How To Translate an App and Why it's Important for User Adoption

Everyone is talking about international apps that should be made available to the widest population possible. This raises an interesting discussion about app accessibility and content in multiple languages.

date iconUpdated May 24, 2023     tag iconTranslation

Why is app localization important

The availability of an app in different languages plays an important role in its success. Translating your app content and UI will get you more app store visibility (and ranking) as there's lower competition for local keywords, and in return, you'll get more downloads.

But what should you take into consideration when translating your app? We spoke with Frederik Vollert, the co-founder of Phrase, Acolad partner for translation technology integration.

“In the past, user experience was often considered at the end of the app localization process. Now, it's normally integrated from the very beginning of app development. Agile methods require a high level of synchronization between product design, text creation, translation, and development in modern software development teams.”

The word localization” can have two different meanings regarding mobile apps or web applications:

  1. Geo localization: the location where the end device or any random target is found.
  2. Localization in terms of adaptation to local language and cultural circumstances. Different from a simple translation, localization also incorporates design elements and cultural references.

The disadvantages of bad UX in multilingual apps

Those unfamiliar with the topic may laugh at UX as design with frills or think that it deals with questions that are only of interest to market-leading apps and websites that don’t know how else to improve their product. However, app localization clearly shows the effect that poor UX, in this case meaning no translation or an incorrect translation, can have.

  1. Lack of visibility
    If you only offer your app in English, you may be excluding yourself from a listing in the French, Spanish, German, Italian, etc. app stores. Less visibility means fewer downloads.
  2. Low user acceptance
    Dissatisfied used may terminate their usage or delete the app. This applies in particular to financial apps or apps with integrated purchases. Even if a description text written solely in English does not scare off the users, they often lose patience if their own bank accounts are managed by an app that is isn’t in their own language and currency. This is especially important if payments will be made with the app or if the user would like to know more about local data security policies.
  3. Worse reviews
    Even for less critical transactions, such as restaurant recommendations, app providers risk getting worse reviews than necessary if their content is only accessible in the local language. This is critical as positive reviews are essential for a good ranking in the app store.

So here’s how to translate an app the right way

The first challenge when translating apps is project management and process coordination. But that isn’t all. “You have to consider the cultural components as well,” Vollert continues.  “Products, services and apps don't work the same way in every culture. Maybe visual markers and the design have to be adjusted and, of course, a user interface that feels local is crucial for success on the market.”

There may be an increasing level of standardization among international customs from the perspective of UX, but the reading direction, color symbols, references or external links still differ depending on the country. These parameters must be included in the design stage.

Another aspect of localizing apps is a little easier to fix: the different word lengths in different languages. Vollert explains: “A lot can go wrong on the technical side. Software is highly standardized, but nevertheless, layouts or functions are frequently broken up during localization processes, for example, through the translation of placeholder names or breaking up of computer-legible formats.”

A lot of technical texts, for example, are initially produced in English, but they are sometimes 15-20% longer in German, French or Italian. In order to prevent app users from only having sentence fragments in the end, buttons and text fields can be designed responsively. On the other hand, localization solutions offer installed “stops” after a certain sentence length during the translation.

Furthermore, the translators must be briefed correspondingly so that the short text forms are maintained and still make sense. The other scenario that Vollert described, the “breaking up” of functions, may happen if brackets or HTML tags are accidentally translated, which then results in a mix of words and design rather than giving certain commands.

Your app translation checklist

In summary, you should consider the following three aspects when localizing your app:

1. Think internationally: Include all teams (developers, product owners, UX designers, translation experts) in the app design process from the beginning. They may be freelancers or professional agencies who have experience with comparable projects.

2. Consider cultural particularities: Pictograms and colors must be understandable, and the text-image ratio should be appropriate. Data privacy regulations or external factors may also influence design, which in turn results in additional pages having to be created or adapted.

3. Use technical solutions integrated in app localization and translation: restricting the number of characters, automatic detection of HTML tags and feature previews are classic tools.

At any rate, it's better to localize too much than too little. We see a lot of customers who are successful on markets that they initially weren’t even thinking about. This only works through the internationalization of the strategy and localization of app content.

date iconUpdated May 24, 2023     tag iconTranslation

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