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Developing a mobile app? Plan ahead for translation

Developing a mobile app? Plan ahead for translation

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For many multinationals, language localization of smartphone applications is still an afterthought. Here are 5 ways to make it easier.

There is a veritable frenzy of mobile application development underway as businesses look to extend their identities and services to smartphones, tablet computers and other mobile devices.

But any company hoping to win over an international audience can make that job significantly easier by planning ahead for the translation process, said Matt Hauser, vice president of technology sales for TransPerfect, which develops linguistics and translation technologies.

"When you are dealing with a mobile app, you don't have to worry just about the different operating systems, but you also have to deal with the variations in the different handsets," Hauser said.

TransPerfect is taking on an increasing number of mobile application development projects across 32 different languages, he said. The company's services included testing across Apple iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows, as well as verification and workflow testing.

One example is a relationship that TransPerfect recently forged with AccuWeather. The weather information service is planning a series of localized mobile applications and it believes translation is a necessity for making these apps more accessible.

"Regardless of where our users are or what type of mobile device they use, we want to be their first choice for accurate weather information," said Pascal Racheneur, vice president of Interactive Media for AccuWeather, in a statement. "TransPerfect is helping us achieve that goal by translating our metereological information into local languages, which makes it more accessible to a far broader user base than would be possible in only one language."

Companies can make the process of created localized mobile apps simpler if they consider the following ahead of time, Hauser said.

  1. Think carefully about words used to describe menus. In other languages, these words might have unique cultural meanings or they may take up too much space.
  2. Keep word counts to a minimum. Some languages, including Spanish, Italian or French can take up to 20 percent or 30 percent more space when translated from English. So a design that works for the English version of the mobile app might look crowded when localized.
  3. Get a native-language linguist to test your application. When you test a translated mobile application, you need to pay attention to both the logical workflow as well as whether the application flows well from a linguistic point of view. Find a translator who also has subject-matter expertise related to the application's target audience.
  4. Avoid colloquialisms. Stay away from slang and phrases difficult to translate into another language.
  5. Consider navigation. When translating into Arabic or Hebrew, for example, your application will need to read from right to left instead of left to right. Make sure the design template doesn't get in the way.

(Thumbnail image courtesy of Dog Madic; post imaged courtesy of Sanja Gjenero; Stock.xchng)

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure