ULG's Language Services Blog

Taking Your Apps Global: Localization for Mobile Devices

In 2017, mobile apps were downloaded by users more than 197 billion times. Over the last few years, apps and mobile marketing have represented a large percentage of the marketing mix, with companies using them for customer engagement, brand identity, and e-commerce.

Before global companies create mobile content, they need to make sure it’s accessible to anyone and everyone who uses it. Localizing apps for mobile devices ensures consistent brand messaging, expands global market share and increases corporate visibility.

The localization process may require translations into different languages, conversions to new currencies or measurement systems, and consideration of layout differences associated with global applications.
By making these changes, companies can see a big return on investment. This is especially true in e-commerce, as 75 percent of shoppers prefer to shop in their native language. Mobile localization is a solution today’s international business can’t go without.

With that said, here’s what to consider before creating international mobile content.

Translating Text

Translation is the most obvious change that needs to occur from country to country. Different countries speak different languages, so the app and mobile site must be equipped with the language and alphabet used in the target country. Following that, correct grammar and vocabulary will also establish credibility and communicate your company’s services and value to consumers.

Equally as important as the “nuts and bolts” of the language itself, translators must translate for the proper cultural context. Every culture has different nuances that can manifest linguistically—for example, Spanish and Japanese have different levels of formality ingrained in the language—which must be accounted for in any translations.

Because the end goal is to drive traffic to the app or mobile site, translators must also use multilingual search engine optimization to increase the odds of consumer engagement.

Technological Limitations

Phone screens are small, and some languages take up more space than others. For example, the English word for “hello” is five characters while the Korean word for “hello” is twelve characters.

In addition, some languages are written vertically while others are read right to left. As a result, the app must be able to expand and contract texts accordingly, and when necessary, the developer must ensure that there are different layouts for the app to accommodate these linguistic differences.

Cultural Considerations

Images for your app or mobile website might need to change according to the target region's cultural and societal norms.

Consumers are drawn to images, and they should be relatable and appealing. As we’ve touched on before, the significance and meaning of different signs and symbols can vary across cultures.

For example, images should match the country’s geography when necessary: Countries with a hot climate probably shouldn’t have images with snow, and countries that have a flat terrain probably shouldn’t have images with mountains.

Numerical Conversions

App users in the U.S. are accustomed to using standard measurements (inches, pounds, gallons, etc.), while most other countries use the metric system.

Companies will need to convert these systems of measurement as needed. Similarly, e-commerce apps and websites will need to convert their prices to local currencies. Other numerical conversions that may need to occur include international clothing sizes, date formats and time zones.

Optimizing Before Launch

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When all the necessary pieces are put into place, including translated text, appropriate images, numerical conversions, and proper layout, the app or mobile site will need to be tested by the target users to ensure everything works correctly.

When possible, test with different screen sizes and brands of mobile devices in order to anticipate and solve any problems prior to launch.

A successful mobile app localization project puts global companies at a huge advantage; on top of increasing market share, it also shows consumers a willingness to cater to their specific content needs.

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