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What are Website Internationalization and Localization?

When you build multilingual websites you will probably come across two keywords, "Internationalization" and "Localization".

These are complicated words for fairly straightforward ideas. In this guide, I'll explain what Internationalization and Localization are, and what you need to understand about them when building your multilingual site.

Internationalization and Localization video

If you want to dive right into a video explanation of internationalization and localization, watch this video. Scroll down for a text tutorial and links:

What does internationalization mean?

It means using code to allow your site to be translated. This is not the process of translation. This is the process of building a website in the right way so that it can be translated.

Internationalization is is often abbreviated as i18n. If that sounds like a strange abbreviation, it was chosen because "internationalization" is such a difficult word to spell. Look carefully at "internationalization" and you'll see there are 18 letters between the I and the N.

WordPress has some great documentation on internationalization. This is their definition in the context of WordPress:

Internationalization is the process of developing a plugin, so it can easily be translated into other languages.

And here is why they believe it's so important for developers and designers to care about internationalization:

WordPress is used all over the world, in countries where English is not the main language. The strings in the WordPress plugins need to be coded in a special way so that can be easily translated into other languages. As a developer, you may not be able to provide localizations for all your users; however, a translator can successfully localize the theme without needing to modify the source code itself.

If you are a developer or designer, WordPress.org has some great resources. You can also check out these tutorials:

If you're not a developer or designer, you probably don't need to read all the background information on WordPress.org. What you do need is to be aware of internationalization so you can discuss it with whoever is building your site.

What does localization mean?

This is the process of using a translation tool to translate text into other languages.

Now that you know the origin of i18n, you might be able to guess the abbreviation of localization. Yes, it's l10n because there are 10letters between the L and the N.

Localization is typically not done by web developers or designers. Instead, if a website or theme or plugin is built properly, localization is done by someone who is a skilled translator.

Wordpress.org has excellent documentation for localization both for themes and plugins.

Again unless you are someone who does translation,  you probably don't need to know all the deep details about localization. However, if you're looking for a professional to translate your site they should know about localization. Those professionals should understand those concepts. You need to be looking for that understanding resumes and on the feature pages of companies that offer this service

Localization and Internationalization together

It is the process of both localization and internationalization that allows tools like the WPML plugin and services like Acclaro to translate your website efficiently.

If your website isn't internationalized, then you need to talk with a developer or designer to help you.

If your website isn't localized, then you need to find someone to translate the text on your site.

More Reading on Multilingual WordPress Topics

You can also check out more WordPress multilingual tutorials from OSTraining:


About the author

Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.