Localizing a mobile app may seem like a stressful process, but it doesn’t have to be if developers keep a few things in mind before starting out.
SocialTimes spoke with Sylvain Dufour, founder and CEO of FotoSwipe, a photo-sharing platform on iOS and Android, about the steps a developer should take when creating an app and localizing it for different languages.
1. Decide Which Countries to Support
Since developers have the option to launch their app in specific countries, they must first decide where their app will be available. That is, developers building an app in English may decide to only launch in major English-speaking countries, like the U.S. and Canada, instead of launching worldwide.
2. Translate the App’s App Store Description
When releasing internationally, even if an app contains content in a different language, Dufour said it was important for developers to translate the app’s app store description before releasing it in other countries, since it’s “the first experience of the user with your app, and at least they’re going to be able to understand what the app is about.”
3. Isolate the App’s Text
Before translating, Dufour said developers should pull every piece of text out of their app, and organize each line in a spreadsheet. Developers should also give each line a ‘unique identifier’ for easy reference later on.
4. Translate Each Sentence Into the Target Language
When a developer chooses to entirely localize the app for different languages, the developer must decide which languages to support. Dufour referenced ‘EFIGS,’ or, the general rule of thumb for the minimum languages developers should support when localizing their products. EFIGS stands for English, French, Italian, German and Spanish.
If they need help translating their text, Dufour said developers can hire native-speaking freelancers on a platform like Upwork to receive properly translated materials, which take into account specific cultural rules and the style of language appropriate for the product (for instance, formal or informal language). Only in the case of providing in-app support post-launch did Dufour say using Google Translate was an option.
5. Redesign Portions of the App as Necessary
After developers have translated their app’s text, Dufour said they may run into problems when inserting the text back into the app. For instance, Dufour said a sentence that has five words in English may have 11 words in German, and developers may find the screen space originally allocated to the sentence is no longer large enough.
You need to make sure that everything you’ve developed, if you haven’t done a good job initially, is still going to look good on your screen. Maybe a title on your screen, where you thought you could fit on one line, is going to take two lines now. You need to be able to manage everything so your screens are flexible [and] can adapt to short text or long text.
It could be a little bit of a challenge, and it’s going to take a lot of QA. You need to run your app and try everything, and be sure you’re looking at what your strings look like on your screen.
6. Keep Cultural Language Differences in Mind
While translating an app’s text is great, users may have a negative app experience if specific cultural language rules aren’t followed in the final product.
For instance, when displaying the date within an app, developers need to ensure they display the day and month in the proper order for each country. That is, in the U.S., March 1 may be written as ’03/01,’ but this would be Jan. 3 in France.
As another example, when translating into Arabic, developers must keep in mind Arabic is read from right to left, rather than left to right, and is right-aligned, rather than left-aligned.
FotoSwipe initially launched worldwide in English, before being translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. Dufour said only six percent of FotoSwipe’s users are from the United States, and the app’s biggest audiences are in the Middle East—specifically Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Overall, the Middle East accounts for around 25 percent of the app’s user base.
However, while the app may have first launched only in English, the FotoSwipe team designed it to be simple enough to use that even non-English speakers should have few problems. For one, instead of relying on blocks of text to teach users how the app works, the team tried to visualize the content, which is something Dufour said can help developers in their own development process.
Each time we try to explain something, instead of explaining it with long pages of text, we would put a video inside the app, with a visual demonstration of the product. Every time we try to explain something, we’d rather use an icon [or] small image, than some text.
Overall, Dufour said if developers keep in mind they may end up translating their apps during the early stages of development, they can make their lives easier later on:
As a rule of thumb, each time you have the opportunity to not display any text, but instead put in an icon, or an image or a video—just go for it. First, it’s more appealing for everybody, and it’s going to make your life easier over time.
Readers: Do you have any other tips for localizing mobile apps?