Mobile app localisation: how to avoid common mistakes in right-to-left languages

Localisation of mobile applications may be full of challenges. Especially if you decide to localise your product into right-to-left languages such as Arabic or Hebrew. From character display, to mirrored user interface and script bidirectionality – the list of things that might go wrong is endless. There are, however, a few strategies you can adopt to make sure your application meets the needs of Arabic and Hebrew users. Below you can find three questions that will help you ensure better quality of your localised product.

1. Are you sure you want to go for crowdsourcing?

Yes. It sounds great, attractive and low-cost. And in many cases the outcome is poor. If you really want to deliver a high quality product to your users, I recommend working with translators who specialise in mobile app localisation. Sure, it may cost more. But do you really want to end up with literal translations that sound awkward and unnatural? Think about it twice. Don’t make the same mistakes as many other leading app publishers made before.


WhatsApp in Arabic

A screenshot of WhatsApp in the Arabic version with poorly rendered translation.

2. Did you double check if the user interface is mirrored?

There’s nothing more annoying than a half-localised application. Leaving the user interface as it was in the original version is a common mistake in localisation into right-to-left languages. In your localised application not only the script should be aligned to the right side. You’ll also need to change the starting point of the user interface elements. Quite often the first few screens look good, but the avalanche of mistakes happen once users start to explore next levels of the application menu. Suddenly the text is no longer on the right side, the back button appears on the left instead of the right, and the menu is totally misaligned. The position of controls does matter to your users and you probably don’t want to confuse them by mixing the original user interface with the mirrored user interface.


imo in Arabic

imo in Arabic: the user interface isn’t mirrored at all

3. Are you sure your users speak English?

To be on the safe side don’t assume anything. Your users might or might not understand English, so if you decide to localise, do it fully. Strings left out in English or any other original language won’t make your app look professional. The chances are that your users won’t understand your message and won’t really know how to use your application. That’s why you’ll need to check for untranslated strings in your localised application and solve any issues before you publish your product.


Messenger in Arabic

Messenger in Arabic with English strings


All these mishaps are easy to detect if you run an extensive test of your localised applications. Working with qualified translators, localisers and proofreaders will also help you assure better user experience of your mobile applications.


Did you come across any other mistakes when using applications localised for the right-to-left languages? Share it below!

P.S. Please remember to vote for Beyond the Words in the Top Languge Lovers 2015 competition here.


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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