Zoran Luledzija
Zoran Luledzija
May 16, 2023
9 min read
May 16, 2023
9 min read

Discovering the world of number localization

Discovering the world of number localization

Have you ever wondered how international websites seem to know how to format numbers to match your local region? This isn't just a happy coincidence, it's the outcome of a process known as number localization. As our world becomes more interconnected, understanding and applying number localization becomes crucial, especially in software development. In this article, we'll dive into the intriguing topic of number localization and discuss its rising importance in our modern world.

Understanding the basics of number localization

Before we delve into number localization, it's crucial to know what number formatting is and how it connects to localization. We should also understand why correctly localizing numbers is essential in software products aiming for a global audience.

What is number formatting?

Number formatting is the process of converting raw numeric data into a human-readable format. This can involve decisions like adding thousands separators, determining the symbol for decimal points, and rounding to a specific number of decimal places. The goal of number formatting is to enhance clarity and readability, making numerical information easier to understand and interpret.

What is number localization?

Number localization is the adaptation of numeric data to match the conventions and standards of a specific region or language. It includes formatting numbers according to local practices, such as using the correct symbols for decimal points and thousands separators, and following regional formats for currencies, measurements, and more. The aim of number localization is to ensure that numerical information is presented in a way that is most familiar and understandable to the targeted audience or market.

How are number formatting and number localization different?

Number formatting and number localization are two terms related to how we present numbers, but they have different roles. Number formatting is all about making raw numeric data easy to read. It's a broad term that covers ways to display numbers in a clear, understandable manner.

On the other hand, number localization is more specialized. It's not just about making numbers easy to read, but also about making them fit into the rules and customs of a particular region or language. This means using the right symbols for things like decimal points and separators for thousands, and following local rules for showing currencies, measurements, and so on. In other words, number localization is about making numbers feel familiar and understandable to people from a specific place or culture.

Do numbers need to be localized?

Different countries read and interpret numbers in distinct ways, which can sometimes cause confusion. For instance, in the U.S., the number "1,234" is read as "one thousand two hundred and thirty-four". However, in some European countries, "1,234" might be interpreted as "one point two three four". Similarly, the grouping of digits varies globally. While the U.S. and many countries group digits by threes (like "1,000,000"), places like India have a different grouping system (such as "10,00,000").

This highlights the need for number localization in software development. Products that targeting the global audience must consider these regional and cultural differences to ensure clear communication and a user-friendly experience. Proper number localization enhances readability and comprehension, making content easier to understand.

Localizing different types of number formats

Numerical data takes many forms: inventory counts, item prices, product dimensions and weights, demand expressed in percentages, the number of views a YouTube video has, and so on. Each of these instances requires appropriate localization. In what follows, we'll examine how these diverse number formats are adapted for different languages.

Decimal formatting

Decimal formatting is a common method used worldwide to represent numbers. It's popular because it helps us read large numbers quickly and accurately. However, the exact formatting can vary based on the location or region, using different symbols for thousands and decimal separators.

Often, you'll see numbers grouped in sets of three digits (in the thousands), which is a common practice in many countries. However, some places first group the initial three digits together (thousands) and then group every subsequent pair of digits.

Language (Country)Language-sensitive representation
English (United States)123,456.789
French (France)123 456,789
German (Germany)123.456,789
Chinese (China)123,456.789
Hindi (India)1,23,456.789
Arabic (Egypt)١٢٣٬٤٥٦٫٧٨٩

Currencies

Currency formatting is another crucial type of number formatting that varies significantly from one region or country to another. It typically includes the use of a currency symbol, decimal separators for cents (or similar smaller units), and thousand separators. The placement of the currency symbol, the specific symbols used as separators, and the number of digits after the decimal point can all differ based on the specific currency and country.

Language (Country)CurrencyLanguage-sensitive representation
English (United States)USD$123,456.79
French (France)EUR123 456,79 €
German (Germany)EUR123.456,79 €
Chinese (China)CNY¥123,456.79
Hindi (India)INR₹1,23,456.79
Arabic (Egypt)EGP‏١٢٣٬٤٥٦٫٧٩ ج.م.‏

Measurement units

Measurement unit formatting is another vital aspect of number representation, especially in scientific, technical, and everyday contexts. The way we write measurements depends on the type of unit, the system of measurement being used (metric or imperial), and regional practices.

Language (Country)UnitLanguage-sensitive representation
English (United States)mile123,456.789 mi
French (France)kilometer123 456,789 km
German (Germany)kilometer123.456,789 km
Chinese (China)kilometer123,456.789公里
Hindi (India)kilometer1,23,456.789 कि॰मी॰
Arabic (Egypt)kilometer١٢٣٬٤٥٦٫٧٨٩ كم

Percentages

Percentage formatting is a common type of number representation used in a variety of contexts, such as financial reports, statistical data, and everyday conversation. A percentage is a way of expressing a number as a fraction of 100. It is denoted using the percent sign (%).

While it might seem that percentages are universally written the same way, there can be variations in how they are formatted. The basic structure includes a number followed by the percent sign (%), such as 25%. However, the placement of the percent sign, the use of spaces, and the direction of reading can vary based on language and regional practices.

In many English-speaking areas, the number and percent sign are written without a space, like "25%". Yet, in other regions and languages, including French and German, a non-breaking space is used, as in "25 %". Additionally, the reading direction can affect the percent sign placement. For instance, in right-to-left languages like Arabic, the percent sign is on the right of the number.

Language (Country)Language-sensitive representation
English (United States)12.34%
French (France)12,34 %
German (Germany)12,34 %
Chinese (China)12.34%
Hindi (India)12.34%
Arabic (Egypt)١٢٫٣٤٪؜

Scientific notation

Scientific notation is a global mathematical tool used to represent extremely large or small numbers, often seen in fields like astronomy, physics, and chemistry. It expresses a number as a coefficient (between 1 and 10) and a power of ten, like: (number) × 10^(exponent). Positive exponents denote large numbers, while negative ones indicate small ones. For instance, the Earth-Sun distance, about 93 million miles, is shown as 9.3 × 10^7 miles in scientific notation.

Despite cultural and language differences, scientific notation's universal use ensures consistent data presentation in global scientific communication. Some localization may alter the presentation slightly, like using a comma for the decimal point, or different symbols for multiplication or exponentiation. However, the core concept remains globally consistent, emphasizing the essential role of scientific notation in global scientific dialogue.

Language (Country)Language-sensitive representation
English (United States)1.234E5
French (France)1,234E5
German (Germany)1,234E5
Chinese (China)1.234E5
Hindi (India)1.234E5
Arabic (Egypt)١٫٢٣٤اس٥

Compact notation

Compact notation is a type of number formatting often used in digital platforms and social media to express large numbers in a more readable and compact way. This notation simplifies large numbers by using units such as K (thousand), M (million), B (billion), and so on. For example, a YouTube video with 1,000,000 views might be displayed as having "1M views". Similarly, a Twitter account with 2,000 followers would show as having "2K followers".

The use of compact notation can vary across regions and languages due to localization. While the basic concept of using abbreviations like K, M, and B is widely used, the specific abbreviations can differ based on the language.

Language (Country)Language-sensitive representation
English (United States)1.2M
French (France)1,2 M
German (Germany)1,2 Mio.
Chinese (China)123万
Hindi (India)12 लाख
Arabic (Egypt)١٫٢ مليون

Custom number format

Custom number formatting lets users create and implement their own unique formatting rules. This comes in handy when standard formatting options don't suit certain needs or preferences. However, localizing these custom formats can be challenging, so it's important to approach this with caution.

Tips and best practices for implementing number localization properly

  • Understand your target audience: Before implementing number localization, it's crucial to understand the target audience, including their language, country, and cultural practices. This understanding will guide you in making accurate localization decisions.

  • Use locale-specific formats: Different regions and languages have different conventions for number formatting. This includes variations in decimal and thousands separators, digit grouping, currencies, measurement units, and others. Make sure to use the correct representation of data for the locale you're targeting.

  • Use proper fonts: When localizing numbers, it's important to choose a font that supports the target languages. This ensures that your content is accurately and effectively communicated, making it more accessible to your audience. Not doing so can lead to misunderstanding, poor user experience, and potential loss of trust in your content or product.

  • Follow standard abbreviations: When using compact notation, make sure to follow the standard abbreviations used in the target locale. For example, while 'K', 'M', and 'B' are used for thousands, millions, and billions in English, other languages may use different abbreviations.

  • Consider different numeral systems: Some languages may rely on different numeral systems. Be mindful of these differences when localizing numbers for these languages.

  • Test your localization: Always test your number localization to ensure it works correctly and is accurately understood by users in the target locale. This can help catch any errors or misunderstandings before they reach the end users.

  • Use localization tools and libraries: There are many tools and libraries available that can help with number localization, such as the internationalization (i18n) libraries in many programming languages. These tools can simplify the process and help ensure accuracy.

  • Stay updated with changes: Language and cultural practices can evolve over time, and it's important to stay updated with these changes to ensure your number localization remains accurate and relevant.

Conclusion

The world of number localization is vast and fascinating. As our society becomes more global, the need for effective number localization becomes increasingly essential, especially in the realm of software development. Understanding the nuances of different regional and cultural number formats is key to ensuring clear communication and providing a user-friendly experience. From digit grouping and decimal point placement to currency symbols and scientific notation, number localization covers a wide array of formats and uses. Despite the challenges it may pose, the value it brings to global interactions is undeniable. Therefore, adopting the right strategies, staying aware of cultural nuances, and leveraging the right tools is crucial in achieving accurate number localization.

Number localization is a part of the larger software localization process. If you've previously worked on app localization, you're aware of its complexities. To make your work easier, why not try Localizely for free? It might just be the key to ease your workflow!

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Zoran Luledzija
Zoran Luledzija

Zoran is a Software Engineer at Localizely. His primary interest is web development, but he also has a solid background in other technologies. For the last few years, he has been involved in the development of software localization tools.

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