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Best Practices: Localization & translation of your mobile apps

Localization is more than translation. In terms of localizing mobile apps, it means going beyond translating your app into different languages and onto full on adaptation to a country or region. The goal is to provide local users with a custom-made user experience.

Why localize your mobile apps

Because English is still, just another language.

Because huge non-English app markets, such as China are teeming with potential, and the key to unlocking them - localizing your mobile app. Localizing your mobile app provides you with an opportunity to enter a new market, gain visibility, exposure and thrive.

And lastly, because more and more time online is spent right on the smartphone and the figure says this trend is bound to continue.

How to plan the localization of your mobile apps

Before localization - there is internationalization. Internationalization is the process of making sure your app is localization friendly. This means it is not hard-coded, that the source code is separated from the actual dynamic content which will be translated and localized. Internationalization done well and timely will save you time and money once the localization process starts.

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1) Select target markets

One of the first questions that obviously comes to mind when localizing your mobile apps is “Which languages and which countries?”.

Focus your resources: the best localization is smart, well-thought out localization. Just because there are thousands of languages available, it doesn’t mean all will work for your app and your overall market expansion goals. Choose your markets carefully. If your app is already published, checking the current stats will help you see where there might be untapped potential.

2) Analytics

If you already have a mobile app, check your app analytics to identify countries and markets that are already using your product. If you don’t have a mobile app, you might be able to do some competitive research to see which apps are localized to which markets.

3) Market research

Keep in mind that different countries have different popularity in iOS and Android phones, resulting in a lot of different screen sizes, and customized versions of operating systems. You need to know those details before getting started with your actual localization project.

How to localize your mobile apps

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Choosing a translation management system

Managing app localization & translation projects for mobile apps used to be a messy topic. Files were sent between translators, developers and product people resulting in outdated translations and poor quality. A translation management system - such as LingoHub - takes care of this process and manages all translations in one place, making it easy for everyone involved to collect, translate and review content.

Some features & benefits of a translation management system:

Integration in development workflow: It allows a seamless integration and sync between the development process and the translation work. Meaning: The translation is a continuous effort and as soon as new features are programmed, the copy is made available for being translated.

Editing & Review: It allows translators to easily do the translation job and review existing translations.

Quality control tools ensure that all translations are correct and in the right place.

Automation with Translation Memory & Machine Translation: speed up the process and ensure consistency throughout all phases of the project.

Managing translators

When translating your app, you most likely rely on human resources that can help you with your localization efforts. This means hiring professional translators or finding people on your team that speak the local language and are able to help with the translation efforts.

Great translation management systems also allow you to hire professional translators for various languages directly through their system. This takes away the hassle of manually researching, hiring and managing them, as everything is done through one system.

Whether you opt for hiring external translators or bringing one on your team, think about the translators in time. Be sure to provide them with enough context so that they can provide you with the best possible service.

Translating text segments will go faster and easier if the translators understand what is the context of the text, where it will be positioned and what outcomes actions will deliver. Consider providing the translators with either access to the source app or at least visual cues and explanations

Localizing text & non-string content

Text localization comes in play once internationalization is done and once you have selected your preferred locales.

The locale will then influence beyond text, such as currencies, time and date layout, measurements, numbers etc. This is where the good internationalization pays off big time.

One of the main challenges of text localization is certainly pluralization. Make sure your text segments are pluralization-friendly and that there’s enough space in the layout for all variants.

Localizing visual content

App development and design should be done with localization in mind. Since different languages require different spacing and layout, be sure your app’s interface will be localization friendly from the visual point of view as well.

For example, your app localized to right-to-left languages might require a completely different user interface to your original one. While some languages have larger font sizes, the words are usually shorter. On the other hand, some languages have many compounds that take more space than typical English words do.

Visual localization of your mobile app can include changes of navigation elements, color scheme, pictures and videos, etc.

Different countries and cultures have different understanding of colors and understanding that can be crucial. For example, the red color in some countries is used to signal danger, while in other cultures it’s considered the bringer of good luck.

Beyond basics

How localized your app (and how successful it is) will depend greatly on how well you have researched your desired market. For example, while you might translate the sign-up page of your app into Mandarin, it might not generate as much visibility and use as you have desired.

Why? Because the sign up page offers a Facebook or Google sign in option, but not to a WeChat account which dominates the Chinese app market.

Don’t forget!

Localization of the Privacy guidelines and In-app purchases is a must, especially if the market you have your eyes set on has strict legal provisions for user privacy protection. Know your audience and deliver accordingly.

App Store Content

App store optimization (ASO) should be on your list of priorities. Whether you are releasing your app on Google Play, App Store or third option - make sure your content is localized properly. This includes:

  • Name of your app - are you planning to keep the source name? Will it fit the locale requirements or will be an unfortunate incident?
  • Keywords - keywords should be adapted to your target audience through and through
  • App previews - screenshots and videos need to be aligned (for example, in R-T-L languages, visual content is also read from the same perspective as text)
  • App page

Localization & OTA Updates

Over-the-air updates are huge time savers. What OTA basically does is that, instead of going through the iOS app store for a review and publishing processes, updates are directly sent to all versions and devices instantly.

Your development team does not need to build a new version in order to update the UI texts. Once your users have an internet connection, the text in the app is automatically updated. Consequently, you do not need to go through the review process and you don't need to wait days for approval in the app store.

Localizing via OTA means that you can update your app's current version with fresh translation or new language support. This synchronization with the development and release process is crucial for maintaining the continuous translation process.

Testing your localized mobile apps

Test, test, test - before releasing your app onto the new market, make sure you have it checked, used and reviewed by native speakers.

There are various mobile app testing approaches available. Functional testing (such as Smoke Testing or UAT) for example ensures that the mobile app’s functionality and performance isn’t affected by the localization done. At this point, the person running the test doesn’t necessarily need to understand the localized languages.

In addition, conducting user tests (such as alpha or beta tests) will ensure that the app is working properly, while all translations are correct. This test needs to be done by native speakers that understand the translated languages.

Lastly, stay open for feedback. Even the best localization can be improved upon. Listen to your users and provide them with an opportunity to share their feedback - and then evolve further.

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Related Best Practices

Further resources

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