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tl;dr: "What proportion of Spanish (or some other non-English native) people use English as their phone language?"


I am writing an Android app. I plan to publish it primarily in a specific country. Take Spain for example. Due to implementation constraints, it is a vital dilemma for me, to choose my primary app language; It could be English or Spanish. In Android, usually multi-language apps are handled and translated by Android operating system, meaning that if a person uses English for their phone language, the app is loaded in English, and if their phone language is Spanish, my app will be loaded in Spanish. That said, the developer can force-fix a specific language as the default app language.

This raises a big question: Consider that there are a great number of Spanish people who use English as their smartphone language, but I am 100% sure they would prefer to have my app in Spanish, without having to switch their phone language. Now, to what percent of all the Spanish smartphone users, do this number total to? The answer to this question will help me determine if I should be defaulting English or Spanish as my primary app language.


Put short: Are there any statistics on language choice of non-English-native people for their (specially Android) smart phones?

Any similar (not just Spanish, not just Android) statistics would also help me a lot.

  • Do you mean people who don't speak English at all, or are non-native speakers of English included? The former aren't likely to use an English UI in the first place, and I wouldn't be 100% sure that the latter prefer their native language. For example, many geeks around the world strongly prefer English UI over their native versions. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Jul 4 '15 at 12:06
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    I believe the most logical approach would be to default to phone language, then let users switch as they please. I always prefer English over my native language (this isn't limited to UX, movies and books too) to minimize having to deal with often-poorly-made localizations... – Alex Jul 4 '15 at 12:33
  • @VitalyMijiritsky I mean those people whose first choice is not English, but understand English. – Behnam Jul 4 '15 at 12:49
  • @Alex: Thank you. Same here. I will do as you say if I see that most of Spanish people use English as their default phone language. That is why I need the STATISTICS. – Behnam Jul 4 '15 at 12:51
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    @Campiador you ask them in both languages. – Nzall Jul 4 '15 at 20:08
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To answer your question, I don't think suchs statistic exists. And if it exists, chances are the number will be quite irrelevant, since you're talking about exceptions (and I'm one of those exceptions, as we are at it). Besides, what about those users that have mixed language software? For example, some in english, some in Spanish, how would the statistics measure that in your proposed scenario? Quite honestly, I think you're creating a problem where no problem exists.

See, when you're using analytics, you try to measure different variables, with as much as possible accuracy, in order to get to a solution where the widest range of the target is covered. One of the most important variables is language. Now you say this is for Spain, where people speaks Spanish. So, there's a simple answer: 100% of your target speaks Spanish, thus if you use Spanish, there's no room for error.

Let's try otherwise: how many people speaks English in Spain? No matter how high the number, it will NEVER be 100%, so it's easy to see that presenting English as default language to your users is a failure from its very conception.

So, basically: there isn't any problem, it's solved from the beginning!

Now, I see you plan to primarily aim to Spanish speakers. Well, then you can use some geo tool if you want so you can load an English version for non- Spanish speaker countries, OR, let Android decide based on user's preferences. As easy as that.

PS: no percentages, but I think this could be of help for you: http://www.digitalgov.gov/2015/03/02/persona-development-case-study-nci-and-spanish-language-outreach/

  • "what about those users that have mixed language software?" In case of Android, we take the system language, not any app language. Second, the problem exists, and it is blocking my progress. I need to prove to my supervisor that a high percentage of the Spanish use their own language on their phone's system language, rather than English. Only then can I convince him to use system-level language selection. Thanks for the valuable information though. – Behnam Jul 4 '15 at 17:23
  • I meant for statistics purposes, not what you read, but in the end, the same logic prevails: 100% of Spanish speaking people speaks Spanish. That's proven. Then you have "an N number of Spanish speaking people also speaks English. We only know that it's less than 100%. From that number, we want to know how many of them prefer an app to be set in English by default". Maybe I'm not understanding your question correctly, but the answer is too obvious for me: use the 0 chance of error approach – Devin Jul 4 '15 at 17:31
  • Of course all the Spanish understand Spanish. But writing the app in Spanish has many hazards. For instance in Android, forcing app to load in the non-English language, when the system language is English will result in copious amount of bugs, and I want to avoid it. I can do so, provided that I prove that enough people are using their own language on their phone, rather than English. That is why I need th4e statistics. – Behnam Jul 5 '15 at 6:27
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Consider the reasons why some people set their phone to a certain language. For example, I'm a native Dutch speaker from Belgium, and I configured my phone to English because Dutch translations are usually quite poor. In addition, English is very useful for support, because the vast majority of support tutorials are written in English, using English screenshots, and using English names for the buttons.

However, I think in your case, poor translations will not be that big an issue, since you're a native speaker and you can write your own translations that hopefully won't suck. And I understand that your app is aimed at a primarily Spanish audience, so they would likely ask for support in Spanish and provide tutorials in Spanish. However, it's also somewhat jarring to suddenly see your phone transition from English to Spanish, or the other way around. It requires a change of thought.

That's why I recommend you to make 2 translations, make them both available, and let your user decide what language they want to use the first time they use your app. And obviously allow them to change afterwards as wel.

  • Thank you Nate, very insightful answer. However, I need some statistics regarding the language usage to fill in my supervisor. I would highly appreciate it if you could please let me know if you could find access to such information in Belgium. – Behnam Jul 4 '15 at 16:21

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