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We're building a mobile application that will initially support English and German, perhaps more languages in the future.

My question is what is the best way/most common practice to handle language change in a mobile application.

For example in many web applications there is usually a dropdown in one of the corners, could be top left or top right.

But I believe that would take a lot of space in a mobile app and it is better to have a settings page where the user can change the language. It is also something that won't happen more than 1-2 times, right?

Any thoughts/helpful tips/links?

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    Does your app have user profiles/data? Contrary to a web application a mobile application is much more personal. There is a chance that user might not want to change the language after he initially sets up the application. How about giving it at the setting up splash screen? – Harshal Mar 4 '15 at 14:27
  • This is a good comment. Thanks for the input. And yes, there is a user profile. – hermann Mar 4 '15 at 14:48
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When mobile apps have support for several languages, they typically don't allow the language to be changed in app. This is because the user has already made her choice of language by selecting the phone's operating language in system settings. The apps then use this same setting.

Our app works that way as well and we haven't heard any complaints. It seems that people who would want to have the app in English instead of their native language have their whole phone set to English as well.

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The one option I have seen the most is websites either the name of the language itself as a link to change it, OR use a flag representation of the country where the language is most prevalent.

Examples

  • Text-Implementation: Check out the Tourism Montreal website and you'll see this used in the header above the navigation.

  • Flag Implementation: Since you are only switching between two languages you can just show the flag of the country language you want to switch to such as on the MeyerWerft Cruise Ship manufacturing company's website.

For a mobile application, I would go with the 2nd option of having the flag be tap-able using the language you want to change to, and then swap it back once the language is changed (MeyerWerft site).

Since this may be an application where user profiles would be prevalent, setting the language may be best in the "user's profile" rather than having it be changeable all the time through the UI. Though if the UI has space for it, you might be able to leave it.

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In my experience German and English language sites utilize the same layout design.

Try to write any program for the international market while also keeping local support such as user timezone, number and date format for the targeted user.

Then try to a responsive design (if possible). The company I work with usually tries to test the text with 80% shorter and 120% longer than default/original text. This is to test if the white/empty space is acceptable after the default text has been translated.

Usually after translating, we will find few text that will behave oddly, like:

  • double the size of default text
  • too small, lots of white/empty space
  • cut short/overflow/overlap so special work need to be done on it, either re-translate or redesign the area.

Theres are quite number of article that you can search related to internationalization and localization.

Hope this helps :)

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