App: Lost in translation

From time to time, each of us working in the app development, be that an UI/UX designer, developer or project manager has to come up with user messages on the spot.
We all think: "Oh this is a temporary text, a placeholder, we will fix it later.. Question: How many times this never happens?" And you would be surprised to know that this happens a lot starting from major international product development, brands that we all look up to, to the small side projects we do for fun.

At CyberWalkAbout, having a portfolio of over a dozen apps, some of the small "just for fun"projects surprise by being more successful than some of those which required a big effort and were expected to become a hit. App analytics help then take those apps to the next level of success.
One of the big things to pay attention are the statistics of usage per country or language which might be the reason to consider translating the app into the language of the country where the app is most successful.

Here are 7 eye-opening statistics why this could be a changing point for your app.

70+ languages are supported by Twitter and Facebook
90% of customers CHOOSE their native language when it’s made available
78% of customers are more likely to BUY if user instructions are in their language
81% of customers are more likely to BUY if technical documentation is in their language
60% of customers in Japan and France will not buy from an app in another language
(Sources: The Economist Intelligence Unit, Common Sense Advisory)

Below, you will find some guidelines to consider when writing the messages to the users that will help sending a direct and clear message as well as avoiding embarrassing translation mistakes.

Correct Content

  • Run the message through a check spelling software i.e. MS Word, or even browser for that matter.
  • Use Commas to separate subordinate clause at the beginning of the sentence and elements in a list:

Could be rewritten to "Slow, children."or even better, "Slow-down, children." 
  • Add hyphens - when you use the appropriate prefixes, to avoid double vowels, to avoid tripple consonants, for clarity, with certain compound phrases
  • Use that for restrictive clauses, use which for for non-restrictive clauses

Clear content

Use short sentences with just one topic

Bad: "This is a list of the current status of all event monitors for this process"
Better: "This lists the current status of all event monitors for this process."

Use simple tenses

What does "studying plans could be useful" mean?
  • Plans that discuss studying could be useful.
  • Studying the plans could be useful.

Use active voice, avoid passive voice

Include all the articles and all other necessary parts of speech

What does "Print control file list" mean?
  • Print all the files that contain controls.
  • A list of files that contain print controls.
  • Print a list of control files.
  • Print the controls and file the list.
  • Control the print and list the files.
  • Print and control a list of files.

Repeat nouns and repeat modifiers, do not use ambiguous pronouns

Bad: The developers agreed to discuss the issue, but it took too long.
Better: The developers agreed to discuss the issue, but the discussion took too much time.

Omit any unnecessary words

Wordy:          In the event that
More Concise: If

Do not use "and/or"

Example: When you say Close and/or lock the door, the translators have to choose among the following possible phrases:
Close and lock the door.
Close or lock the door.
Close or lock the door, or close and lock the door.

Avoid idioms and jargon

Bad: in the ballpark
Better: estimate

Consitent Content

Use US Standard English

Use only one unvaried term for any given concept

when asking the user to press on something all the following words mean the same:
  • Depress
  • Enter
  • Hit
  • Press
  • Strike
  • Tap
  • Type

For delete:
  • Clear
  • Delete
  • Discard
  • Erase
  • Purge

Keep the use of numbers and digits consistent
Use Family Name and Given Name instead of First and Last Name

How to proper format your strings

  • Place all your Strings into a separate resource XML file - the strings include titles, names, error messages and any other text the user might see.
  • DO NOT concatenate strings, it almost always results into a localization bug. i.e. red pencil will be translated to crayon rouge in french
  • Set up the rules for ellipsize - As a rule ellipsize at the end for 1 word button texts and in the middle for 2 word. If the translation is long, then the user might never see the second word if you cut the strings at the end.
  • Allow for string expansion 

Test the strings at early stages, google translate and other services will give you an idea of the length of the strings.
Possible solutions are to either leave room between the text and the field or place the label above the field.

In the table below are the IBM recommendations for planning for UI text expansion:

  • Never put hard enters in the code.
  • Avoid text in icons and other image assets

Uki's Google Java Technology blog