Language Barriers Will Dictate The Way We Develop Mobile Apps In The Future

Language Barriers Will Dictate The Way We Develop Mobile Apps In The Future

Language Barriers Will Dictate The Way We Develop Mobile Apps In The Future


Here’s something to think about. By 2017 it is estimated that 69% of the global population will be using mobile phones.

That is some level of coverage isn’t it?

Yet, before we start thinking how easy it may be to reach this market, let’s take into account that currently only 34% of Apple iOS users, 39% of Android users and 25% of Windows users actually speak English as their first language. You can expect these percentages to decrease as worldwide usage increases.

Translating the potential into revenue

Translation and localization have never been more important. This is a fact that is patently clear for websites but must now be considered for mobile apps. Quite simply global brands will fail to capitalize on these waiting markets if they do not translate, or they poorly translate, their apps.

App translation pitfalls

Bolting translation on an app can be costly. Consider right-to-left written languages such as Arabic and Hebrew and you begin to get the picture. But it is far from the complete picture. English text is typically very compact, and text translated from it will typically be longer in the translation than the original – sometimes to an alarming degree. Mobile allows limited space and this can mean that the approved design simply does not work for translations.

Flickr found that to translate ‘views’ (or how many times an image has been seen) into Italian and German required nearly 3 times the character allowance. IBM has calculated that the expansion rate for text translated from English to another European language averages 2-300% for 10 characters and under, 140-160% for 31-50 characters and 130% for 70 or more.

App marketing pitfalls

The assumption that one platform will reach all is as untrue as the idea that one language will.

Take China: Google Play will get you nowhere here. Instead you will find around 200 different platforms all requiring translated marketing content and a tweaked marketing strategy for your app. If this all sounds a bit daunting you can test the international waters before you commit your resources to a full-blown assault.

Pick a couple of core international markets and simply translate your app market descriptions. It may be that your potential users in Germany have not found your app because they don’t search for apps using the English language.

Don’t forget, however, to also optimize your app title, market description and search keywords based on the local language and culture. To do this you will want to use a translator who speaks your target language as a mother tongue.

App translation advice

So how can you get it right?

  1. Be prepared
    Understanding the markets you want to reach and planning for translations helps reduce the need to make costly revisions. Any brand guidelines or steering documents should be prepared in multiple languages to save time and money, and reduce the need for individual project briefings.
  2. Get smart
    For apps in multiple languages you will need a content management system (CMS) that can streamline the process of content creation in multiple languages. You are likely to need accurate version control and social collaboration tools. There are also translation management systems (TMS) that can cut costs and save time while reducing scope for human error.
  3. Do it right
    Machine translation is an impressive tool these days. Google Translate continues to go from strength to strength but there remains a fundamental weakness. Machine translations still cannot deliver the localized nuances of culture and the value-driven language that brand marketing relies on.

    Word-for-word translation just does not have the emotional reach or the precision that marketing or technical content require. They are not a viable solution for your app or website. If a market is important to you then you must speak to them in their language as they would speak. Not in stilted, broken phrases that may convey meaning but do little to establish trust or respect. Straight to the heart of the matter

So there you have it.

Mobiles are increasingly offering us instant access to a global market. The price of entry is translation. Those without a valid ticket are unlikely to travel far. As Nelson Mandela reminded us, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Social Media Week