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Mobile App Localization: Breaking Language Barriers for Global Audiences

App localisation demands a well-crafted strategy and technological support, thus we have prepared a guide describing the key steps.

According to the annual report by Statista, in 2022, 255 billion mobile apps were downloaded globally. This indicates an insatiable demand for content in users’ native languages. Breaking down language and cultural barriers is crucial for reaching a broad user base and ensuring that your app’s benefits are accessible to all. App localisation is the key element that can help expand your mobile app’s reach, boost download rates, and elevate revenue figures on a global scale.

Successful app localisation demands a well-crafted strategy and technological support, thus we have prepared a guide describing the key steps and concepts of the process.

What is localisation

Before we go further into the discussion of the localisation process, let’s clarify the distinctions among translation, localisation, and internationalisation—terms often used interchangeably. While they may sound synonymous, each carries its distinct meaning.

Translation, executed by either human translators or machines, involves replacing words from one language with their equivalents in another, aiming to maintain the same meaning (what is being said).

Localisation, on the other hand, goes deeper, incorporating cultural nuances and norms to capture not just what is being said but also how it’s expressed.

Serving as the technical backbone for translation and localisation, internationalisation is a task handled by developers.

In this article we mainly will dwell on the process of localisation.

Reasons to localise your app

Though English is often regarded as a universal tool bridging diverse native languages, recent research challenges this assumption by revealing a strong user preference for content in their own language.

The “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” report shows that 65% of respondents prefer content in their language even if it’s poor quality. This report draws insights from a survey conducted by CSA Research, involving 8,709 consumers across 29 locales. As you can see, localisation is essential if you plan to scale the business. Below are the advantages it offers.

Expanding Market Reach

App localisation serves as the cornerstone for venturing into new markets. It can help your business evolve from a startup to an enterprise level. Thus, for example, the Arab audience due to the significant number of Arabic script users, makes it the third most written language globally. With around 660 million people across 22 countries using Arabic, language and UI directionality (right-to-left) localisation can become a game-changer for a business.

Enhancing App Engagement

Users value app content tailored to their preferences and requirements, significantly impacting their overall experience. Tailored content not only boosts engagement but also fosters loyalty among users.

Driving Sales Growth

A strategic investment in localisation leads to a substantial market share increase in each new country entered, consequently elevating revenue streams.

Amplifying App Downloads and Visibility

Researches prove that app store descriptions written in the local language can enhance app downloads by up to 38%, underscoring the importance of localised content in increasing visibility and user adoption.

Localisation Types

There are several strategies of app localisation that can be used depending on the specific objectives and resources. The two primary approaches are Minimum Viable Localisation (MVL) and Full App Localisation.

Minimum Viable Localisation

MVL focuses on localising key features, app store descriptions, and metadata, making it suitable for early-stage swift market entry. The launch of Evernote in China serves as a great example of MVL, where the note-taking app successfully adapted crucial elements to the local market, achieving success with a simplified product and Chinese branding.

Full App Localisation

Full App Localisation is a comprehensive approach that suits more global companies committed to maximising reach and revenue.

Here are a few examples of companies that have effectively implemented app localisation and benefited from it.

WhatsApp — the popular messaging app that supports multiple languages, regional dialects, and cultural nuances to cater to its diverse user base across the globe.

Netflix — a streaming giant, not only offers a variety of subtitles but also produces original content in different languages.

Duolingo — a language learning app itself, Duolingo employs effective localisation strategies. It tailors language courses, interfaces, and content to suit the preferences and cultural contexts of users in various regions.

Apple Maps is another example of an app that enhances user experience through localization. It not only provides directions and maps in local languages but also displays familiar logos of subway systems to users and even adjusts its language to respect local conventions, such as using “boarding lines” in London and “boarding trains” in New York.

Uber — the ride-sharing platform Uber has successfully localised its app to accommodate different languages, payment methods, and cultural norms in various countries. This has contributed to its widespread adoption across diverse markets.

Each of these examples showcases how companies, regardless of their industry, can benefit from thoughtful app localisation to connect with users on a global scale.

Building a strategy

Creating a successful app localisation strategy is crucial for reaching a broader audience. Considerations for this may include:

1. Identifying target markets

  • Research potential markets based on demographics, user behaviour, and market demand
  • Evaluate competition and identify regions where your app could gain traction

2. Understanding cultural nuances

  • Adapt content to cultural preferences, language variations, and local customs
  • Be mindful of cultural sensitivities to avoid unintentional misunderstandings

3. Deciding on a launch approach (regional or global)

  • Choose between a phased regional launch or a simultaneous global release based on your app’s scalability and target audience

4. Setting a budget

  • Estimate costs associated with translation, cultural adaptation, and technical adjustments
  • Consider potential return on investment (ROI) and allocate resources accordingly

5. Prioritising localised elements

  • Identify crucial app elements for localisation, such as user interfaces, content, and marketing materials
  • Prioritise elements that significantly impact user experience and engagement

6. Gathering resources

  • Collect all necessary assets, including text, images, videos, and other content requiring translation or adaptation

7. Assigning responsibilities

  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities for team members involved in the localisation process
  • Ensure accountability and effective communication among team members

8. Involving stakeholders

  • Engage stakeholders, including marketing, customer support, and development teams, to align goals and expectations
  • Seek input from local teams or partners for market-specific insights

9. Establishing a timeline

  • Develop a realistic timeline that accommodates the complexities of translation, adaptation, and quality assurance
  • Set milestones and deadlines for each phase of the localisation process

10. Selecting language service providers

  • Choose reliable language service providers (LSPs) with expertise in your target markets
  • Evaluate their track record, linguistic capabilities, and industry-specific experience

11. Fostering collaboration among teams

  • Encourage seamless collaboration between development, design, marketing, and localisation teams
  • Implement tools and communication channels to streamline cooperation

12. Monitoring the process

  • Implement monitoring mechanisms to track progress, identify bottlenecks, and address issues promptly
  • Regularly review key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure alignment with goals

13. Choosing an app localisation platform

  • Evaluate localisation platforms that suit your app’s requirements and scale
  • Consider features such as integration capabilities, ease of use, and support for collaborative workflows

14. Defining metrics and KPIs

  • Establish key metrics and performance indicators to measure the success of your localisation efforts
  • Monitor user engagement, downloads, and revenue generation across different markets

These considerations collectively contribute to creating the app localisation strategy that can provide a successful and culturally sensitive expansion into diverse markets.

Tips and Tricks to Ensure Smooth Localization

As we have already discussed, localising your mobile app involves more than just translation—it’s about creating a seamless experience tailored to different cultures and languages. Here are some tips and tricks to guide you through the process:

1. Anticipate Text Expansion or Contraction

  • Different languages may alter text length. For instance, translating from English to German can result in a 20-35% text expansion, while English to Swedish may lead to a 20-35% contraction
  • Plan for flexibility in your design to accommodate varying translations. Tools like Figma and Lokalise can assist in this process

2. Support Right-to-Left Languages

  • Languages like Hebrew and Arabic are written from right to left. Neglecting this can distort your design and lead to bugs
  • Choose tools, such as Lokalise with Sketch integration, that support right-to-left languages to maintain design integrity

3. Provide Context to Linguists

  • Replace traditional spreadsheets with special tools, enabling linguists to translate with contextual screenshots

4. Maintain Consistency with a Glossary

  • Develop a glossary and style guide to ensure consistent translations
  • Use Transifex, Lokalise, or POEditor to set up project-specific glossaries, defining terms and specifying translatability and case sensitivity

5. Test Cultural Imagery for Better Customer Experience

  • Enhance customer experience by ensuring cultural familiarity and avoiding confusion or offence
  • Test content and UI/UX culturally before a full release, incorporating feedback from select customers, champions, and native speakers during Beta testing

6. Use Locale Alongside Language

  • Consider regional differences by using locale settings alongside language codes (e.g., fr_be for Belgian French)

Remember, the success of app localisation goes beyond translation. It’s about crafting an experience that resonates with users globally. By integrating the practices mentioned in the article into your app’s life cycle, you can deliver an inclusive and engaging user experience, transcending language barriers and reaching new heights in the global app market.

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