Our Guide to Mobile App Localization

Mobile app localization – part of the process for customising your app to look and work in another language just as seamlessly as it does in its original.

Effective localization will allow you to release your mobile app directly to new international markets, offering great opportunities for expansion, growing your client base exponentially, and of course, increasing revenues.

Localization could include variations of the same language, such as with UK English and US English or even Canadian English; en_US or en_CA (these are known as locales). The Spanish that’s spoken in Spain can be quite different to the Spanish spoken by native speakers in many other parts of the world such as in Argentina or Mexico. Naturally, the same applies to many languages from English to French and even Russian. This is where locales are used to define a subset of the same language.

Culturally Sensitive Marketing

When initially looking into the localization of any mobile app, it’s important to think about the cultural differences that you may face as you expand into new regional markets. Reaching far beyond mere translation of the textual content inside your app, you will need to accurately and carefully localize the content, making sure it portrays the same meaning to new language users who quite likely have no understanding of the default language your app uses.

Concise and Consistent Terminology

This means that you must be acutely aware that any ‘literal’ translation, while technically accurate, may cause undue confusion for new users. Even the words ‘click here’ or terms with potential double meaning such a ‘Contact’ as a verb could be mistaken for a noun in the standalone usage that they are often employed within mobile app structure. It’s imperative that your linguists have an understanding of your original meanings, as well as, allowing them to tweak certain terms to better reflect the user’s expectations within the new language market.

Symbols and Meaning

Even small aspects that may seem trivial such as your chosen colour palette you use or the screenshots displayed within app stores to promote your app can have a big impact on how a user perceives your product. Simple symbols or gestures can have totally different meanings in varying countries. For example, the well known English “thumbs up” gesture, is a friendly method of conveying the meaning ‘OK’, while in other parts of the world like Iran or South America this gesture is considered highly rude, the equivalent of raising a middle finger in English speaking countries. This highlights the importance of making sure your mobile app localization strategy covers all elements within an app, from the formatting to the content, to ensure a positive user experience across all languages.

Microsoft sums it up well in their guidelines for localization:

“Images that might be appropriate in your own culture may be offensive or misinterpreted in other cultures. Avoid use of religious symbols, animals, or color combinations that are associated with national flags or political movements.”

Avoid Hard Coding Any Language Content

Even before mobile app localization occurs, it can be of immeasurable benefit to develop mobile apps with internationalization in mind from the start. These two terms may often be confused or used interchangeably, each one plays a unique role in preparing your software for international launch.

Internationalization involves designing and developing in a way that focuses on enabling future localization of an app into numerous different languages, providing support for key features that may not be used until the localization has occurred. Don’t hard code text into an application or even onto an image, because when it comes to translating these elements, the task will prove to be much harder to complete. By always separating translatable content from your core source code so that it may be edited and implemented externally based on the user’s preference or location, you will save both time and money.

Formatting, Layout and Graphics

Most of us are accustomed to reading many languages in Left-To-Right (LTR) format, yet in many countries, this is not the case. Arabic for one, is read from Right-To-Left (RTL). You should always consider how the swap between these formats may impact the user experience. Opting for symmetrical images can really help your app localization process, by avoiding common hurdles such as shadow effects or mirrored logos. Symmetrical imagery eases the implementation of localization changes and can go a long way to ensuring your app isn’t a localization resource eater!

Not all devices are the same size! Just as a website needs to mobile optimised, your app will need to support a range of screen sizes and resolutions. It’s always a good idea to avoid using fixed heights or widths, but rather opting for a fluid layout in order to accommodate the multitude of varying screen sizes and text string lengths. Allowing space for these inevitable changes, and separating the elements of your app that will require localization from the hard code is vastly preferable in terms of cost and time efficiency, but will also help to protect your application functionality from any needless hard code editing later on.

Listen to App Developer Advice

It’s important not to forget that we live in a world that has plenty of non-unified measurements. Apple and Android have both provided APIs to manage the time and data, along with some other commonly used measurements such as length, mass and energy.

Utilise the power of the APIs provided to do the grunt work. Don’t reinvent the wheel just use the existing one to make your life that little bit easier. This sage advice can also be applied to many life scenarios, but that’s for another blog.

Helpfully, Apple and Android have provided their own instructions and tips for localizing your app to help you along even further. Even if you’re not planning on localizing for more than one app store, it’s always good practice to read into the processes for each marketplace, as you never know where you might want to target next!

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