Developing an App for Multiple Languages


6 minute read
Matt Votsikas McLean

Matt Votsikas McLean

Software Engineering Manager

Digital Insights

Today’s growing global market means businesses have to consider language as one of the key drivers to growth, especially if the organisation transacts and deals with people across borders who have their own native language.

This adds another layer of challenge for technical developers to create an app that will not alienate a huge chunk of their target market. Who will do the translations? How are we to make sure that these translations are accurate? What technical considerations do we need to keep in mind? What if the app already exists in the marketplace but doesn’t currently support multi-language features?

As Calvium’s software engineering manager, I’d like to share how we got past these challenges as we created apps with multiple languages for several well-received projects in the past. 

I’m going to focus on text-based apps in this article, but before doing so I’d like to mention the enormous take-up of voice in all sorts of scenarios. For instance, voice-translation services like Google Translate and others that come with smart assistance options, and Apple recently announced their support for 11 languages in iOS 14.

image shows leaflets for the Google Translate community

What Is Multi-Language in an App?

Multi-language features in an app include the text in the app, as well as its audio and video. This is especially helpful in projects where cultural differences between users need to be taken into account. For instance, apps that tell a story may require different types of content to portray the stories effectively across cultures and languages.

Multi-language apps also cover text content and showing the text in the different alphabets, scripts, or characters of the language. Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, and Hebrew all have different characters compared to the Latin-based languages that we usually use in Europe. Some languages are written right to left while some are written vertically. 

Some of Calvium’s multi-language apps include Háblame Bebé (an award-winning language-learning app that helps low-income Hispanic mothers in the US talk with their babies in their native language) and the CommScope Academy App, a learning and reference tool to help engineers in the field.

hablame bebe user interface technology
Háblame Bebé app

The Benefits of Multi-Language Apps

The advantages of understanding the content of an app in a language that a user chooses cannot be overstated. Surmounting language barriers often translates to more purchases for shops, more activities on social networks, more entertainment value from stories, and clarity and accuracy filling in forms, among many other benefits.

Multi-language apps also help build better relationships between organisations and their customers. Language connects people, so whenever users see their native language, a common ground is immediately established. With multi-language support, an app provides additional value to its users by letting them communicate in a language that they feel more comfortable using—an advantage that competitors may not have.  

Multi-language capability also provides a strategic advantage by increasing the app’s potential customer base and reaching global users and international visitors, which can pay huge dividends in the long run as opposed to being limited to a single language. Not only that, providing an inclusive service like this can also boost a company’s image which can do wonders for branding and reputation.

image of person sitting on step using their phone for multiple language apps with a blurred background

Key Technical Considerations When Creating a Multi-Language App

Creating a multi-language app is not as easy as hitting an on and off switch. At Calvium, we follow our proven process, allowing us to anticipate challenges and know how to deal with them immediately .

How text is displayed is a big factor. The characters that are drawn on the screen affect the readability of the text greatly. So someone with an intuitive understanding of the language is best placed to determine if a particular font is legible and should be factored in during the design process. We ensure that a native speaker is involved at the design stage..

Creating a good process for content editors to capture their translations is also important to effectively translate multi-language apps.

The technical work for this can be fairly straightforward. Figuring out what needs doing, however, can be a challenge. Our UX and Design Lead Kieron Gurner works with the client, as well as our team of developers, to figure out the best approach to complete the project (e.g. do we decide what the default language is or inherit the language from the device, do we allow the user to download trails in different languages or only the language the user has selected for the app content, etc). 

These challenges are dealt with by thinking through the user stories and our UX team coming up with a good solution. Remember that technical implementations can be fairly straightforward, but designing the best experience for the user takes time, consideration and experimentation.

Adding Multi-Language Options to Existing Apps

Existing apps also have the option to add multi-language capabilities. They can be retrofitted or updated to have this option with varying levels of complexity, depending on the technical details of the existing app.

If it does not already have support for multiple languages, some technical work will need to be done. Design also needs to be taken into consideration. How should the multi-language be implemented? Do we want the app to be assumptive about how the language we show the user or should the user have more control over which language they see?

Best practices are evolving quickly, for example iOS 13 allows users to specify the language to use for each of their apps, rather than the device as a whole.

Image of a black iphone lying on top of a macbook. the screen of the phone says 'Hello.'

Language Diversity and Inclusivity in Apps

Providing multi-language support to apps will allow developers to reach an international audience that will not only increase conversion rates but also establish a deeper connection with their target market. More than that though, adding other languages increases usage within a country for local users that may not understand or struggle to understand the native language.

Enabling people to interact with your brand using their preferred language ensures that you are enabling your customers to build deep customer engagement which engenders lasting trust. In so doing, you are providing an inclusive experience that prioritises the needs and expectations of your audience.
Although multi-language capabilities in apps are in their early stages, consumer behaviour is gradually demanding a more diverse and inclusive app experience. If you want your app to support multi-language features, give us a call and we can discuss how we can help you create one or add the necessary code to an existing app.

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