The top languages for app translation

Marguerite Arnold
Marguerite Arnold
I
In the 21st century global marketplace, there are few English-only apps anymore. But even as technology becomes more automated, translation is still an important skill that developers and designers need to be aware of in order to make their apps successful.
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App development is on the rise, and there is a reason. For a fairly small investment of money and time, a business, service, or even a game can reach a global audience. In theory, this is almost a “business-in-a-box.” Just develop your idea and launch. Voila! Except it’s not so easy. And not all apps are successful. In fact, most are not. According to internet research firm Gartner, there were 102 billion app downloads globally last year. But that figure is not the whole story. Understanding what kinds of apps appeal to certain audiences is a critical part of standing out and ultimately, launching a successful app. Whether your app will be free or paid has a huge impact on where and how you launch it, including in what country. And as a caveat, in what languages. A quick snapshot of the global app market begins to reveal trends that developers and designers can use to help strategize.

94% of apps launched today are “free.” And 3 out of 10 global users will likely not be able to use your app if it is only provided in English. If going for a monetization strategy, there are some specific languages to focus on more than others. If going for a download strategy, you might consider entirely different languages. The Chinese market, for instance, is the largest in the world for free downloads. For this reason, a multilingual strategy is critical, even in the planning stages of your app development. At the same time you begin planning a multi-platform strategy, you should be considering translation as well. And just as Apple and Android development are slightly different, you will begin to realize – and quickly – that multilingual dev is a slightly different animal.

 

And just as Apple and Android development are slightly different, you will begin to realize - and quickly - that multilingual dev is a slightly different animal.

 

This is even truer for certain kinds of apps. Games, as one example, are very big in Asia. Therefore, developers of gaming apps will automatically consider Asian language versions from the get-go. This in turn will have a knock-on effect on how your app is designed. This is also the case when working with any language that reads in a different direction than left to right. What kinds of app developers tend to be most affected? Beyond gaming apps, add all translation services, travel services, and money exchange services. Add cryptocurrency platforms, too. Some of the top cryptocurrency trading platforms in the world are based in Asia. Remember that when marketing to a global audience, you must localise the content to meet certain cultural and logistical standards.

 

WHAT PROBLEMS CAN MULTILINGUAL DEV CAUSE?

There are many issues to consider when contemplating a multilingual app. Broadly, this kind of analysis is part of a localisation strategy. Localisation is far from an afterthought, and is more nuanced than translation; it is one of the key components in driving customer interaction and retention. Therefore, localisation strategies (for each market you plan to target) should be included on the drawing board for all parties interested in global expansion. Never forget that using multiple languages will also fundamentally affect app design. In some cases, it can also affect site structure. Try to merely “translate” an app from English to Arabic (for example) and you are in for a nasty surprise. Because Arabic reads from right to left, this will also affect design. Developers who roll out apps for both Android and iPhone also have to think about their audiences and preferences. Code can absolutely interfere with translation/localisation and vice versa. Some users in certain countries may predominantly use one technology over the other. These are all things you have to analyze and balance when launching a multilingual app.

 

These are all things you have to analyze and balance when launching a multilingual app.

 

SHOW ME THE MONEY: THE TOP LANGUAGES TO TRANSLATE YOUR APP INTO

Without a doubt, the top five most popular languages for translation are:

  1. Spanish (60%)
  2. German (45%)
  3. French (40%)
  4. Portuguese (30%)
  5. Italian (25%)

Therefore, these languages are a good bet when considering which markets to expand into first. Other popular languages for monetized and/or gaming apps include Dutch, Japanese, and Korean. What kind of app you are launching is also something that will drive your translation strategy. A game app will be very different than a traveler’s mobile banking app in terms of country deployment strategy.

 

TRANSLATION STRATEGIES

There are a couple of basic ideas you must keep in mind from the outset if considering global app deployment. The first and most important is design. Every language is longer than English, except for Czech. So, if your app has lots of short English words and slang, you are in for a major redesign as soon as you translate into any other language. Logging in and out, plus basic functionality buttons will also be affected. This means that developers and designers:

  1. Must allow extra space for longer words. Buttons and instructional text must be carefully chosen and placed.
  2. Should keep software strings as simple as possible when using translated code. Check Unicode settings if translating into Asian languages like Chinese or Japanese.
  3. Must always plan for RTL (right to left) languages like Arabic and Hebrew well in advance of deployment.

There is a lot to consider, but hopefully the above information will set you on the right path.