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Best Practices for Building Multilingual Apps


With mobile apps, you can use localization to increase downloads and engagement with your global audiences. The following best practices will help you build multilingual apps that audiences truly want to use.

What is Mobile App Localization

Mobile app localization is a way of customizing your app so that it is able to support multiple languages. Most apps are developed with a user interface that assumes users are English speakers.

Unfortunately, if your app supports only English, you immediately limit the number of people who can download and use your app effectively. In fact, they may not even see your app when they go searching. By using localization principles, you can better ensure that you don’t lose potential customers.

Include Localization from The Very Beginning

One of the most common issues with creating multilingual apps is that the localization process is treated as an afterthought. For example, an app may be designed entirely for an English-speaking audience. Later, you discover that your business and your app have a potential reach into another audience. Now, you are stuck trying to retrofit your app for the new language. 

You must consider localization from the start. Then, you must get buy-in from all stakeholders. As you work through the design process, mock-ups and prototypes should take localization into consideration.

Understand The Common Technical Issues with Localization

When building a multilingual app, it helps to be aware of potential roadblocks that could make the process difficult. These include:

  • Using hard-coded strings
  • Selecting fonts that aren’t compatible with multiple languages
  • Failing to allow for needed space
  • Design does not consider reading both left to right and right to left
  • Failing to take varying date, time, and phone number formats into consideration
  • Using imperial measurements or not thinking about conversions
  • Hard coding currencies
  • Not considering different social share buttons
  • Lack of ability to auto-detect user location and set location accordingly
  • Not adding the capability to select or change languages

Now that you know where complications are likely to be found, here are some tips to help make the process of creating a multilingual app easier.

Conduct Appropriate Audience Research

You’ve likely done research into your English-speaking audience. You understand their needs, interests, and cultural norms. Do you have the same understanding of other cultures you are trying to reach? Creating a multilingual app isn’t limited to simply adding language support. It has to meet the needs of that target audience. You can’t know what they want without researching them.

One area that’s particularly important to understand is customs and taboos. For example, what may be considered funny and clever in one culture could simply be offensive in another. Imagine creating a retail app in the United States with a chat assistant that’s a bit ‘hip’ with a sassy, edgy sense of humor. That same character might not play well in Eastern cultures where younger people are expected to be a bit more reverent. 

Simplify and Shorten

Your target audience will better understand your in-app content if you keep it simple. The same is true for your translators. Try to avoid long, compound sentences. Use simple, straightforward language. Use good judgment if you include slang, cultural references, or idioms in your app content. Understand that if you do, localization experts will need to spend time figuring out how to communicate those messages in another culture. The more you simplify, the easier your content is to translate and localize.

Consider How Visual Elements Will Need to be Adapted

Language is just one consideration. Visuals also inform how people interact with your app. Different cultures interpret colors, pictures, and icons in different ways. When possible, try to select visual elements that retain meaning across cultures. Understand how the colors you choose may cause a different emotional response.

Avoid Machine Translation

It’s tempting to use machine translation services. After all, these services are cheap, and sometimes even free. They can also process large volumes of content quickly. In spite of this, they are rarely a good choice. They simply don’t understand or properly interpret linguistic nuances the way that human translators can. For accuracy, it’s better to rely on human translators. There are many firms that offer these services. The best can be selected with the help of objective review sites like PickWriters.

Ultimately, the best translators are native speakers. Not only will they be fluent, but they’ll also possess important cultural understanding.

Be Consistent

Imagine trying to navigate an app, and finding a phrase that’s confusing to you. That’s bad enough, but you can likely look that up and learn what it means. Now, imagine having figured that out, then finding an entirely different phrase later on. That’s frustrating. Commit to using the same colors, phrasing, and icons in every part of your app. If possible, your app should appear as if it was entirely designed by one person.

Create a Branding Guide

Chances are that your app has a very specific ‘tone’ that reflects your branding and messaging. To make sure that translators and localization specialists are able to successfully carry that message over, you must create clear editorial guidelines. This will help ensure adherence to your branding.

Engage in Testing at All Stages of Design

Before you can declare your localization efforts as successful, you must first test them. This means finding users from other cultures who are willing to test your app, review your mockups, etc. These testers should interact with your design team on a regular basis. They should not be brought in as beta testers.

Final Thoughts

Properly created multilingual apps allow you to reach a larger audience. This can increase traffic to your website, boost brand awareness, and ultimately create more conversions. Follow the best practices here and you will most likely get the best results.

About the Author

Donald Fomby is an academic writer and business section contributor at LiveInspiredMag. He has written custom content for various websites and has worked in various marketing efforts and campaigns.



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