Feb 20, 2020

A Beginner’s Guide to App Localization and Internationalization

Has any app ever made you feel that it was made just for you – that it could read your mind, know what you need, and make your life easier? Well, if you’ve found such an app, it’ll fall under the category of very well localized apps. Unfortunately, there aren’t many.

Even as app development companies are recognizing app localization as a necessary step towards achieving global success, they don’t include it in their long-term strategies. Consequently, we have partially localized apps that hinder customers’ experience.

How do you avoid this? Answer – app internationalization. In simple terms, internationalization involves preparing your app for localization (at a later stage) before it’s launched. In this article, we’ll explore the scope of internationalization and how it aids the process of localization.

What is app localization? How is it different from app internationalization?

The process of localization includes creating locale-specific text and elements and then incorporating them into the app’s interface. Understandably, internationalization must precede localization as the former helps in creating an adaptable interface for the latter. In simple terms, internationalization prepares the app for localization.

Here are some essential steps for localizing an app:

1. Export all data that needs to be localized

In this case, you must choose to work with a language service provider who accepts data in various formats. This will save you the hassle of exporting files in a specific format and converting them later.

Typically, app localization involves translating and localizing the following elements:

  • Graphical user interface (GUI) context
  • Text in dialog boxes
  • Error messages
  • App-related tutorials
  • Knowledge base/Help center
  • Product release notes

..and more.

2. Translate the data and upload it to the interface

Choose a translation company that works with translators who are native speakers and hold expertise in translating for app localization. Translators who have a good knowledge of the language, its modern slang, and cultural nuances will provide you with accurate translations – the kind of accuracy that cannot be achieved with machine translations.

Also, ensure that you have set an efficient feedback mechanism with your translation provider. For instance, you can add comments on strings while suggesting changes in the translation. 

3. Upload the translated and localized data

If you externalize all files while internationalization, this step is a cakewalk for developers. They can easily import all the translated data into the app. And then comes testing. You must test your localized app to ensure there aren’t any:

  • Display errors
  • Errors in language-specific elements
  • Errors in the formatting of text

Also, check whether all the locale-specific data is displayed well:

  • Time
  • Date
  • Currencies
  • Icons, symbols
  • Fonts
  • Colors
  • Mirrored interface (for right-to-left languages like Arabic)

What is app internationalization?

Employing internationalization in the initial stages of app development is the smartest thing you could do to ensure you can localize your app effortlessly in the future. Internationalization typically involves sticking to a set of international design and development practices to make your app adaptable.

For instance, if you follow certain rules when designing your app’s interface (read: coding), the localization team will be able to update translations and other localized elements easily. 

When internationalization isn’t implemented, apps end up having many issues. Yulia Akhulkova, a localization expert who is also a contributor at Nimdzi Insights, says, “It’s a well-known fact that when you translate any text from English to another language, it may take up more space. Apps that don’t take this into account at the early stages of development end up having truncation issues.”


‘Add to cart’ takes up more space when translated into German, causing the words to truncate.

“What I and my team have noticed over the course of our work is that such issues could have easily been avoided if the app had been internationalized, in the first place,” she adds.

Here are a few steps you can take while internationalizing an app:

1. Avoid hard-coding of any kind

Hard coding is setting or fixing parameters that make it difficult to include alterations without modifying the entire program.

This includes avoiding graphics and visuals with embedded texts, along with hard-coding numerics, constant characters, file names, etc.

2. Externalize all locale-variable data

Externalizing all user-visible strings to a file (usually called an external resource file) helps you maintain different versions – one for every locale. This way, all localized data can be downloaded and uploaded in one format – avoiding instances of partially translated/localized text.

For example, if you are designing an iOS app, such files containing localizable strings are called String files. It would be best if you organized them in locale-specific directories, with one localizable.strings file for each language you support.

3. Take care of concatenations before externalizing files

Concatenations are basically connected strings. For instance, you connect the “snow” string with “ball” string to display the word “snowball.”

Concatenations (or connected strings) could lead to mistakes in displaying the translated text.

Concatenations are essential when it comes to sentence structuring. Sentence structures vary for each language and refactoring these concatenations – restructuring them in a way that the external behavior of the code isn’t affected.

4. Customize text display for each language

Rules for text breaks, word wrapping, and formatting are different for each language. For instance, in some languages, there’s no practice of dividing words into syllables. Do take these rules into account while internationalizing your app.


With the competitive environment in today’s app industry, your app must provide unique solutions in the most effective manner. Your customers use apps to save time or the hassle of doing tasks offline. Localizing your app makes it even more effortless for them to navigate, utilize it in the best way, and recommend it to their community.

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Aarohi Pathak

Aarohi Pathak

Aarohi Pathak is the Senior Content Writer at Translate by Humans. A former English literature student, she believes that the world's best stories are yet to be written. Given a choice, Aarohi happily wears the copywriter's hat and combines words that drive action. She has previously written content for finance and insurance, FMCG, and technology industries.

When she's not writing, Aarohi spends time collecting mugs, reading, and checking TV series off her 'to watch' list.

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