets. These cases exemplify localization.

The Difference Between Globalization, Internationalization and Localization:

Globalization refers to the processes by which a company brings its business to the rest of the world.

Internationalization is the practice of designing products, services and internal operations to facilitate expansion into international markets.

Localization is the adaptation of a particular product or service to one of those markets.

Whenever you anticipate expanding a product to multiple national or even regional markets, you need to consider internationalization and localization. Planning for these processes before the project begins will help you design products that satisfy users of all regions, cultures and languages.

Lionbridge has over two decades of experience in producing and adapting content for international audiences. Whether you're looking to internationalize your product or localize your website, our team of experts can help you develop a product and message that resonates around the world.

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