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My Android application is almost done and I spend much time creating a set of very precise help pages in HTML that I display using WebViews. I am now ready for the next step, which is i18n.

Translating my app is no problem, the strings.xml is not that long and I can easily ask friends to translate it. My problem is about these help pages.

When I'll update my app, I'll probably have to update the help pages as well. I saw that it wasn't that simple, even with one language.

I need your opinion on how to perform such a massive work (which is not at all my job as a developer). Do I need to:

  • Manually update every language help page when I update the app, which means asking all of my translators to provide a new version of their work each time I change anything.
  • Provide help only in a default language (probably English, even though the default language is French. French people would still have the French help ;-D).
  • Google-translate the help pages, even if it "not well English is". I don't know any way to do it automatically.
  • Do something else, which you probably thought of long ago.

Thanks for your answers, tips and tricks.

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A good app doesn't need help pages. –  Mathew Foscarini Jun 7 '13 at 15:00
    
Very true, but my app is supposed to be used by people who have a very little understanding of Android or even Smartphones in general. –  Oltarus Jun 9 '13 at 7:29
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2 Answers

A few thoughts:

  • Do what is realistically possible. Of course it would be nice if every Android app had help files in 29 languages, but realistically speaking, that is not going to happen in many cases. You are a single developer working on a (presumably) small app. You only have so much time, and your friends only have so much time to help you out.

    While help is important, providing detailed help documents in many languages is probably going to be a big drain on your time. Most of your users would probably be better served by you spending your time improving the app instead. So don't try to do too much.

    Furthermore, in general, people's expectations for help on a mobile app are fairly limited. If you just offer the basics in a few languages, and full help in one language, that could be a good compromise.

  • Do what makes sense for your application. Who do you expect to use this app? Do you expect an international audience? Is it international by design? The languages in which it is important to offer help depend on your actual user base.

    Many people understand at least some English, so it is not bad to stick with English if you expect a primarily English-speaking user base, with some users from other languages. However, you do mention that French will be the "default language" of the app. If so, I think you really need to have help available in French. The French language is a matter of national or cultural pride for many people, and it would not look good if you have a French-focused app that only provides help in English.

  • Set up a good process for any translation you need - If you do decide to provide help in multiple languages, make sure you have a good process in place to minimize the work. Use good version tracking so that you can send your translators only the content that changes. Don't make them read through the whole manual and scan for changes each time. This will make a huge difference from their perspective--instead of reviewing a whole document, they can quickly send you a sentence or two and the job is done.

    Another option would be to build some form of open documentation or support forum, where users can contribute their own translations or other help. This would probably be overkill at this point, but it might be a good option if your app really takes off.

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There isn't a convenient way to support internationalization and the associated translation that's required. As you noted, automatic translations leave a lot to be desired.

The easiest way around the translation problem is to simply avoid it. As applicable, consider the following:

  • Avoid changes that impact the help files
  • Only provide translations on major version updates
  • Only document the critical stuff so there's less to translate
  • Consider providing video tutorials through your website

You do have a bit of a conundrum with considering English to be the default language for the help doc but then having French as the default language for the application. If you do not write French fluently enough to provide the help documentation, then slap a Désolé, je n'écris pas français... message at the beginning of your help doc and explain that updates to help will lag the application updates. For that matter, having that message at the beginning of all of your help docs would be beneficial. Then ask your users to pay for your app so you can pay your friends for translating.

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