July 2015
By Terena Bell

Image: © amazon.com

Terena Bell recently sold In Every Language to Paragon Language Services and is currently their Vice President of Marketing. She served as Secretary of the Board for the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) and on the Association of Language Companies (ALC) leadership council. She currently sits on the Obama Administration’s White House Business Roundtable and writes the popular column "Micro/Macro" for MultiLingual Magazine.




Localizing TV apps

They’re built in the same coding language and for the same operating system – but localize a TV app the same way you do a mobile app and your message may literally be lost in translation. Here are the major implications to consider.


Sometimes quality is a much more important factor than others. Here’s why quality is even more important for Fire TV apps than for mobile apps: Fire TV does not have an app menu. This means there is no place to collect notifications. So unlike on a phone, where users can skim over notifications and save them to read or refer to later, TV users will only see your message once. This means it needs to be translated well enough to drive them to action right then and there. You may even want to consider transcreation – a special marketing translation process charged by the hour or project as opposed to the word. Rarely or never done for mobile apps, transcreation focuses as much – or even more – on delivering the emotional tenor and implication of your message as on the message itself.

Using English

Ironically enough, part of your translated app will need to remain in English. This is because Fire TV has a remote that’s only available in English. Even though not all users will own a remote (it’s an additional purchase), Amazon will not put your app in the Fire TV store unless your app works with the remote. So your translated app might be viewed in one language while potentially navigated through the remote in another.

What winds up happening as a result will be pretty similar to what happened with AutoCAD and Microsoft’s communities when their software started being used in a country or by a language group before localization. Users made up their own words for the terms – most often misshaped versions of the English originals. While it might have been easy for users to use the Portuguese word for “to save,” since the word didn’t match what Brazilian users saw on the screen, they made up a new verb, "savar," and used it instead. So predict your community’s needs and embrace the English-only remote.

Integrating select English-language commands into your user interface (UI) will prevent linguistic confusion in your community and help you integrate correct terminology into your processes from the get-go. The alternative would be to be forced to change your translations and materials later – and at a cost – to use the words your community created without you.


Different colors have different meanings in different cultures. In the United States, red is associated with hunger or love; in Asia, it can be a color of mourning. When it comes to color, televisions have a much wider range of display quality than mobile phones do. Due to the way televisions render color, what looks red on one screen can appear purple on another. So, even if you took a hard look at your graphics before localization, look at them harder. Think about what the next colors up and down the spectrum are from the ones you use and make sure there’s no meaning that could be misconstrued by using them, because someone with a cheaper, lower-grade TV set might see other colors than you.

Creating consistency through translation memories

Translation memory systems help professional translators remember which words have been used. We do this to lower the price of translation (words repeated in the same context usually cost less) and also to improve consistency for the user. For example, say you have an interior design app. You would want to use the word "sofa" consistently throughout instead of calling it "sofa" sometimes and "couch" another time.

Using a translation memory system to localize TV apps is a bit trickier. This is due to the nature of television. Unlike in the past, when people simply sat down to watch TV and do nothing else, 84 percent of modern-day TV watchers use their TV while simultaneously using another device on a regular basis. Sociologists call it second screen. And many second screen users are using the second screen to add to the experience of the first – looking up prior game scores, tweeting about what happened on a show or finding out which other movie that actor was in.

What this means is that your translator no longer has to integrate consistent vocabulary for a single project or even for you as a client, but that your translation must be consistent across the entire experience. This is especially important for those in e-commerce. Say your app helps viewers find the clothing actors are wearing and directs them to the stores that advertise with you and sell the product. If your app calls a piece of clothing a "scarf", the user will search for "scarf" when visiting your advertiser’s website. But if your advertiser has the item listed as a "wrap" or a "pashima", the inconsistency might prevent the purchase. Inconsistent translation has just made it harder for the user to buy, and this translates to lower advertising dollars and lower user engagement for you.

Therefore, translation memory systems for Fire TV apps – more than anything else you might have translated – must be participatory and collaborative, as a myriad of words could describe the product your app is selling.

Writing direction

If you’re translating into Spanish, French, or other Roman character languages that read from left to right, you're golden! I have no more tips for you! But if you’re translating into a language that reads from right to left, like Arabic or Hebrew, let’s talk joystick.

Like the remote, the Fire TV joystick is a supplemental piece of hardware that your app must accommodate for Amazon store inclusion. Especially important to know if you design game apps, the joystick is calibrated for a left-to-right reading system. To advance to the next screen, you move the joystick to the right-hand side. Reversing this requires the user to recalibrate his or her own joystick, which – let’s face it – probably isn’t going to happen. So you need to code for it and be aware of it, possibly placing extra text in your UI explaining which direction users need to go. This is not translation, but part of localization – something extra and explanatory will need to be added to make your app local and usable for this audience.

A second note about direction for those localizing for a Japanese audience: A television is not a telephone. Sounds logical, but because Fire OS is so similar to Droid, it’s easy for a mobile app developer to think the app won't require a lot of tweaks to work for Fire Phone and Fire TV. Your typical Droid screen has a 4x3 aspect ratio; both a laptop and an iPad have a 124x768 aspect ratio. But television screens are much wider: 16x9. What this means for localization is that televisions are designed for landscape view only. Remember, though, sometimes Japanese reads vertically!

Enter internationalization. This cannot be fixed by your typical translator or localizer, but must be fixed in your app’s source code. While internationalization – a special process for repairing or replacing code so software can be more readily localized – can fix your app to allow up-to-down text display within the app itself, be aware that the title of your app must read left to right in the Amazon store from a marketing standpoint. In addition, Fire OS does not support up-to-down display for your title or menu information.


All text used in Fire TV apps must be readable ten feet away from the television. For languages like Traditional Chinese, where a minute dash or dot can completely change the character’s meaning, this means you must plan for the font in your design to be huge. You may need to shorten what you say and leave things out to keep users from having a screen completely filled with text or from having to scroll through too many pages before being able to use your app.

All in all, Fire TV is a great opportunity to reach new audiences, no matter what language you’re working in. And with the recent product launch in the UK and Germany, TV app localization won’t be that far behind. Thinking about these aspects during designing will make it easier to localize your app later. On average, mobile apps see 128 percent more downloads in just one week after translation. As Fire TV’s market grows, TV app localization numbers won’t be far behind.