Translating online and mobile apps

An app (application) is a type of software that allows users to do all types of tasks and serves as a digital tool. There are many types of apps, with the most commonly known being online and mobile apps.

Apps can be paid for or obtained free of charge and are available for download on such popular platforms as Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store. Just like any other software, apps are created using previously written programming language.

Mobile apps

The following are just some of the characteristics of a mobile app:

  • They have a basic and simple user interface.
  • They are highly functional.
  • They can use different platforms (multi-platform development) such as IOS and Android.
  • They have security and privacy features.
  • Some features can be used in offline mode.
  • They receive periodical updates.
  • They can be personalised.
  • They can be used to serve business functions (restaurants, cinemas, etc.).
  • Their design can be adapted to fit different devices and screen sizes.
  • There is great stress on the importance of social networking (there are many apps that function as social networks or interact with them in some way).


The language of apps

English is the most widely used language on the Internet. The same goes for applications; English is the most widely used language for web applications, and even when English is not the native language of the developers, they choose to use it for their applications in order to reach a wider audience.

However, it is also true that many applications use other languages and are subsequently translated. Again, English is the most common target language because of its status as the lingua franca, but there are many other languages into which applications are constantly translated because of their large number of speakers.


Localising apps

When translating applications, as with any other software (video games, computer programs, etc.), it is not enough to just translate the words; all the elements surrounding the app must also be adapted to the culture of the receiver so that nothing is perceived as being foreign. Similarly, the translator should take into account the space and design constraints of the application. This process is called localisation.


Localisation is the process of adapting software to suit a specific region and its audience.


Why should we translate an app?

Just as the case with website translation, translating an app brings with it many advantages for a business:

  • The increase of clients: an app that is available in multiple languages allows for more users to have access to it, subsequently increasing the number of sales.
  • The brand becomes international: which brings out prestige and influence.
  • Improvement in the positioning of the app: more downloads and positive comments means better positioning of the app in the list of apps which appear to the general public.


What needs to be translated and adapted in an app?

  • User interface: dialogue boxes, menus, text and error messages, etc., need translating for the different versions of the application for different devices that can use it.
  • Graphics and images
  • Application website
  • Videos (sometimes needing dubbing or subtitling)
  • Audio (through voice-overs)
  • Product description for distribution platforms
  • Documents (manuals, guides, help files, etc.)
  • .xml resources
  • Legal documents
  • Publicity (advertisement, promotional videos, material for social media platforms, etc.)


What do we need to consider when translating an app?

  • Public reception (younger audiences, teens, adults): this will affect the language and style used in the app.
  • The terminology: depending on the app’s theme and its receiving audience, specific terminology will be used.
  • The space used in the interface: Not all languages take up the same space and, hence, space limitations must be taken into account (for example, Spanish uses on average 15% more space than English).
  • Programming code: we have to take into account that we are translating software and as such, there is a programming code that we have to be careful with.
  • Linguistic variations: sometimes it is not enough to only translate an app for one specific language. In some cases, it is necessary to do different translations or adaptations depending on the specific region the app is aimed for.
  • Culture: cultural differences between the home and target audiences need to be taken into account and adapted where necessary.
  • Paratext: images, audio, video and other elements that condition the translation,
  • Orthography and format: It should be noted that sometimes orthographic issues such as punctuation are different in different languages (for example, the date format is not the same in American and British English).
  • Users: normally, the aim of an application is for the user to have a satisfactory user experience due to the simplicity of the application. Therefore, translators should keep the style simple for ease of use.



The translation of apps, especially mobile applications, is a sector in high demand today. This is mainly due to the globalisation of online markets and the ever-increasing possibilities offered by smartphones due to constant improvements, as well as the emergence of ever-faster networks, such as 5G.

When translating an application, we must consider that it is a coded software with a user interface (once the code has been compiled) and that software will condition the translation possibilities. What’s more, translations must be adapted to the target audience and be simple yet effective. Finally, the various aspects of the culture cannot be neglected, as they often have to be adapted for the target audience.

About Xerezade Ansedes López

Graduate Degree in Translation and Interpreting from Universidade de Vigo, Spain. Degree in English Language and German from Bangor University, UK. English teacher and translator and proofreader in the German and English to Spanish combinations. Published author.

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