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A Guide to UI Localization

UI Localization

If you want to expand the reach globally with your user interface design, you need to consider how to translate and localize your content, layout, and functionality. UI design helps businesses to deliver the best user experience while building trust with their customers. That’s why any user interface needs to go through a localization process to be successfully adopted in different countries. In this article, we will explore the challenges of UI localization and will learn how to optimize user interface translation and localization.

But first, let’s review the difference between translation and localization in general. The translation is the process of converting text from one language to another, while localization is a more comprehensive process that addresses cultural and non-textual components as well as linguistic issues when adapting a product for another country or locale to suit its linguistic culture and technical characteristics. A successful localization helps your new global audience feel that your product was designed specifically for them. Localization is needed for products like, websites, apps, e-comm sites, and digital products. It’s important to localize the entire customer experience. From signup forms to checkout pages, while thinking about the target locale needs.

What is UI localization?

UI (User Interface) localization means enabling your customers to understand your product. It’s how your product menus, buttons, and messages displayed on the screen communicate with the user. However, localizing user interfaces is much trickier than it seems, and perhaps one of the most difficult types of texts for the translator. Very often, the translator will have to handle a list of strings with no context. So, if you’re thinking of having a mobile app or website translated, this article may be useful to you.

Why is User Interface Localization challenging?

  • Lack of context and screenshots illustrating where the string would appear. As mentioned before, the UI translation project is sent in the form of a list of strings or short text, such as menu and button text, and an intelligent translation may require more knowledge of context to imagine how the user interface looks like, and therefore avoid translating messages incorrectly.
  • Character length limitations. Character count or width limitations need to be defined before starting translation, as this is an essential element of the project.  Translated text can often be up to 30% longer than English – so we need to know if your software has any limitations.  The limitations can be expressed in several characters or several pixels. When the limitation is expressed in pixels, for example, characters such as “I” are thinner than wider characters such as “W”, you may need to change the translation to reduce the overall pixel width.
  • Concordance. User interfaces often just display short sentences and phrases. When translating from a language like English which has no genders for nouns into languages like Spanish or German, translators often need to know what these adjectives refer to; feminine or masculine. There are also similar issues with verbs. For example, is “close door” a request to the user, or an indication that the door is closed? There is no way of knowing this from the English, but in the first case, the Spanish translation would be “Cerca la puerta”, and in the second “cerrar abierta”.
  • Lack of linguistic testing. Many companies do not realize the importance of performing linguistic testing on the app or website in each of its languages before getting published. Very often, companies scrape all the strings from the app or website, stick them in an Excel file, and send them off for translation without providing the context of the product. This may cause many linguistic issues as they appear to the end-users.

The goal of linguistic testing is not to evaluate the linguistic quality. Its goal is to catch and fix those issues that are caused by translators working on isolated strings (mistranslations, inappropriate style, and others). To do this, the linguistic testers review the product either directly in the running build (in-build scenario review) or by using screenshots from the running build (screenshot review). Therefore, we can guarantee to deliver the project with improved linguistic quality.

What are the best practices to improve the localization of UIs?

As mentioned above, it is clear that issues are mainly due to a lack of context. To ensure the best localization quality, consider providing translators with the following:

  1. Provide context for any text that may be hard to understand on its own to avoid any potential mistakes. Go through the list of strings and provide visual context or screenshots or even a note beside each string to allow the translator to determine the exact meaning.
  2. Provide a full description of abbreviations. This is vital. Go through the list of strings you are sending for translation and clarify any non-standard abbreviations as well as abbreviations that are very specific to your company or industry.
  3. Provide screenshots of the user interface: This way, the translator will at least be able to see if the string is an error message or wording on a button, for example.
  4. Provide videos of the different functions, which also show the user interface. Try to make the videos as short as possible, focusing on the operations and making every operation easy to identify, otherwise, the translator will have to spend hours watching the videos to find the answers to any questions.
  5. Provide the translator with the contact person who can answer his/her queries: This really should be done for any translation, as it is the best way to help the translator understand your product and therefore improve the quality of the translation.
  6. Perform professional linguistic testing of your product/app after the translation has been implemented. Due to the lack of context faced by translators, linguistic issues, as well as layout/display issues, can be identified only during the QA step. This step involves a QA tester navigating through the test plan and auditing every possible screen, in a manner mimicking how a user would interact with the product. This is the best time to catch any inconsistencies or mistranslations. For example, the word “Book”, can be translated as a noun, and as a verb, through the testing process, the tester can determine the exact meaning in the UI.


Successful UI localization involves much more than an accurate word-for-word translation. It requires us to think creatively every day to create inclusive digital experiences for the global audience. Finding an experienced language services provider (LSP) is essential to getting a UI translation project done in relatively little time and with positive results.

For more information about UI translation and the processes you need to follow to succeed, please reach out LatinoBridge, a one-stop shop for your translation needs, that provides industry-leading linguistic solutions for Latin America languages; Latin American Spanish, German, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Argentine Spanish, and Aymara. Eliminate language and cultural barriers, expand your reach globally, and build customer trust with LatinoBridge translation services.


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