How to Localize a Mobile App

Mobile App Localization

Nowadays your smartphone is a window into an international virtual space. You can install a hundred different apps on it — games, social media apps, notepads, photo and video editors — and carry them around with you in your pocket. A single tap on the screen allows you to watch a livesteam of a concert or relax with an online game on the subway.

It must be heaven for developers, right? People use dozens of apps a day. There’s an app for every user and a user for every app. But developers’ native markets aren’t always enough — many of them want to expand to other regional markets and attract even more users. But this is where we start running into trouble.

English is considered a universal language, but only 1.3 billion of the almost eight million people in the world speak it. On top of that, every country has its own cultural and linguistic features that don’t make sense to people in other countries. For example, British people will get confused if a weather app shows the temperature in Fahrenheit, which is the standard in the US. But people in the UK and the US supposedly speak the same language.

If you want to adapt a program to foreign markets as thoroughly and effectively as possible, you need to localize it. And if you want the localization process to go smoothly and not cost an arm and a leg, you need to prepare for it in advance. But let’s take this one step at a time.

Choosing Languages for Localization

If your app is only available to English-speaking users, you are losing up to 90% of potential installs. Among the top five countries in terms of mobile app downloads, the US accounts for less than 10%. Users from other countries — China, Brazil, Indonesia, and India — usually search for apps in their native languages. All you need to do in order get access to this audience is to provide them with a product in a language they understand.

Choosing languages for localization

The first thing you need to do is decide exactly which languages you want to adapt your product into. And make sure you have the resources to do it. If you want to play it safe, start with just one foreign language, We’ve got some tips that will help you make the right choice.

Keep track of downloads and user reviews If your app is getting more downloads in Poland than anywhere else, maybe you should think about localizing it into Polish. After all, if users get the chance to download your app in their native language, you’ll get even more downloads and positive reviews.

Take a good look at statistics Here are a few interesting facts: China and India are among the counties with the most mobile app downloads, but people in Indonesia spend more time on apps than anyone else in the world — 5.5 hours a day. Brazil and Korea trail very slightly behind.

Choosing languages for localization

Choosing Markets for localization

Study different markets What are the minimum specs a smartphone needs to have for your app to run on it without issues? Do people prefer in the countries you’re interested in prefer Android or iOS? Which apps do most people there use? It might be a good idea to take a look at the economic situations in different countries — an expensive game for powerful smartphones probably isn’t going to be very popular in India. But Indian users will eagerly download a free app that generates revenue from ads.

Find out which markets your competitors are trying to break into The app market is growing quickly in some countries and slowly in others. For example, according to Statista, users in Thailand started spending 33% more in mobile apps in 2021, which creates lots of opportunities for new players in this market. Other growth leaders include Germany, the UK, the US, and Canada. Which regions are a priority for your competitors?

Preparation during development for localization

It’s not enough to just pick a language the way you pick a color out of a catalog — you also need to make sensible choices during the development phase. There are a lot of things to consider, so let’s take a look at the most important factors.

  • Be ready to integrate languages that are written from right to left. Even if you aren’t planning to translate your app into Arabic, this can still be an important asset going forward. Make sure your program can be easily adapted to different kinds of writing without sacrificing readability.
    You can test your app with pseudo-localization tools. These are programs that replace the text in your app with a set of characters with diacritic marks or Asian characters depending on the language you select. You can use these programs to see how well a hypothetical translation would fit into your interface and make sure it supports all characters.
  • Try to keep text and images separate. Combining text and images can lead to lots of technical difficulties during localization — you’ll have to translate the text and reinsert it back into the image without it spilling over the edges or messing up your interface design.
  • Every country has its own standards for dates, times, and currency. Make sure you can easily change these things in your app.
  • Keep in mind that every country also has its own conventions when it comes to names — people in Iceland generally don’t have last names, whereas people in Spanish-speaking countries sometimes have two first names and two last names. So it’s important to make sure your app has enough fields to accommodate any information a user might need to enter.
  • Some developers also try to adapt the visual part of their app to the target culture. For example, users of a photo editing app in China, Japan, and Europe will see different models that are closer to the standard of beauty in their respective countries.

Preparation during development for localization

Finding a localizer

While you’re preparing your app for localization, you should also start looking for translators. There are three main options:

  • Freelancers You can hire experienced translators who don’t work for any specific company. This will probably be the cheapest option, but it also has its drawbacks: you’ll have have to find qualified candidates, manage them, and oversee the entire localization process on your own. It will also be extremely difficult for you to evaluate the quality of your translators’ work.
  • Translation agencies These are companies that offer translation services. Small agencies can work with dozens or even hundreds of languages, but ensuring the quality of individual texts is almost impossible in this kind of “conveyor belt” system. The end result will depend on how lucky you got with a given translator in a given language. Moreover, these companies may not be especially proficient with the technical side of things — for example, they might not be able to work with certain file formats.
  • Localization agencies As a rule, these are trusted companies with a good reputation, a time-tested quality assurance system, and a team of translators, contractors, editors, and project managers who work well together. Experts with a lot of experience and knowledge of potential localization pitfalls can help you make the best decisions for your project. These agencies also offer testing as well as localization. This is a reliable option that requires minimal effort from you and guarantees high-quality results.

Finding a localizer

Getting your materials ready

The next step is preparing the materials the localizers will work with. The more information they get at the beginning, the fewer problems you’ll encounter during the translation process. There are the most important things:

  • Information about the product You’ll need to tell them all about the app itself, including what its purpose is, which audience it’s intended for, and which country it’s being localized for. For mobile games, localizers need to know the type, genre, setting, and a general description of the game’s world and characters. This information will help them not only consider various nuances during localization, but also skillfully adapt the app. For example, it might tell them the best way to address the user (formally or informally) or which Spanish dialect to use (European or Latin American).
  • Translation files These files includes all the text, voice over scripts, and other materials that need to be translated. It’s sometimes called a localization kit or “lockit.”
  • Screenshots or build Localizers use these to learn about the app’s interface and understand the context in which the text will be used to they can translate it properly. If your product only has a few sections, two or three screenshots should cut it. But if it has lots of screens, tabs, and pop-up windows, you’ll probably want to provide a build.
  • Styleguide This document can contain requirements regarding the style or tone to be used in the localization, as well as preferences for translators.

Getting your material for Mobile App Localization

If you’ve localized your app before, you may have additional data that would be very useful to localizers, including:

  • Glossary This is a list of words and phrases that translators are expected translate the same way throughout the entire project. They can includes things like the names of services or specific terms. For games, the glossary can contain the names of locations, items, and characters, as well as other details.
  • Translation memory This is a database of fragments of previously translated text. These fragments are used to show how certain phrases and sentences were translated earlier, which can save a lot of time and preserve stylistic continuity.

Localization testing

At long last, your app’s localization is finally ready. Now it’s time to hand it over to the testers. Their primary goal is to make sure that:

  • The translation matches the context. For example, the phrase “three turns left” can mean either “the third thing turns left” or “you have three turns remaining.” The tester will see it in context, and if the translator made a mistake, they’ll tell the project manager about it.
  • Text, interface elements, and graphical materials are displayed correctly. The most common bugs include lines that have been cut off, displayed on top of one another, or transposed, as well as text that is omitted or untranslated.
  • The app works correctly. The testers who are responsible for the first two parts are usually linguists, but the testers who handle this part are programmers. They check to make sure the app can be installed without issues, there are no crashes or hangs, and all the buttons in the interface work.

Only after all the bugs have been squashed can you finally say, “It’s done!” At least until the first update, that is. What if your new design eats a chunk of text or nudges a line over?

Yeah, there's more to this than just localization. In addition to the app you’ve released, you’ll also have an app store page, a website, and advertising, and it all needs to be translated.

If you want to make sure you don’t let a single detail slip through the cracks and release a top-notch product, you need to hire a team of experienced professionals.

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