Dos and Donts of App Localization

By on August 2, 2016

The Importance of App Localization

Globalization has enabled virtually anybody to conduct business around the world. The internet, smartphones and other technologies provide the opportunity for even a small business to enter foreign markets. App developers have potentially millions of new potential customers to market their products to. However, when you enter a new market there will be differences in cultural to deal with not to mention adapting your product to a new language. To be successful in these new markets it is essential that you properly localize your app for its new environment.

Don’t Make these Common Mistakes When You Localize an App

Here are 10 common mistakes that app developers tend to make when bringing their mobile app video demo into a foreign market:

app localizationText Embedded Directly To the Code: Embedding text directly to the code will slow down the localization process because the translator will need to actually read the code in order to determine what needs translation and what does not.


app localization helpNot making room for strings to grow and shrink: Translations can and will vary in length and density. Should you not prepare for this and there isn’t enough space, there is a possibility of your strings overlapping other controls which will require editing the interface after translation.


app localizationProviding a language but not a locale: Sometimes countries share a language but there are slight variations and differences. English in Great Britain and English in the United States are just one example.


app translationConcatenated Strings: Concatenating pieces of sentences using placeholders where the order of words and phrases is hard­coded presumes a grammar and a certain sentence structure. The granularity of conditional text might cause confusion during the translation process.


app translationNot using Unicode for character encoding: Whenever you use a wrong character encoding and your source code handles strings using a data type that cannot handle Unicode, translations will break. Often programming languages store files and app directories using the system’s default encoding. However, when your server is English and all of your users are browsing in Chinese, you characters will get corrupted.

app translationHard-coding numbers, units dates and time: There is a wide variation in time and date formats around the world. Units of measurement also vary such as miles and kilometers. Currency is also different in most countries. All of these things can cause trouble during the translation process.


localize an appNot planning for languages that read right to left: Some languages such as Arabic and Hebrew read from right to left. If you don’t plan for this you may end up having to build a new set of style sheets.


localize an appConfusion/Ambiguities Due To Lack of Context: When strings include variables, are used in a specific context or wording is ambiguous, your translator will have a hard time. Usually translators work on files and strings in a context free format. So, how will a translator know, whether the single term “Contact” is a verb for a button or a noun for a label?

localize an appUsing Images That Contain Text: Sometimes images that contain text can be a problem for translators. Text in images can slow down the translation process and may cause the translation to cost more.


localize an appNot performing a linguistic review of the translated content in its operating environment. The linguistic review is a quality assurance step to ensure there is no unclear language that could be confusing or misunderstood by users.

Some Tips for App Translation

There are many things you can do to make translating your app easier and cheaper. Here are 10 tips to keep in mind that will contribute to better translations:

localize an appSeparate resources such as UI strings and images from code: Designing your app so that resources are separate from code enables them to be independently maintained and localized


localize an appIsolate localizable resource files: Files that require localization such as images containing text to be translated should also be isolated and placed in folders tagged with language names.


localize an appSet your default language, and mark all of your resources: Always set the default language for your apps appropriately in the app manifest. The default language determines the language that’s used when the user doesn’t speak any of the supported languages. Mark default language resources with the language used so that the system will be able to tell which language the resource is in.

localize an appIdentify all of your apps resources that require localization: Determine all of the things that require changing when entering a new market. Examine images to see if they are suitable for the culture. Text strings will have to be translated into the language of your new market. You’re your app use audio or video. Make sure nothing that needs to be localized is overlooked.

app translationSupport mirroring: Text alignment and reading order can be left‐to‐right, as in English, or right to left as in Arabic or Hebrew. Make sure the layout of your UI elements supports mirroring if you localize your app into a language that has a different reading order than your own. Items such as images and back buttons may even need to be mirrored in the localization process.

app translationComment strings: Make sure that strings are commented properly and only provide the strings that need to be translated to localizers. Over‐localization can be a source of problems.


app translationUse short strings: Translation is easier using shorter strings and it will enable translation recycling so you save money but not having to translate the same string twice. Some localization tools may not support strings longer than 8192 characters so keep string length to 4000 or less.

app localizationProvide strings with complete sentences: Translation of words can often depend on how they are used in sentences. Breaking a sentence into individual words will prevent the translator from knowing how the word was used and could result in translation errors.

app localizationOptimize image and audio files for localization: Avoid using text in images or speech in audio files to cut down on localization costs. In the event the language you are localizing to uses a different reading direction than yours using symmetrical images and effects will make mirroring easier to support.

app localizationDon’t re‐use strings in different contexts: Even the simplest words such as “off” and “on” may be translated differently depending on the context they are used in.


Localizing an app isn’t something you want to rush into without any experience. There is plenty that can go wrong and poor localization means your app probably won’t make it in its new market. For the best app localization results using an experienced professional will greatly enhance your chances of success.

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