Translate a Web or Mobile Application in 8 Easy Steps
May 28, 2024

Translate a Web or Mobile Application in 8 Easy Steps

Planning to begin your global marketing journey? Or, do you want to strengthen your current sales and marketing efforts in an overseas locale? Translation of your web and mobile applications is critical in both cases, as it helps you reach your target audience quickly and efficiently.

Translating an app into the language of your target locale helps increase downloads, paid subscriptions, and overall engagement levels.

But translation and localization can be complex processes for the uninitiated. Here’s how you can launch your startup in multiple languages in eight steps:

1. Work with a professional language services provider (LSP).

Work with a professional language services provider (LSP).

Yes, we put this as step #1 for a reason. Because, this single step can save you many a headache going forward.

For a startup, it might initially be just a few pages of content that need to be translated. But these can soon pile up into huge volumes as your company grows. It then becomes a full-time job for a person and then leads to the creation of a small team. Some companies do go this way, but even then, the in-house staff actually just do the coordination between the product and marketing team and the LSP.

This is because translation volumes are usually huge these days and quick translation is needed to keep up with agile development and global marketing.

An LSP can easily stay on top of the translation processes as it’s their core job, while yours is to work on your product and the original marketing message.

2. Do your research.

From which countries are most of your international users coming? What are the languages they speak? What other localizations of your product or the interface might they prefer? Research into all of this before you choose the languages you want to translate into and the content that you want to translate. Better still, do some user surveys on what they want from your product. You might be surprised at the variations in user preferences from country to country.

3. Localize from the get-go, rather than as an afterthought.

It’s always cost-effective and faster if you plan for localization at the development stage, rather than when you are ready to launch into a market. This is because there are certain processes such as internationalization (I18n) that your developers need to do to enable hurdle-free localization. Through I18n, the same source code will work for all the languages and locales.

If your web or mobile app is not internationalized, every time you want to translate it for a new locale, you will have to extract all the strings for translation. Also, you will have manually to provide for the different formats for currencies, numbers, addresses, names, date, and time.

4. Create resource bundles.

All the translatable text in your web or mobile app should be stored in resource bundles. This way, each sentence or string that appears in your app is assigned a key value and can be easily called up from the resource bundle. As you create translations, each supported language will also have its resource bundle or library where the corresponding translated strings will be stored.

This makes translation go faster, as the strings to be translated don’t need to be extracted each time you start a translation project.

5. Translate in context.

Context is indispensable for accurate translations, as some words tend to have more than one meaning. You can use translation tools that allow the translator to see the context of the word directly when they are working. That is, they can see where on the page a word appears. This saves a lot of time that would otherwise be spent in back and forth with the client.

If you are not using such tools, provide screenshots and notes to help clarify the context.

Creating a glossary is a good idea, as it can help translators understand any product- or company-specific jargon. You can add notes on what words shouldn’t be translated, like brand names. As new terms may be added or older ones deleted, update your glossary.

6. Localize non-textual content, too.

Consider the images, icons, and other visual elements you may have included in the original content. Are they making sense to the reader in the target locale in the exact way that you had intended? Some images may not make it across to another culture. Some others might be plain offending. You need to replace such images.

In right-to-left languages, orient all the non-visual content such as navigational elements and icons in the same way as the text.

Translate any text that might be inserted in images as well. It is a best practice to not embed text in the image file, as this can prove to be very time-consuming to translate.

7. Make it easy for your user to find the language of their choice.

Some companies put in a lot of effort in translation, but not as much in making sure the user finds the language of their choice easily. As a result, users fumble around in an alien language environment, even though the app might actually be offering their language. But because it’s tucked away in some corner or not displayed appropriately, they never actually get to make the choice.

However, you can prevent this in a few easy steps:

a. Display language choices prominently on your web or mobile app.

b. Do not use flags to indicate languages. A language may be spoken in more than one country.

c. The best way is to display the language name in the script of the language.

8. Use machine translation where you can.

Use machine translation where you can.

Not all content can be auto-translated, but use it where you can to achieve speed and scale. Usually, you need to translate user-facing content manually, but technical documentation can be translated via machine translation (MT). When used in conjunction with other translation technology such as translation memory and terminology management tools, MT can often improve over time and bring in significant benefits of cost and time savings and quality consistency.

In many locales, web or mobile app interface is expected by default to be in the local language. Here, translation and localization is not something extra you offer to users – you are simply complying with the norm. In some other locales like India, for example, translation and localization of web or mobile apps is catching up slowly. Here, these processes can bring you an added advantage in market domination.

Either way, it is clear that when operating in multi-language locales, you need translation and localization, either to survive or thrive.

Make it easy for your user to find the language of their choice.

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