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Explanation of how localization of mobile game-apps from English gets done.

Ruben Gabriel, Blogger

May 11, 2020

3 Min Read

These terms are used to refer to the increase in the number of characters when localizing from English into languages such as French, German or Spanish (among others), as a result of the need to use more characters (or words) in those languages to convey the meaning of the source language. The end result is that the target text is often longer than its source. As a rule, such languages expand by 15-30% from English.

Let’s see a simple example from an interactive mobile app:

  • English term: Drag

  • French localized term: Glisser (or Faire glisser)

  • German localized term: Ziehen

  • Spanish localized term: Arrastrar

As opposed to “Drag”, with only four characters, we have seven characters in French (thirteen in the second option), six in German and nine in Spanish.

Designers of mobile game-apps are fully aware of this problem and they usually anticipate a text swell of 30-40%. Thus, the challenge of expansion is solved in some cases. However, this is not always possible –after all, space is already more limited in mobile game-apps than in general apps or applications for other devices, often due to UI limitations, graphics, etc. It is even possible in the translation of websites where these game-apps shall be published. Anyway, this is where character count comes into play.

Game localizers do have to fully convey the meaning of the text being localized, but they also have to take into account the number of characters used. It is not unusual to be instructed to limit characters in strings to a certain number and, in languages such as Spanish, this means to modify wording in the target to reconcile meaning and character count.

Let’s see another example from an interactive mobile game-app we localized: “Drag two fingers to pan”.

The challenging word in our example is “pan”. In Microsoft terminology portal, we found the meaning of “pan” that adjusted to our game-app: “… a display method in which a viewing window on the screen scans horizontally or vertically, like a camera, to bring offscreen extensions of the current image smoothly into view.” (http://www.microsoft.com/Language/en-US/Search.aspx?sString=Save&langID=fr-fr). One of the translations proposed by Microsoft for this term is “desplazarse lateralmente”. Given the restriction on the number of characters we could use, we could not use it. “Desplazarse por la pantalla” (another solution) was dismissed, too. There was only one way out: shortening the target. Client finally approved “Arrastre dos dedos para desplazarse”.

Let’s see another example which illustrates how the conciseness of the English language poses a problem to the game-localizer: “This enables hover text as you move your finger over systems” (60 characters). Again, restriction on the number of characters was an issue. The idea conveyed in that app was that, if you moved your finger over systems (it was a medical game-app, so the term “systems” referred to organ systems), a text would appear over them, as if floating, by way of explanation. Due to space restrictions, we could not say in Spanish sentences such as “Permite que se active texto explicativo cuando desplace el dedo sobre (o por) los sistemas” (around 80 characters), nor even the much shorter “Permite la activación de texto cuando desplace el dedo por los sistemas” (71).

At Translations, we tried to shorten it a bit: “Permite la activación de texto al desplazar el dedo por los sistemas” (68, already within limits), or simply “Activa texto al desplazar el dedo por los sistemas” (50). Much better! Goal achived!

So to be brief is really a must in localizing mobile game-apps. But do not worry about counting characters. With the software and platforms used to localize apps, this task is done automatically.

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