Localization is a vital step in app development — at least if you want your software to remain competitive in the broader market and succeed in globalizing the app. Although English is the language of international communication, there are plenty of people who don’t speak it, and many of those who prefer the apps they use to be in their native tongues. You would be wise to satisfy this need; otherwise, you risk losing vast swathes of your market. However, there is a huge difference between localizing software and localizing it well. Let’s discuss the steps that make app localization worthwhile.
Deciding on your app localization strategy
The data on which languages are the most widespread among app users is fairly easily available and precise. Theoretically, you can simply choose five to six of the most popular ones and concentrate your app localization efforts on them. However, it is not always a viable strategy for everybody.
There are two basic approaches to app localization: deep localization and minimum viable localization. Both of them have a place in the market.
Deep localization means that you choose a limited number of national markets but put a lot of effort in each of them. Localization, in this case, isn’t limited to just translation, although it should be near-perfect for such an approach to be viable. You should introduce features exclusive for the local users, run local promotional campaigns — in a sense, you develop an app from the ground up so that it feels as if it was initially created for this particular market. If you have enough resources (both financial and human) to pull this off, it may be a perfect investment. But it’s not for everybody.
Minimum viable localization means that you limit yourself to making the app understandable for local users by translating its interface (or even its most essential part). It is used when you want to get as broad an audience as quickly as possible or if you are unsure if you are willing to expand to a particular national market and want first to test the waters there.
Both methods have their place — it is not committing to a single strategy from the very beginning that is dangerous.
Internationalizing your app
Internationalization is the process of preparing a product for localization — a preliminary set of procedures that set the groundwork for all your future localization efforts. Internationalization takes place only once, and after that, your app will be ready for localization into any number of languages. At first, user interface text strings are extracted from the code and placed into an external resource file. This allows your translators to prepare the app for any number of national audiences without dealing with the code itself. After that, you create a resource file for every localization — when the app loads it will refer to the file that suits the user’s settings better.
Pseudo-translation is a preliminary stage of localization that mimics the procedure of real translation. Put simply, it is a placeholder “translation” that checks if your application is going to work properly in another language. It means replacing all the symbols in your texts with symbols that aren’t used in English but look similar (for example, accented versions of vowels). It may also be useful to double or triple some characters to test how the app is going to perform with expanded strings (many if not most languages tend to have words and sentences longer than in English). As a result, you will receive texts that are still readable for English speakers (although they look a bit weird) but test how your app will behave when translated and discover potential problems.
This practice may look a bit silly, but in fact, it is incredibly efficient — about 70 percent to 80 percent of bugs and glitches that would usually become evident only after translators do their job can be discovered at this stage.
Choosing correct translation management software
The times when app localization entailed an exchange of messy Excel spreadsheets by email are, thankfully, long gone. The market has plenty of translation management software solutions (TMS) to speed up and streamline this process significantly, and if you are serious about your app localization efforts, you should certainly use one. However, they all come with their pros and cons, and unless you intend to outsource the translation entirely, you should get acquainted with specifics. Pay special attention to cloud-based collaboration, flexible use of translation memory, ability to integrate with other systems (e.g., content management systems), and especially vendor dependence (a provider that is too restrictive is usually not worth dealing with).
No translation job is ever limited to mechanical replacement of words of one language to those of another. Even top-notch translators make mistakes if they doesn’t know the context — which is why it is your job to provide it unless you want gibberish for translation. Creating a glossary and style guide can help, but make sure your translators know what your app does and where each string goes. This will significantly improve both the quality of translation and the speed at which it is done.
Crowdsourcing is certainly not a must but it is a very viable opportunity in some situations nonetheless. If your app has a broad and stable community, you can delegate localization to your users. In any large group, there will be people who are both skilled and enthusiastic about the app to invest their time to achieve the best results. Thus, you will minimize the expenditure and make sure the translation is carefully adapted to local realities. There’s no guarantees of either good speed or high quality – you depend on your community’s goodwill, and it may not apply to every testing situation.
Even when translating plain text from one language into another, mistakes, inconsistencies, and poor phrasing are inevitable. Localization, however, is something much more complicated and involved than simply translating all the text. One and the same string with text may appear in many different places in a variety of contexts. It may look OK in English. In another language — not so much.
And it is not just the linguistic aspect of the problem; what’s more, app localization sometimes results in programming mistakes that weren’t present in the original version of an app. To find all the inconsistencies and eliminate the bugs before the localized version is released it has to be tested, checked and rechecked from all sides – preferably by a team of professional testers.
App store optimization
The end of translation and testing doesn’t mean the end of app localization. Now, make sure your app gets as much visibility in the app store of your choice as possible. You will have to test local audiences, optimize your content to use the most suitable search terms, and take into account local preferences.
Make sure the app’s name and description have correct translations and use the right keywords. Keep an eye on terminology — it should be consistent with the app itself.
Organizing app localization properly is essential for the global success of your app — and using these suggestions can both decrease the expenditure of time and money and increase its overall quality.
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