First impressions matter. You don’t go on a date with food in your teeth. You don’t go to a job interview in ripped trousers (heavy metal drummer interviews excluded, of course). You don’t meet your in-laws hungover from the previous night. And you don’t put your app for sale in local app stores with a machine translated app description. Especially not in Germany.
First thing to learn about potential German customers: we don’t trust low quality.
German consumers have gotten used to high-quality products, especially when it comes to technology. We tend not to trust things that appear cheap or of low quality.
When I see anything that welcomes me with badly written text—be it an app, a tool, or a pack of udon noodles—I wonder how bad the actual product is. If a company cannot even write a simple, inexpensive product description or ad that make sense, what are the chances that the content is not worse? I mean, the product is the part that is actually complicated to create. Can I rely on the content being what it pretends to be?
After all, the translation of some 300 words costs almost nothing compared to the time-consuming development of a piece of software. We all learned how to write and spell in school, while not everyone has learned engineering and programming, right? So if the description is that bad, the complicated content must be even worse.
A badly written or translated app store description gives an image of low quality, something that might cause more damage than good. You see a cheap way to expand your customer base by doing a quick translation job and sending your app to another country’s app store. What I see is potential bugs, viruses, hard lockups, or worse hazards. By making your description look unprofessional, you make your app look unprofessional.
Your German customer does not care that you don’t speak German and that your product is made in India, Russia, or the USA. There is no excuse for using machine translation for anything else but a quick gathering of information for your personal use or internal purposes (such as checking international Store reviews your users left you). Never should it be used for anything that will be printed or published. It would reflect very badly on your company and will cost you in revenue.
Related reading: How Not to Make a Game Localization-Friendly
It is easy to ignore the awfulness of a piece of writing if it is in a language you do not understand. So to show you just how awful some of these app descriptions are in the German app store, I inverted the situation. I used a top secret, practically unknown online machine translation tool to translate from German into English. Don't try to find out which one—you have never heard of it. I gave it some normal, correct German text and asked for a translation into English. This is the kind of description you might find for an iOS game. Here is the result, with some variations on the theme, followed by the original text in German and a professional localization into English so you can see the difference.
Kram out your party shoes and climb into the fascinating world of loopy Palipiluzeenier! Dancing on the head of a dance group from hardboiled, order-loving orcs and drive out the evil Party Elf group Kommunlachma from Woswasi. After their seemingly never-ending drinking they always leave the biggest mess - that you can not let easily. Show this Waldwesen how to really let out the sow while preserving order can. Collect valuable empties and exchange it in a forest Laden against rubber snakes and other unique precious items. Bastle the chicest accessories hinterlassenem waste this dirt Finke. With Orkpartyfieber is with you always something going on!
You can still kinda make out the meaning. But if you translate from languages with a different writing system, no verb conjugation, nor genders, it gets worse. Sometimes, with Asian languages, a first (machine) translation is made into English, and then that text is machine-translated to German for the German market. For an approximation of just how awful that can become, see this next example, where I asked the machine to translate the original German into Korean, and then to English. One might think the bot could at least handle its own creations, but I don't think it does the greatest job.
German-into-Korean machine translation, then Korean-into English machine translation:
KRAM out and wake up to the fascinating world above Palipiluzeenier party shoes! Heartless, wicked and drives the Elf group Kommunlachma Woswasi in dance and dance on the head of a group in order to love oak. His seemingly endless drinking and they always leave the biggest confusion - you can not do easily. While maintaining the order it can really show the way to the sow Waldwesen. Empty boxes and collect valuable exchange on forests for rubber snake Laden and other unique precious items. Bastle the chicest accessory dust Finke your waste hinterlassenem. Something that has always been with you in Orkpartyfieber!
To compare how the game description could look like, please read the translation of my native American colleague.
Professional German-into-English localization:
Get your party shoes out and enter the fascinating world of the crazy Palipulizeenians! Be the lead dancer of a group of tough, order-loving Orcs and force out the evil party elves named Commenhavalaff from the land of Waddyano. Those elves always leave their seemingly never-ending parties in a huge mess. You simply cannot allow that. Show those Forest Creatures how to let the dogs out while still keeping things orderly. Find precious recyclable containers, go to the Forest Store and exchange them for Gummy Snakes and other unique valuable items. Use the trash left behind by those sloppy-heads to craft yourself some cute items. With Orc Party Fever you will never get bored!
In case you speak German, here is the original…
Original German app description:
Kram deine Partyschuhe raus und steige ein in die faszinierende Welt der durchgeknallten Palipiluzeenier! Tanze an der Spitze einer Tanzgruppe aus hartgesottenen, ordnungsliebenden Orks und vertreibe die böse Partyelfengruppe Kommunlachma aus Woswasi. Nach ihren scheinbar nie enden wollenden Trinkgelagen hinterlassen sie immer den größten Saustall – das kannst du einfach nicht zulassen. Zeige diesen Waldwesen, wie man so richtig die Sau rauslassen und gleichzeitig Ordnung bewahren kann. Finde wertvolles Leergut und tausche es im Waldladen gegen Gummischlangen und andere einzigartige wertvolle Gegenstände ein. Bastle die schicksten Accessoires aus hinterlassenem Müll dieser Schmutzfinke. Mit Orkpartyfieber ist bei dir immer was los!
Online translation tools can do okay for simple sentence structures with common words and idioms. But the more creative or sophisticated you get, the dumber, yet creative the machine will get.
Why don't you test it for yourself?
- Open any machine translation tool.
- Insert a random text, maybe the app description you are planning to use.
- Let the machine translate it into a random language of your choice.
- Copy & paste that translation to the source language area and translate it back into your language.
- Laugh out loud and be happy you haven't printed 1,577 flyers.
Don’t forget that the app description is your sales pitch.
Next to the screenshots, it is the first thing that your customers see.
They say you should not judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest here—we all do it.
There are ways to save money. Maybe you cannot afford the very best of all translation professionals or a high-end marketing campaign. But machine translation is not the way. It will not save you money—it will cost you. The most creative design, top-notch programming and the best marketing is of little use if your sales pitch says “Mesa no kno wot doo—I don't know what I'm doing."
Don’t let the machines take over.
How about you? Does a poorly written app description scare you off, or is it just me?
I'd love to know your thoughts.