How to Have a Mobile App Translated (with examples)

Many companies have mobile apps. Sometimes these apps are products in their own right (services directly generating revenue) and sometimes they are marketing tools or provide an added service for the actual products sold.

For example, an app used to track the position of vehicles in a fleet would belong to the first category, whilst an app that allows you to select the exact needle for your industrial sewing machine would belong to the second.

In both cases, if you’re thinking of having a mobile app or its manual translated, this post may be useful to you.

Based on my own experiences translating apps, the following steps may help you obtain a translation that is clear and easy for the user to follow:

1. Firstly, as for all translations, the translator will need the original text in an editable format (usually Word, or Excel, but other formats exist). Supplying an editable document makes the translator’s job easier (and probably cheaper for you, as the quote will take this into account). However, more importantly, it also reduces the risk of text being omitted in the translation.

Send an editable document for translation. The translator will send it back in the same format.

2. The text in your app is probably full of abbreviations or shortened sentences to save space. What may be clear on the screen may not be so obvious out of context. To have this context, the translator will need to access the app or at least be provided with screenshots.

Provide the translator with access to the app or screenshots. For unusual abbreviations, add a note defining the full meaning.

Below are some examples of how Michael Wechsler, Designer of PackKing, an app to help people organise their packing list for their holidays, sent screenshots, notes and background information about the app to his translators.

Michael knew that to ensure that the app was correct and clear in all languages, the translators needed to have a good understanding of the purpose of the different menus, messages and buttons and to be able to see all the screens and dropdown menus.

Figure 1. Screenshots of the PackKing app with notes for the translator


Translation of apps

Figure 2. Dropdown lists in context


Translation of apps

Figure 3. Notes indicating how to deal with keywords

3. If your app has character limitations, you’ll need to warn the translator of this. If this is the case, providing the text as a spreadsheet may be the best option, as it makes it easier to count characters, but ask your translator first.

Does your text have character limitations? If it does, provide the translator with this information.

4. You may find it useful to keep a glossary of the existing translations used for menus, messages, commands, etc. (particularly if you’re planning to translate additional related documents or update the same translation in the future). This will be explained in more detail in the next point.

You may want to ask the translator to prepare this glossary for you or approve your choice of words or expressions. The translator will charge for this work in both cases, but it will make your life easier (and your app better) in the long run.

It may be useful to keep a glossary of the existing translations for menus/buttons/commands/messages in the app for future reference. Decide on the required terms yourself or ask the translator to prepare the glossary.

5. If you’re having the app manual translated, the translator will have to deal with the names of buttons, messages and commands used in your app and therefore need to know what to do with them.

The translator will need to know whether the app has already been translated. If it’s still in the original language, the manual will need to keep these names untranslated too, so that the reader can recognise them.

If the app has already been translated, you should use the existing translations for buttons, messages and commands. You don’t want a button to have one name on the screen and a different name in the manual (this happens a lot!).

Even if you’re just having the app manual translated, provide the translator with access to the app or screenshots.

If you’re having an app menu translated, inform the translator of the app language (let the translator know if it will be left untranslated, has already been translated or is currently being translated).

If you keep a glossary of terms for menus, buttons, messages and commands in the original and translated languages, give this to the translator to ensure that the existing translations are used.


Translating an app is very time consuming, as it requires checking the context for every sentence, and having to regularly check the application or screenshot.

Keeping the translation within the app’s character limitations requires extra time to tweak the translation so that it fits.

Bear this in mind when requesting quotes, especially per-word quotes. A translator’s rate reflects the amount of time it will take. If the translator is planning to check the context carefully, you should expect the per-word price of these translations to be higher than translations of “normal” text (so that the price per hour is actually the same)

Tell me what you think

I’ve written this post based on my experiences and the issues I’ve encountered translating applications. I hope that it makes having your applications translated a smoother process.

If you, as a client, have ordered this kind of translation, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Do you think there’s anything else that could help in this process?

(If you found this post useful, you may also want to know how to get the best translation for your machinery manual, or decide if you’d rather work with a translation agency or with a freelance translator)


My name is Diana Llorente. I’m a Physicist and a certified technical translator into Spanish. I’ve spent more than 15 years working as an engineer, QA and Operations manager in technical industries and I now translate within the same sector, drawing on my years of hands-on experience. This helps me understand the texts, their background and my clients better. I’m a member of APTIC in Spain and of the Chartered Institute of Linguists in the UK.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Michael says:

    I totally agree with these steps and would have preferred to have read this article before starting to hire translators.
    For my app I worked with 15 translators. Unfortunately I must admit that I got low quality translations in the beginning, because I didn’t follow these steps.
    Later I realised that only by providing as much context as possible I can receive great results.

    Diana, thanks for sharing these valuable insights with us!

    • Diana Llorente Garijo says:

      Thank you, Michael. I was really impressed with the document you showed me, that you had prepared to give context to your translators. The screenshots and explanations of the screens and commands surely made it much easier for the translators and also improved the quality of the translated versions of your app. I tell you, it’s not usual to receive such clear information, that document would be an excellent example of a way of giving good context :-).

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