The CSA Research survey of 8,709 consumers in 29 countries across Europe, Asia, North and South America showed that 76% of online shoppers prefer buying products with information in their native language. And 40% of consumers would never buy on foreign-language websites.
These findings are significant for global business. They dispel the myth that English in an app is sufficient to reach international audiences. In fact, according to CSA Research, if a company decides against localizing the purchasing experience, it risks losing at least 40% of the total target market.
We have created a practical and useful guide on how to to localize an app. It brings together the experience of two teams. First is MK:translations, 84-language translation and localization company. Second is Nektony, software development company that creates apps for macOS and iOS.
What Is Localization and Why It’s Essential for International Success
Localization is the process of adapting a product to a particular language, region, and cultural background. They do it to provide the best user experience.
Localization covers different things. For instance, translation of text, adaptation of interface, date and time format, currency, metrics and weights. Also, it covers usage of specific symbols, images and icons that are unique to a given region.
Translation and localization are connected but serve different purposes. During translation, the focus is on preserving the meaning and purpose of the text, while maintaining accuracy to the original. With localization, cultural differences are additionally considered. They do it to ensure maximum comfort and comprehension for users in the target region. Also, for the feeling that they developed a product exclusively for their country or culture.
Localization of applications provides:
- Opportunity to access the global market;
- Higher visibility in App Store and Google Play;
- Increased downloads and revenue growth;
- Higher investment profitability;
- Better user experience;
- Advantage over competitors who don’t have any localized versions in the target regions;
- Overall app rating improvement due to a combination of different factors. For example, views and downloads increase in different countries, number of user reviews, etc;
- Maintaining a positive and trustworthy image of the company and its products.
Localizing an app for international users creates huge growth opportunities. The ones that you would never be able to reach in a single market.
Where to Start If You Want to Localize an App
Let’s say there is a project that is not ready for translation. The main task of a developer is the so-called desktop publishing (DTP). In iOS and macOS application development practice, this means building CONSTRAINS. You want to do it so that when using any text, the program runs correctly. It’s a challenge, because the team that sets the task for the developers is often unaware that the word length can vary in different languages. And in practice, this issue always pops up at the testing stage. Sure, the testers check everything carefully. But they’ll still need to fix bugs, and that takes plenty of time. Moreover, it is almost impossible to check completely everything, so the probability of errors in the program translation increases.
The second key factor, which has nothing to do with the product’s performance but will affect its international success, is the language selection for localization. Although they say that English is a universal language of communication, it’s obvious that any user will find it more satisfying to interact with the product in their native language.
Top most popular languages by number of speakers:
- Chinese Mandarin (Putonghua)
Keep in mind that there may be different dialects in one language zone. For example, European Portuguese will not be considered a mother tongue in Brazil. American and Australian English have many lexical and grammatical differences. And the Spanish spoken in Madrid is not the same as the Spanish commonly used in Mexico.
When choosing a language for localization, don’t rely on ratings only. Analyze the solvency of users in a particular region and their demands regarding your product. This will ensure that you are targeting a promising market.
What the Process of App Localization Looks Like in the Eyes of Developers
Localization is a complex and multi-stage process. It requires time, effort, and company’s resources. Let’s take a closer look at the stages of app localization.
- Preparing a program for localization involves design adaptation. You need it in order to dynamically arrange text and interface elements. Also, you want to take into account the increase or decrease in text length during the translation process. For instance, if the button in the English version reads “OK” and the Spanish version is “Aceptar”, you want to adapt its size.
- Next, you shoiuld move all lines containing numeric specifiers (such as “%d”) into a separate file for translation.
- Then you submit the file for translation. At first, it’s better to translate the program into a language you are familiar with. So you can detect and correct all errors by yourself.
- Integrating translation into a project.
- Testing stage. There is usually work you need to do: you may encounter partially untranslated text, typos, and incorrect values. Editing completes this step.
- After testing in a familiar language and adjusting the file for localization, you then send it for translation into other languages.
Localization Challenges You Should Be Aware Of Beforehand
In the initial stages of development, there’s little thought given to the fact that the program is going to be translated into other languages in the future. Therefore, they do not customize languages for localization. Yet, if you’re planning further expansion into foreign markets, it’s better to foresee all the issues at once.
UX and Interface Adaptation
Words in English are often shorter than in other European languages. As an example, translation from English into German can result in a 20-35% text size increase. So, when designing an interface, you should keep in mind that one line may turn into several lines, and your text will not fit into a button.
These screenshots show that the German text doesn’t fit in one line. Also, the button is too small to fully display the name.
Some writing systems, such as Arabic and Hebrew, are represented by symbols written from right to left. Such symbols may appear smaller than Latin letters in the same font size. Thus it requires line spacing and alignment adjustments for the typography to work well for all languages in this interface. Besides, if you intend to add Korean, Japanese, or Chinese to your localization, you may experience vertical text expansion.
When talking about a particular language, one must also consider the regions where it is used and its dialects. For example, on macOS, if the system language is British English, the file disposal bin is called Bin, while in US English it’s Trash. So it’s important to understand which phrase to use: Move to Trash or Move to Bin.
Localization affects even the design and interface of Google Play and App Store pages. Take a look at how the TikTok page has been adapted for Italian and German markets:
Another interesting aspect is localization of pictures and symbols. It is essential due to cultural peculiarities of a particular region. As an example, almost all over the world, the STOP road sign is a polygon with letters on it. But in Japan, it’s different:
Even the same emojis are interpreted differently in each culture:
👍 They use thumbs up as a sign of approval in Western culture. But in Greece and the Middle East they consider this gesture vulgar and offensive.
👏 We normally use the applause emoji to express praise or congratulations. Whereas in China, it means… “to make love”.
🙂 But the biggest confusion is around the smiling emoji, because in China. It has nothing to do with joy and pleasure. They usually use it to express distrust and even mockery. Why? Because it’s the least positive of all the smiling ones. This is the logic behind it.
So, if there is a need to convey something important in your program to a foreign user, or if you need to attract their attention with a symbol or a sign, make sure that both of you have the same understanding of their meanings. Otherwise, misinterpretation or an awkward situation may happen.
Adapting Date, Time, Numbers, and Currency Formats
In macOS, if you open the settings and go to the Language and Region section, you’ll see many different metrics for temperature, time, date, and more. Looking at this page, it is already clear that all possible indicators should be changed depending on the country or region. For example, you can select the temperature in degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit, the units of measurement, the date format, and even the calendar type.
App users can also choose different date formats depending on the country they live in. To avoid any confusion, date formats should be adapted to fit a particular target market.
- Ukraine, Germany, Norway, France, Switzerland: DD.MM.YYYY
- THE USA: MM-DD-YYYY
- International English, the Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal: DD-MM-YYYY
- The UK, Italy, Spain, Belgium, South America: DD/MM/YYYY
- Poland, Czechia, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland: YYYY-MM-DD.
Since Nektony develops apps for Apple devices exclusively, we primarily follow Apple’s guidelines. Official sources provide formatters for numbers, dates, and other indicators:
We advise you to use ready-made solutions instead of wasting time researching the specifics of different countries on your own. While there are cases when a client may have special requests and requirements for data formats, Apple’s standard mechanism is enough to localize them.
Helpful Tips for Developers to Overcome Localization Challenges
Get Ready for Localization Right from the Start
Program internationalization allows you to separate user interface elements (text, graphic elements, etc.) from the code itself, simplifying the localization process later on.
Separate Text from Images
If you use images with text, you’ll find it hard to fully localize your app. So it’s best to avoid this.
Create Guidelines for Translators
Typically, program codes have lines containing numbers that must be localized as well. As an example, the app displays a confirmation window: “Click the Delete button to delete 5 files”. This may vary depending on the number of files: 1 file/3 files/10 files.
They write each of them in a special format. If a translator sends incorrect data, the program will crash and fail, instead of delivering the intended message. Only experienced translators can handle stringsdict files. So it’s recommended to create a brief manual for localizers and provide it with the output file. Otherwise, you will still get questions from the translator, or, even worse, they won’t bother and will translate as they please.
Provide Context Information
In case a translator does not understand the context of certain words, the quality of localization may be impaired. It results in confusing situations and misunderstandings. For example, the word “Book” has several meanings, such as “a printed work” and ” to make a reservation”. Thus, only context will help you choose the right option.
Don’t Separate Compound Verbs
This is a highly relevant point for improving translation quality, text comprehensibility and consistency. It’s something that not all translators talk about. And not all developers can figure it out on their own. Here are some examples of English compound verbs: give up, do away, break through.
Don’t Forget to Translate FAQs and Technical Documents
Give users the opportunity to read manuals and reference data in their native language. This is something some developers tend to overlook.
Language Support for Localized Applications
The tricky part of apps support is that they are constantly being updated. They edit some text, they add some texts. Clearly, you require ocalization after every such modification. That adds to the cost of language support, given the time spent by the team working on localized versions.
Some contractors offer a subscription package. It includes translation of minor edits within a month. But such a system won’t work for everyone. It’s because the frequency of updates can vary. And it’s something that one can’t always predict and outline in the contract. Therefore, the perfect solution for developers is to work with translation companies that provide continuous localization services.
How Does It Work? Let’s Take the Example of MK:Translations and Their Clients
Using one of the platforms (Crowdin, SmartCAT, Localise, MemoQ), the translation team is synchronized with the client’s workspace, where the localization materials are stored. These can be: a repository (GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab, Azure Repos), Google Play, Google Docs, HubSpot, Jira, Slack, Sketch, Unity, Figma, etc.
Translators can see the project workflow, work with the text, and return the completed translation to the customer’s workspace. As soon as there is an update or change, translators see it and start working. This way, localization is performed simultaneously with updates. And the developer always receives a high-quality product for all localized versions.
Evaluating Localization Effectiveness
In order to analyze the localization effectiveness of our own programs, Nektony study the sales results in the context of individual countries. Let’s have a look at two localized apps: App Cleaner & Uninstaller (localized into 8 languages in 2018) and MacCleaner Pro (localized into 7 languages in 2022).
App Cleaner & Uninstaller
The sales rate of localized versions in target countries is gradually increasing. Over the period from 2018 to 2022, the sales rate of copies in the total volume went up from 16% to 27%. The app was particularly successful in China and Japan, where sales doubled after its translation into target languages was launched. Consider that a higher % increase in sales of localized versions is expected in countries with poor English language skills among users.
The Ratio of Sold Copies of App Cleaner & Uninstaller
The number of purchased app copies in these countries doubled on average compared to the previous year.
The Ratio of Sold Copies of MacCleaner Pro
What If You Don’t Meet Your Localizing-an-App Expectations
Analyzing the results, you should take into account product features, price, and target audience. Mac Cleaner Pro, for example, has always been in greater demand in developed English-speaking countries with a solvent audience (the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia). This is due to the fact that it comes at a higher price compared to App Cleaner & Uninstaller.
If you’ve introduced a translated version to your target market and haven’t seen a significant increase in sales, there may be several reasons:
- your product is too expensive for this market;
- this is not your target audience;
- some cultural peculiarities were ignored.
Study the needs of your audience, review your pricing policy, check the main localization aspects that depend on the cultural background of the audience: language features, currency, payment system, etc. Perhaps the issue here is not that you localized for nothing, but rather that you didn’t consider the specifics of your target audience.
Petr is a serial tech entrepreneur and the CEO of Apro Software, a machine learning company. Whenever he’s not blogging about technology for itechgyan.com or softwarebattle.com, Petr enjoys playing sports and going to the movies. He’s also deeply interested in mediation, Buddhism and biohacking.