Polish mobile app localization

How to translate mobile apps. Part 1: Keep it simple

Character restrictions, small screen resolution, lack of context, various file formats – translation and localisation of mobile apps may be a challenging and painful process. But it can also be fun and rewarding, if you know the tricks of the trade.

If you are starting your career as a translator or want to specialize in mobile app translation this new blog post series might be useful for you. You will find here some tips, solutions and pieces of advice that can be easily put into practice to make mobile app localisation a bit more enjoyable.

So, after the successful blog post series on How to translate websites let’s put a spotlight on app translation and have a look at how to become a pro in the mobile world. And if your thirst for knowledge won’t be satisfied, you can always join my online course How to translate and localize mobile applications to find out more.

Keep it simple when it’s small

The challenge no. 1 in mobile app translation is usually a limited space. Mobile apps are designed for small screens, so there’s not enough space for long button names or exhaustive menus. The developers and copywriters have to keep it short and simple, and so should translators. But that’s easier said that done. The majority of mobile apps that are localized for other markets are developed in English. And a vast majority of languages are longer than English, which means translators may find it difficult to meet the character restriction limits set by the app developers.

So, what can you do to fit your text into a small area?

Should you abbreviate the words?

Or maybe find a more creative alternative?

Or, even better, ask your customer to extend the UI element or decrease the font to fit your great button name or description?

The correct answer is: it depends.

Try to keep your localized text as simple and short as possible, but if this still doesn’t work decide or discuss with your customer what could be the best solution. Sometimes there will be enough time and the app developers will enlarge a small button or add extra space on menu list to fit a longer language, but this is rather an exception, not the rule.

If this approach fails, you might need to push your creativity to the next level and come up with a different phrase. You’ll need to find something that will work well in your language, convey a similar message and be clear to the target users.

Change the words into images                               

Sometimes replacing long words with visuals may do wonders as well. But you’ll need tread with caution.

First, double check with your customers if they agree on using an image and if they could create a visual according to your guidelines. It could be as easy as using an arrow instead of the buttons “Next” and “Previous” or a bit more complicated as, for example, using an image of fireworks, presents or confetti to highlight an achievement in a mobile game.

Of course any visuals or symbols that you suggest your customers use should be culturally appropriate and clear to the target users. In other words, the end users have to know what the symbol or image represents and what may happen once they click or touch it.

Get inspired by others

The fight with character restrictions and limited space might seem fierce or endless, but there is always a way out of this maze. If rephrasing the source strings or replacing the words with images doesn’t bring any results, step back and check how others solved such challenges.

You can simply download and install similar applications available in your language to analyse them and find some inspiration. This is how you can proceed:

  • Compare the original and localized version of an application from the same category as the one you are working on. Pay special attention to buttons, menu items and other tiny UI elements with strings to check how localisers and translators dealt with the limited space; or
  • Check several applications developed on your market in your target language to see how creative (or not) the developers and copywriters are if there is no source text to base on.

This little comparison and analysis should give you some ideas and help to find a simple solution when you are stuck in your localisation and translation process.

No matter what you decide to do with the restricted space and character limitations, try to keep it simple and functional. After all, the end users need to have a clear idea of how to use the app to their benefit.

 Do you want to learn more how to translate and localize mobile apps? Check out my online course How to translate and localize mobile applications and enter the promo code “My15off” to receive a 15% discount! 

Dorota helps digital brands infuse their content with a local touch. She is a localization consultant, translator specialized in IT, prompt engineer, and a book author. Dorota teaches online courses on localization, writes for her blog and a Medium publication. She also runs a Small Biz AI, a Substack newsletter for freelancers and small business owners ready to discover handy AI tools.

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