Why is context important when localizing mobile apps?

Why is context important when localizing mobile apps?


You might think that most translators are given context for the subject that they are translating. However, more often than not, translation occurs separately with the product out-of-view, so translators are given very little if any context at all to help them understand exactly what they are translating.


What do you mean by “context?”
Translating in context involves being given additional information during the translation process to see or understand how a translation will be used in the final product.

A great example is character limits. If you’ve ever used a product that was originally created for another language, you have probably run into cut off sentences or texts that don’t fit the parameters of the button or page they’re on. With context, a translator knows that he or she must try to accommodate the amount of space in his or her translation. This is particularly important for mobile apps due to the UI’s general lack of space.



Another good example deals when one word can carry various parts of speech. A mobile app might have a button with the word “open.” Now without knowing the exact context, a translator will just see the word “open” and has no way of knowing for sure whether or not that word should be translated as an adjective or rather as a verb as it should be.



To the left you see two screenshots of the same page, but one has a word that is contextually incorrect albeit correctly translated. "Rücken" and "Zurück" both are translations of "Back;" however, the latter indicates to go back to the previous page, while the former is a part of your body. Although this is a pretty blatant error, little slips like this occur all the time when the translators just go off the words and are not given any context to what they are translating.



What does adding context look like?
There are various methods and degrees of providing context for translations. Savvy developers who create content with localization in mind will simply add comments next to potentially confusing localizable content with hints that describe the content to be translated.


For web and mobile apps, screenshots provide great visuals that can clearly demonstrate the localizable content in product.

Screenshots are particularly helpful during the quality assurance (QA) check. During linguistic QA, testers follow a test plan, or a step-by-step guide, to review the quality of the translations and make sure everything is as it should be. Occasionally, issues arise - a tester has a buggy device, poor internet connection, or he or she just can’t seem to follow the test plan and consequently skips and doesn’t test entire sections. These fairly common hiccups can lead to entire languages not going through a thorough QA process, which understandably, can result in poor quality and more time (read: money) spent on going back to fix bad translations.

With screenshots, however, a tester just receives a packet of images and can review the language on the images without any chance of user error.


Why aren’t translation and QA processes always in context?
Because the translation process often occurs without the product in view, engineers or localization managers need to manually add context typically in the form of notes or screenshots. Manually adding context is not only somewhat objective because you need to gauge whether or not text needs a description, but it also takes a lot of time and effort to go in and add comments or save and upload many screenshots to be sent to translators and/or testers.


What can you expect with in context translation and QA?
Offering context makes the translation process easier for translators and streamlines the QA process for testers while eliminating the possibility of user error associated with manual on device testing. That equates to less back and forth sending messages between managers, localizers and developers, more budget and better quality.