We’ve written before about the importance of localizing mobile apps. The spread of smartphones and tablets around the world means that localization opens up a huge new customer pool. But, if you’re not familiar with the translation and localization process, you may wonder where to start. Here are some of the best practices.
Start in development
You should plan for localization from the very start of your design and development process. Localization is quickest and easiest if you plan for localization during your writing, design, and coding stages of your project. That way you can avoid having to make major changes later in the project.
Plan for text expansion
A translation of even one word may be significantly longer in another language. This is a particular concern for mobile apps where space is already limited. Be sure to leave room for text expansion.
Follow platform guidelines
Separate out your translatable content
Translatable content should be separate from your executable code—not hard coded in the app. Android, for example, specifically instructs developers to put all their translatable strings in a strings.xml file that is declared as a resource in the code. This eliminates the need to change the code for the entire application for each translation.
Provide context for your strings
Remember that the translators cannot know the context for individual strings just from seeing them in your Excel, xml or other file. Knowing the context of a word or phrase—how it is used, the part of speech, meaning of idioms, character limits—will save a lot of back and forth with translators. A comment column in your Excel spreadsheet, or comments in your XML file can perform this function. Screenshots of UI strings in context are optimal. See our earlier article that discussed in detail how to prepare strings for translation.
Internationalize your code
In particular make sure that your code is set up to easily update dates, times, user data (name, address and phone formats) and currencies to particular locales.
Make sure there is a translation memory
When you later make changes to your strings or use the same strings in another app, you don’t want to find that everything needs to be translated again. Make sure that your language partner or the translation technology you choose maintains a translation memory of all of your strings for future use, to cut costs and speed up translation as well as improve consistency for your foreign users.
Choose your technology
Machine translation is never appropriate for app localization. There is no way for you to give a machine translation system context for your strings, so they will inevitably get a lot wrong. Supplying your string files with comments to your language partner for translation each time is the simplest way to proceed. Translators can work directly with these files. When translation is completed the language partner simply delivers the translated files for replacement in the localized app version.
If you are planning on producing many apps in many languages, however, you should consider different technologies. Online platforms exist that automate many of the parts of the translation process, including string extraction, and online translation workflow interface, and the maintenance of a translation memory. MTM LinguaSoft offers one such option that will also provide delivery of the translated text directly to mobile devices if desired.
Work with a language partner
Choose a language partner that has experience with app localization. A good language partner can advise you on translation, technology, and cultural issues as you go along. They will also set up a translation process that facilitates communication between you and the translators to deal with any questions that may come up along the way. Finally, they will arrange for the localized app to be tested by native language speakers in the relevant locales.
So start expanding the markets for your mobile apps with localization. For best results, localize your marketing content as well.