Mobile phones have become essential to modern life, giving us access to millions of different applications, instant information, and social connections in the palm of our hand. Billions of people depend on their smartphones, that total growing with each passing day. But only a small fraction of applications is accessible to most mobile users. The main reason is clear: the apps don’t speak the user’s language.
That language gap sends a powerful message to any company with an app, or contemplating app development. The message is clear: localize or lose out. According to a May 2021 report by industry analyst Slator. The language services industry is forecast to grow by up to 10% in 2021, reaching a market size of USD 26.2bn by year-end. That total includes non-app translations, but mobile app localization represents a hefty junk.
We’ll examine some of the key reasons for translating your app into additional languages, and then we’ll consider your options for getting the job done, quickly and cost-effectively.
Is app localization the same as translation?
Before getting into all that, we need to clear up some ambiguities and confusion in the language of localization itself. The localization of a mobile application, simply put, allows access to new markets and audiences which speak that language. That means that, with relatively minor and low-cost actions –translating an app can be an good alternative investment when compared with developing new software or even a new version of an existing app.
Is there a difference between translating an app and localizing it? While the two terms are often used interchangeably, one is a subset or “child” of the other. Localization encompasses all the adaptations of software and setting to customize the app for a different local market. But localizing means more than translating the app’s language. It also needs to account for regional or national variations of currency and measurement. In some cases, it can involve transforming left-to-right into right-to-left variations.
There’s a cultural dimension to localization as well. Localizing an app requires familiarity with the norms and preferences of the target audience, local dialect and humor, even images and colors. There may even be political and social sensitivity about seemingly minor nuances. Make no mistake: locals need to be involved in the localization process.
Localizations are not limited to the software application. App localizations need to extend to technical documentation. They must include marketing and advertising as well as social media. For this reason, app developers should seek out localization service providers with worldwide networks of translators and linguists. When it comes to mobile apps, you need to think globally while taking each target locality one-by-one, assembling an expert team that knows both the local language, its culture, and the subject matter and jargon of the app.
Why localize your mobile app?
1. Best return on your development investment
Localization is a development effort, involving a whole new local version of an application’s software. If performed correctly, creating additional local versions costs only a small fraction of the original application development effort. And each additional locality or language added should cost incrementally less and less. Eventually, the cost of additional localization should reach the low single-digits relatively to the cost of developing for the initial language. The architects of the app code must internationalize the coding process so that any aspects of the code which must be localized will be turned into variables and conditionals.
2. Attract and retain new customers in additional markets
Companies which translate and localize your applications can help your reach new clients and customers in foreign countries or, for that matter, new demographic groups in your own country. Developing an application in the native languages of a country can increase your market share and grow your business. Localization is not limited to the software application alone. There is almost always the need for a support component, to make linguistically capable human service agents accessible to customers in their own language.
3. Attain global brand positioning and rapid growth potential
Translating an application into the native languages of the target market not only broadens the reach of the company and enables it to reach many more people, but also maximize its worldwide potential considerably. When an application supports multiple languages, this support increases the app’s value and positioning as a global brand, meant for the wide world not just one or two regions.
If the software is developed correctly, with variables in place for every item which requires localization, then your application’s strategic potential is increased, because the app can be adapted to new target markets quickly and cost-effectively. That in turn makes your marketing and sales departments agile and able to seize new market opportunities.
4. Increase visibility and sharpen messaging in target markets
Making an application available to consumers in their native language also increases the visibility of a company or business in target markets. Analyze, early on, the competitive situation in local app stores. Check how crowded is the local marketplace with similar products. Examine your Unique Selling Points in each local market. That messaging must be translated into all local presentations as well. One size does not fit all in app marketing.
5. Build brand loyalty and trust
Customers place more trust in brands that speak their language. Translated and localized applications increase a customer’s commitment and loyalty towards companies that have taken them into account. This applies not just to new markets, but also to speakers of additional languages in your primary geographical market. Studies show, not surprisingly, that the large Hispanic population of the US market gravitate to brands who have made the effort of offering Spanish language versions of their apps.
6. Increase customer participation and engagement
An application translated and accessible to different audiences in different markets encourages direct interaction with customers. This extends to tools such as push notifications, advertising, special offers, and support in the preferred languages.
How to Localize Your App Most Efficiently?
Translating and localizing all content with highly qualified translators ensures that the right messages reach each target market. Never lose sight of the need to positioning your brand competitively and play on your unique selling points, market by market. There’s no substitute for competitive analysis upfront before entering, and localizing for, a new market.
There is no shortage of app and website localization software available on the market. With few exceptions, however, this software is intended for language services companies to expedite their localization products. While it is possible to “Do It Yourself”, it’s rarely a cost-effective use of limited dev resources. Either you make do with “off-the-shelf” translation packs which invariably yielding crude translation results, or the localization process ends up forcing you to rewrite much of your application to accommodate additional languages and localities.
For those who simply need to localize their websites or add support for a single language, then you may be able to do it yourself. But it’s almost always desirable instead to reach out directly to professional translation agencies which specialize in localizing across many languages. They have the software and teams to localize your app quickly and efficiently.
David Grunwald is Managing Director of Global Translation Services, with coverage of 80+ languages and presence in more than 100 countries.