What are localisation, internationalisation and globalisation?

Localisation, globalisation and internationalisation are similar terms and so are often used as synonyms. On closer inspection, however, they differ, and they complement each other. Companies that operate on an international scale or plan to do so should know the details and contexts of the terms so that their communication works in all languages and markets.

GILT: globalisation, internationalisation, localisation and translation belong together

The extent to which the topics and terms are interdependent is illustrated by the acronym GILT, under which the field of economics summarises the factors of corporate expansion into other countries: globalisation, internationalisation, localization and translation. The latter, i.e. the translation, hardly needs any explanation. It refers to the process of transferring text into another language. Even though we as a language service provider can spend an entire evening explaining the details of translation that are critical to success, we will devote the following to the differences and connections between the other three terms.

What is globalisation?

According to Wirtschaftslexikon (only available in German), the term globalisation is a “type of strategy of a company operating across borders, in which competitive advantages are to be built up worldwide by exploiting locational advantages and achieving economies of scale”. Elsewhere it is defined as “activities that bring people, cultures and economies of different countries closer together”.

Globalisation has been a key issue and driver for the world economy for decades. Some of the major achievements of the 20th century go hand in hand with it, first and foremost the internet and digitalisation. If it is designed responsibly, globalisation holds numerous advantages for businesses and consumers. Currently, there are more and more services being exchanged on a global scale.

In this context, globalisation forms both the basis and the generic term for the other two terms. Localisation can be seen as a means of achieving internationalisation. Because, in the face of globalisation, many companies today are focusing on international expansion in order to open up new target markets and gain new customers.

What is internationalisation?

The term internationalisation refers to two different contexts: first of all, from a business perspective, it refers to the corporate strategy of expanding into new international markets. In this context, it is important to design products and services so flexibly that they can be adapted to different target markets with little effort or optimised for the relevant target region and its language and culture.

In software development in particular, internationalisation means designing a programme in such a way that it can be easily adapted to other languages and cultures and ergo localised without having to change the source code.

What is localisation?

The term localisation refers to a process in which the product is adapted to a specific target market. While internationalisation involves developing a product that is easily adaptable for different target groups in different countries, localisation ensures that the product or service is highly relevant to a specific target group and market.

What distinguishes localisation from translation?

The term translation refers to transferring written texts into another language. Integrating this important service, localisation refers to the entire process and all the factors that ensure that a product and/or message resonates in a particular target culture and that the target audience understands and feels understood as if the product or message was developed for that culture from the start.


We have recently shown how many factors have to be taken into account in localisation, using website localisation and multimedia localisation as examples. In both fields of application, it is not enough to simply translate and transfer the text content from one language to another. Real and effective localisation of websites goes much further and involves transferring all content components to the customs and language conventions of a country or region and its local audience. For the localisation of multimedia content, these adaptations include not only language content, but also currencies, symbols, date conventions, names or units of measurement and, very importantly, the user experience, i.e. the habits and expectations of the users. Furthermore, it incorporates not only written text but also spoken text, music and sound effects, moving images, animation and graphics.


Software localisation in particular and the example of common Windows menus and pop-ups (“close window”, “save file” etc.), which reflect quite rigid habits, show how fundamental the user experience is: users are so accustomed to this that they do not expect a translation but rather the terms established for their culture. It is therefore fundamentally important to take this into account and to adapt the language of the software or websites to the users and their operating habits.

This becomes even clearer in the example of interactive software, for example in navigation systems or on-board car multimedia systems. Here it is important to do justice to factors such as the “driving experience” or “identification with the car brand”, which can only be achieved with a specific localisation.

It is the mix that makes it: professional translation and localisation

Translations are important because they offer companies the opportunity to grow globally. If companies want to reach their customers worldwide and make them do something, it is not enough to translate the content like for like. Even here, it is fundamentally important to also take into account the culture of a country and to adapt the content to the target group and market-specific terminology. If only because linguistic imagery often does not work or words have a different cultural or industry-related usage, meaning that product descriptions, for example, can simply appear unprofessional, dubious or unintentionally funny.

High-quality translation does not only consist of correctly rendering the content and the correct grammar. It encompasses both the cultural dimension – i.e. localisation – and all the technical language and company-specific aspects of specialised translation.

In this context, it is important that a company’s corporate and technical language is not only used correctly but also consistently across all documents and means of communication. Terminology management offers valuable support in this regard. Tonality and style should also be consistent and recognisable where possible. This requires trained, native-speaker translators and linguists with extensive expertise in the language and culture, industry and subject area, as well as local customs and text type specifics.

Intelligent and technology-supported translation processes are also recommended in order to translate content consistently and efficiently and to fully exploit competitive advantages. These ensure that translation professionals can work effectively and productively and that translations remain economical, whether they are technical or medical translations from manuals to flyers, whether translations of brand messages, financial reports or localisation of websites, multimedia or software.

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