Let me first say two things. First, these tools aren’t very helpful if you have a lot of text in your app. By “a lot,” I mean long sentences, tutorials, lengthy error messages, etc. Second, my app has enough text that I had to ask for help. I can’t afford translation services, but I have three wonderful volunteers who have helped me make Snapthread available in Spanish, Italian, and French.
That said, I usually find the following resources helpful whenever I attempt to translate single words and short phrases on my own.
1. Babble-on’s “Missing Apple iOS Localization Term Glossary”
A long name for a great resource containing nearly 300 common words and phrases found in iOS apps with translations in the following languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Russian, and Chinese (Simplified & Traditional).
Linguee is a language dictionary available in quite a few languages. One of the neatest features of Linguee is that if you search for a term, it lists other websites where that term was translated under the heading “External sources.” There it shows a side-by-side of the website’s text in both languages, with your term or phrase highlighted. Linguee warns that these external sources are not reviewed, but you can look at the URLs and judge for yourself. For instance, if I search for “photo library” in the English-German dictionary, I can find instances of its translation on websites from Corel, Sony, Snapfish, and more.
3. Boomerang by Illuminated Bits
Boomerang is an iOS app by Ish ShaBazz and Heidi Helen Pilypas. It helps automate a common task: using Google Translate to translate something to another language, and then translating the result back into the original language, just to double check. I like to use Boomerang as my final check after translating a word or phrase.
4. Apple’s Support Documents
If you’re wondering what Apple calls some of its own features, apps, and technologies in other languages, you might try checking out the help pages at support.apple.com. At the bottom of every page is a country name with a flag icon next to it (mine says “United States”). Selecting it allows you to choose another language to display the page in. Often, the names of features, apps, menus, and buttons will be capitalized, or in a bulleted or numbered list so they’re easy to find.
5. Other Apps: Beg, Borrow, and Steal
Look, being an indie with a shoestring budget is hard. If you’re looking for really common words or phrases like “Exporting,” “Frequently Asked Questions,” or “Restore Purchases,” consider finding a big name app that already did the work for you. This requires a good memory (or a lot of screenshots), as you’ll need to change your device language, navigate through your chosen app, write down (or screenshot) the translation of any strings you need, and then make your way through Settings to switch back to your native language. It’s not for the faint of heart!
If you want to do a really thorough job localizing your app, you’ll probably need to enlist the help of a professional translation service (you might also consider bribing a bilingual friend). A really thorough job would involve translating your app subtitle, description, keywords, screenshots, and every string in your app, including VoiceOver strings. However, if your app is mainly driven by icons and gestures with very little text, the resources and ideas above may be helpful to you!