How to Localize a Mobile App

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.

How to choose a target language

The number of app downloads in a given country is an important indicator, but not the only one. In order to figure out which languages the app needs to be translated into first, you should also consider the following factors:

1. Where your users are located

First of all, take a look at your audience. In which markets is your app most in demand? If it is constantly downloaded by users from Poland, localizing the app for this market will bring you even more installs, even if Polish is not the most widely spoken language in the world.

2. How much money is on the market

Just because users from China download more apps than the others doesn’t guarantee that they will bring you the most revenue. Popularity of your product in a certain country depends on many factors, including its cultural characteristics and the monetization method you choose. For example, users in India install more than 17 billion apps a year, but they rarely buy them — they mostly download free software that makes money from displaying ads.

Information on downloads alone is not enough for selecting a target language for localization. Take a close look at the markets that generate the most revenue for app stores:

3. What your competitors do

Check out what your colleagues in the market are doing. For example, among App Store game developers, the top ten most popular languages are German, French, Japanese, Russian, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Simplified Chinese, and Polish. They account for more than 80% of the words translated from English as part of localization of 14,000 mobile games.

You can’t do without analytics when choosing a target language, and it’s definitely worth it. According to a report prepared by the analytical company Distimo, the number of downloads for an app that was localized increases downloads by 128% and the revenue in the selected market — by 26% — already within a week after the localization has been completed.

Three localization methods

Another important question: who should I assign the job to? Some things can be done independently, but only a few people are capable of translating into more than 2–3 languages. Of course, you can use the simplest and most affordable option and translate everything using Google Translate. However, the effectiveness of such method is rather dubious, and you have no way of knowing how your audience is going to react to the results of such translation. And the results may be quite surprising — like this one, for example:

Fortunately, there are other solutions:

1. Hire freelancers

If you choose to cooperate with experienced linguists, the quality of work will be much higher than that of machine translation. The difficulty of this method is that you will have to find translators and organize all the work with them yourself.

2. Use intermediary services

Sites that work with professional translators are a good solution. All you need to do is just upload a file with the text, pay, and wait for the translation. This method is convenient, but you need to be careful: you will have to make sure that the linguists stay on task, check the quality of the translation, and verify that it fits into the app interface.

3. Hire an agency

The best option is to find a reputable company with a well organized team of translators, editors, and project managers. You can choose a comprehensive localization package that agencies usually offer and that includes translation of the app, of all the marketing and reference materials, as well as localization testing.

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What is a localization kit and why do I need it?

How do I prepare for localization? First of all, put together a localization kit — a set of documents for translators. It can be divided into three parts:

1. The material to be translated

Include all texts and other types of content — such as audio recordings and videos — that need to be localized.

2. Resource materials

The more information you provide to the translators, the better the results of their work will be. Try to provide them with the following documents:

  • Glossary — a list of terms that should be translated uniformly, and notes explaining such terms. This may include product and service names, technical designations, and other specific terminology.
  • Translation memory (if available) — a bilingual database with fragments of previously translated text. It speeds up the translation of repeated segments and ensures consistency of terminology.

3. Service information

Share with the translators the technical requirements to the translation: in which format you would like to receive the content (for example, some files — in TXT, and others — in XLS), as well as character limits, and any other important information.

In addition to all of the above, a localization kit usually specifies product features and linguistic localization requirements — such as the required speech style (formal or informal), the form of addressing users, and information about the app’s audience. In some cases, this information is also put together in a separate document — a style guide.

How to check the quality of localized content

The final stage of the translation process is localization testing. It allows you to find and fix errors before users install the app. As part of testing, translators check the completeness of the translation, style of the text, spelling, as well as how well it is integrated into the application and whether it is displayed correctly in the user interface.

Testing will ensure that the localized app is fully operational: that character limits are not exceeded, that there are no split strings, that all elements are adapted to the audience, and that region-specific elements, such as dates and number formats, are processed correctly.

Of course, full localization of the app requires work in other areas as well. This includes creating localized builds, translating related content — such as app store descriptions, trailers, and landing pages — and engaging in multilingual store promotion (ASO). We are going to discuss all of the above in more detail in our future articles.


Text: Artyom Shpilsky


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